Autograph books, where they exist, are now used mainly for collecting the signatures ( or at least the scribbled ciphers) of the latest popular music or sports star.
Compare this scribble by Wimbledon Champion, Andy Murray, in 2013, with, from my own autograph collection (of 2), this perfectly legible autograph of England and Yorkshire batsman, Len Hutton, obtained in the 194os . . .
100 years ago Autographs Books were primarily more for the collecting and usually exchanging, of aphorisms, homilies, comments, pithy verses, simple drawings, personal messages, with friends and relatives.
These autograph books of the first half of the 20th Century, give a clear picture of the social mores and conventions of the time. Their contents can be clearly seen as a means of passing popular wisdom on to subsequent generations. Nowadays they may be thought of by some as schmaltzy, even maudlin, but they do present a picture of the tastes and sentiments of that time and help to remind us of a much simpler and less cynical age.
I reproduce below some of the sketches from my own family’s autograph books – the majority of the entries are dated 1929.
. . . and here are the texts of some of the more discerning entries . . .
Beware sweet maid when men come to thee
And say they seek their soul’s affinity
When all they want, the base espousers,
Is someone to sew buttons on their trousers.
‘Just a few lines from a would-be poet’
It’s very hard to find a friend
When your heart is full of hope.
It’s harder still to find a towel
When your eyes are full of soap.
In ascending the hill of prosperity
May you never meet a Friend
It’s not the one that knows the most
That has the most to say.
Nor yet the one that has the most
That gives the most away.
Love is like a mutton chop
Sometimes cold – Sometimes hot
Whether cold or whether hot
It’s not a thing to be forgot.
‘Taint what we have,
But what we give,
‘Taint what we are,
But how we live,
‘Taint what we do,
But how we do it,
That makes life worth
Going through it.
Make new friends but keep the old,
One is silver, the other gold;
Cheeks may wrinkle, hair grow grey,
But friendship never knows decay.
When the golden sun is sinking,
When your time from care is free,
When of others you are thinking,
Will you sometimes think of me?
Written in faltering, scratchy handwriting …
This is a damned bad pen you’ve given me!