Toasting the New Year with a 100 Year Old Autograph Album

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 betterĀ  (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:

and this:

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:

Some offer slightly odd advice (”If all your friends forsake you,/Pray do not look for another,/But turn to the one that loves you best,/Your only friend, Your Mother”, or “In the Tempest of Life/remember five things,/Whom you speak to,/What you speak of,/How, when & where”).

And not all are from classmates–her uncle John and brothers William and Henry offer their good wishes, and her younger sister Viola (who is still learning her homonyms) has this to say:

At least two of the signatures appear to be from teachers, including this gorgeously executed example–in red ink no less!

And, though most of the century-old inscriptions in this book sound (and look) like exactly what they are–relics of a bygone era– some that are totally hackneyed in 2016 were apparently au courant back then..

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2016!

5 Responses to “Toasting the New Year with a 100 Year Old Autograph Album”

  1. amanda legare Says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  2. Maggie/denisebrain Says:

    Thank you for sharing this remarkable memento, and for keeping it alive and well!

  3. Liza D. Says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, Carrie.

    Autograph books always make me a little weepy. Similar to Mildred’s mom, my own mother wrote on my autograph book’s back inside cover: “If anyone loves you more than I, have them turn the next page by.”

    And wow, that teacher’s signature is incredible!

  4. admin Says:

    Thank you Amanda and Liza for taking a look! Liza, your mother’s inscription is a gem… (now I’m a little weepy…:))

  5. admin Says:

    Thank you, Maggie, for taking a look. And it’s funny, isn’t it, how our role as stewards of past treasures means we get to savor some truly wonderful ones?

Leave a Reply