Yesterday's Magazette

11 – Please Favour With Your Autograph

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By Madonna Dries Christensen

 

Celebrity autographs bring high prices on the collectibles market, but the autograph books used by children in the early part of the last century are priceless. Popular as birthday or Christmas gifts, kids passed these books around toward the end of the year, exchanging simple verses about friendship. The books from the 1930s-40s often had pastel pages of yellow, pink, green, and blue. Friends picked a favorite color on which to write, or an appropriate color (blue) for: I hope your life is never the color of this page. Some chose the inside covers so they could write this verse: By hook or by crook, I’ll be the first [or last] to write in your book. Another favorite called for turning the book upside down: When you look upon this page and frown, remember the girl who wrote her name upside down.

From what I recall, collecting friends’ autographs was more popular with girls than boys. If boys did write a message they tended to be brief and they avoided anything hinting at lovey-dovey. They used the generic Best wishes, or, To a swell pal. If boys wrote a complete verse it was often silly: Way down south, where the bananas grow, an ant stepped on an elephant’s toe. Or good-natured sarcasm: Don’t worry; the Liberty Bell is cracked, too. And: Two, four, six, eight, they’ll never let you graduate. Among teenagers, love and marriage were common subjects. Don’t kiss the boys by the garden gate; love is blind, but the neighbors ain’t. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Zelma with a baby carriage. The following risqué verse might cause a young girl to blush if a boy were so bold as to write: I love you little, I love you mighty, I love your pajamas next to my nightie. Now don’t get excited, and don’t be misled; I mean on the clothesline, not in bed.

In my small collection of autograph books, I have three representing three generations of one family, William Amos Lord, his daughter, Ethel, and her daughter, Evelyn. The inscription on the first page of eight-year-old Evelyn’s brown leather book reads: To Evelyn from Virginia, Xmas, 1926. On the inside cover, Evelyn wrote: Do not tear out any pages. Ethel’s book has the same request. They obviously wanted no censoring. A boy couldn’t write something mushy and then change his mind and get rid of the evidence by tearing out the sheet. The verses in Evelyn’s book were written between January 1927 and June 1933. Some of the same rhymes appear in her mother’s childhood book. Like jump rope songs, autograph verses were handed down from one generation to the next. William Lord wrote in Evelyn’s book in June, 1930: To my darling granddaughter Evelyn. May your life be long and happy, may the future e’er be bright. May thy wishes all be granted, and thy cares be few and light. Your loving grandpa, Wm. Amos Lord. Evelyn’s sister and parents wrote verses, too.

Evelyn’s mother, Ethel, was ten and lived in San Francisco when she collected autographs from 1900-1903. The front cover of her book is ivory-colored celluloid, on which is a landscape scene. The back cover is burgundy velvet. The first page has a drawing of a table, on which sits a vase with flowers laid beside it. The person who drew the picture and wrote the verse, Kingsley Cannon, took the time to use script resembling calligraphy. Dear Lily: We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have done. Ethel’s mother wrote: My darling daughter Ethel. Be a good girl and may God bless you and keep you always is the earnest wish and prayer of your loving mother, Mary L. Lord.

Silly signoffs were common in both books. Yours until Goat Island has kids. Yours until the kitchen sinks. Yours until elephants roost in trees. Yours until the Mississippi wears rubber pants to keep her bottom dry. A boy named Mickey folded a page into the spine of Evelyn’s book and wrote, If you are beautiful, open this. Of course, Evelyn would have opened it, to find that Mickey had chided her with the words, Stuck Up!

William Lord’s book from 1873 is a bit different; it appears to be a form of parlor game for adults. Printed in gold on the green cover are the words: Mental Photographs. Inside the cover: This is An Album For Confessions of Taste, Habits, and Convictions. The owner signed his name, William A. Lord, and added: Please favour with your autograph. Nosce Te ipsum (know thyself).

Each person using the book had two pages on which there were 40 questions to answer. Among them: Your favorite color, flower, tree, gem, season, names, musicians, writers, books…. The preface explains that answers may be in jest or earnest, as best suits the mind and manner of the person responding. The idea was to form a mental picture of the person from the answers given. A photograph could be added, but only one young woman pasted her photo in the album. In response to the question: What are the saddest words, several people answered: It might have been. Among choices for the sweetest words: Mother, Home, Thank you, Dear, and, Come to dinner.

Another question asked: What is your idea of misery? Answers: Toothache, tight boots, poverty, nothing to do. And: What character trait do you admire most in a man? Humor, honesty, manliness, honor, pluck, and bravery were popular choices. For women: womanliness, modesty, faith, virtue, gentleness, and talkativeness. One chap confessed the trait he most admired in women was nudity. Responding to What do you believe to be your most distinguishing characteristics, one woman wrote: Ugliness and Ignorance. I wonder if that was written in jest or in earnest.

Today’s youngsters communicate through cell phones on which they text message, and computers on which they send e-mail, instant messages, and set up blogs (short for Web logs). This communication uses a shorthand mix of letters and emoticons that baffle most adults: ld, afk, kit, eom (later dude, away from keyboard, keep in touch, end of message).

Open a vintage autograph book and you’ll see a repository for legible penmanship, an art no longer taught in schools.

Here’s to auld acquaintance, of memories fond and dear. Pleasant times in bygone days, Good health, Good luck, Good cheer. Yours until Niagara Falls, your affectionate friend, Abigail.

 

 

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[Madonna Dries Christensen is the author of Swinging Sisters, and, Masquerade: The Swindler Who Conned J. Edgar Hoover. For information see her Web site: www.madonnadrieschristensen.com. Books are available from www.iuniverse, www.amazon.con, www.bn.com]

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4 Comments »

  1. I found this page while googling my great grandfather Kingsley Cannon of San Francisco. Seems he knew Ethel. He was a lawyer like his father, William. He apparently adopted my grandfather, named Kingsley W Cannon Jr and then my father was KW Cannon III. My name is Leesa Cannon. Thanx for the familial clue.

    Comment by Leesa — October 28, 2009 @ 6:32 pm | Reply

  2. pls can anyone give me some ideas to write in the first page of my autograph ,,, i mean what to write,,, im sooo pooooor in writing
    thanks

    Comment by senuri — December 25, 2009 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

    • Check out the new spring issue of Yesterday’s Magazette. There’s an article on Autograph Books.

      Comment by Ned — February 23, 2010 @ 9:26 pm | Reply

  3. I’d love other remembered autograph book entries. Everyone had an autograph book around 1960 at my school, in Sydney, Australia.
    Some were really beautiful. Others really poignant. I’d really like to reclaim those lovely sayings…that lovely era.

    Comment by Yvonne Bahar — March 30, 2013 @ 5:39 pm | Reply


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