This winter’s staycation project involves a major reorganization of my ephemera collection (vintage/antique fashion magazines & catalogs, and Victorian scrapbooks and photo albums). It’s one of those overwhelming yet soul-satisfying tasks, in which the enormous payoff anticipated (ie the ability to access and view my treasures in an orderly fashion) somehow meshes perfectly with the many moments of distraction along the way.
Right now, I’ve gotten distracted by a celluloid-and-velvet bound autograph album that once belonged to 14 year old Brooklyn schoolgirl Mildred Bosch. I posted a collage of images from it on my Instagram feed a couple of weeks back, but didn’t register till yesterday that it had reached the century-old mark, with the autographs in it dating from January of 1915 through June of 1916. That means, of course, that it needs to be shared immediately with the world at large…
Here is the front and back of the album. Note that the Reaper pictured on the cover isn’t the grim kind at all; she wears an “artistic” style dress, her hair loosely bound and beribboned and a scythe poised lightly on her shoulder while she gazes dreamily into the distance. If anything, she’s time’s poetess, not its nemesis.
I’ve cyber-stalked Mildred a bit and learned that she was the fourth of the five children of a milkman and his wife, both German-born. Her school, Bushwick High School, was founded in 1914 and closed in 2006, and many of the classmates who have signed her book appear to be the children of Jewish immigrants.
Here are a few images from the Perry Dame Fall 1916 catalog which may help to visualize Mildred and her teenaged classmates better (the youth sizing in the catalog seems to be grouped into Girls 6-14 yrs and Misses 14-20 yrs; so presumably Mildred’s crowd was just growing into the Misses-sized garments).
I’ll start off by sharing the first autograph in the album:
And the last:
The pages in between have a much higher proportion of lofty-minded inscriptions than you’d see in a teen’s autograph book today. It’s almost jarring to think of verses that contemplate death and eternity issuing from the wobbly quills of youngsters (”May the sea of life be calm & smooth,/Till thy last voyage is o’er,/and may thy frail bark/Land safely on the golden shore”, for instance, or “Remember me with friendship,/remember me with love,/Remember me dear Mildred/Until we meet above”).
But there are also playful verses like this one:
Most of the signatories urge Mildred to remember them (there are lots of pages that have the syllables “For”, “get”, “me” and “not” tucked away in the four corners of the page):
About half of the entries eschew verse in favor of plain statement or perhaps a little artwork: