Sarah Jane Merritt's Autograph Album: Most signatures from 1883-1883
Autograph Albums are actually collectibles today. They were all the rage in the Victorian age, and particuliarly so at about the time that Sarah Jane had hers. See the history of Autograph Albums that I have included below
The autograph album is said to have originated with the German "Stammbuch" or "Album Amicorum" that was embellished with hand-painted coats of arms, autographs, or inscriptions in Latin or German. They date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Antiquarias relate them the old "tourney books" in which the tournament participaants would register their credentials.
Later albums began to be used by students in universities, much as we use our yearbooks today and by travellers to document their adventures. As the uses changed the decorations such as coats of arms were replaced by drawings of various scenes or places. 17th and 18th century German merchants filled their albums with sketches of various entertainments, festivals, parties, drinking stories and even obscenities. The most popular adornments were hunting scenes, music, ryhmes, or love ballads.
From Germany the autograph album spread to England. By the end of the 17th century we find albums that were illustrated with hand-cut silhouettes or paintings. They often contained paintings or embellishments such as bits of needlework.
In the late 18th and early 19th century silhouettes and locks of hair ornamented albums continued . Locks of hair, especially of of the dearly departed, were encased in rings and lockets. Victorians became addicted to hair jewelry. Many autograph books contain a few locks fastened to the page along with a verse. The books became more and more of a common item, and were often made by individuals by binging together sheets of paper which they coverd with cardboard or wallpaper. Throughout the 19th century the albums became ever increasing in popularity. The boom period is from the 1850's until the 1900's, and most of the ones that can be found today date to this period. Companies in the States and the United Kingdom began printing them for sale. They began printing them in NY as early s the 1820's
The sentiments in the beginning of the 19th century were of deeper quality, with the verses often being longer and of higher quality and originality. Expressions of the writers feels toward the album owner were written with warmth and beauty. Complements were bestowed with wit and charm and serious thoughts and prayers were shared. Later in the 19th century the verses became much shorter, more rote, less original and took the form of couplets or simple rhymes.
Pages of the albums were decorated with colored or black and white lithographs of ocean and land scenes or pen and ink drawings of faces, broken hearts, birds, scrolls, or flowers by the writers of the verses. Rectangular shaped areas like calling cards were arranged in geometrical patterns on a page with a name printed or written within.
A favorite decoration was the use of heavy colored paper seals bearing such messages as"Affection," "Friendship's Offering," and "Truly Thine."
In the album which I have there are a few cut paper decorations applied to the pages, But in general the album is simple and not ornate.