poetry and prose about place

early schools – the autograph book

with 9 comments

A tradition in schools before the 1960s was the autograph book. I had one of these books in the 1960s, but although I collected some autographs, it was considered a quaint activity.


two of Jane Margaret Norman's autograph albums

two of Jane Margaret Norman’s autograph albums


Both my mother and my aunt had autograph books in the 1940s and 1950s. One of my aunt’s albums was from her students when she taught in a one room school.

I also have my great-grandmother’s autograph album with messages from 1885 to 1914. Her name was Mary Jane (Johnson) Clarke. Her daughters (including my grand-mother) wrote in the album in the later years.


Mary Jane Johnson Clarke's autograph album

Mary Jane Johnson Clarke’s autograph album from the 1880s


These books are small, rectangular in shape. The covers are heavy stock paper, sometimes flocked. The older albums have embossed leather covers. The albums range in size from about 3″ by 5″ to 7 3/4″ by 4 3/4″ (the oldest books are the largest). Each page of the book held one autograph: the date, a message, saying or poem, perhaps an address and a signature. Males as well as females wrote in the albums. The albums from the 1940s and 1950s have variously coloured pages in now-faded pink, yellow and blue. The pages in my great-grandmother’s album are beige and white.


my grandmother's autograph in my great-grandmother's autograph album

my grandmother’s autograph in my great-grandmother’s autograph album


Some of the messages offer serious advice for a good life:

Life is like a mirror

Reflecting what you do

And when you face it smiling

It smiles right back at you


Some messages are amusing or even politically incorrect. One from 1947 shows a disturbing flippancy about marital violence:


When your husband at you flings

Knives and forks and other things

Seek revenge and seek it soon

In the handle of a broom


Some messages are just funny, and seem almost modern:

Great-Aunt Laura Clark's autograph in my Great-Grandmother's autograph album

Great-Aunt Laura Clarke’s autograph in my Great-Grandmother’s autograph album in 1909


Since my focus in my ‘old schools’ project will be on the school in the context of the landscape, I was pleased to find one or two messages about landscape!


When hills and dales divide us

And distance is our lot

Just cultivate the little flower

That is called forget-me-not




I’m glad the sky is painted blue

And the earth is painted green

And such a lot of nice fresh air

Is sandwiched in between


June 8 2016 'the autograph' Jane Tims

June 8 2016 ‘the autograph’ Jane Tims  (Is she writing the autograph for her friend or her doll?)


Did you ever have an autograph album? Do you remember any of the verses people wrote?


Copyright 2016  JaneTims

Written by jane tims

June 15, 2016 at 7:00 am

9 Responses

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  1. “By hook or by crook / I’ll be (first — last — choose one) in this book”

    Liked by 1 person


    June 15, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    • Hi. Saw that one too. And on the last page, along the outer edge: ‘by pen or by quill, I’ll be darned if you will’

      Liked by 1 person

      jane tims

      June 15, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      • ” … I don’t think you will!” Fascinating, eh? S o glad you started this thread. I lived next door to Billy Bancroft. Didn’t even know who he was. When I apply this to my own life …

        Liked by 1 person


        June 15, 2016 at 8:28 pm

  2. I’ve still got my own autograph album: tiny. But with a couple of neat signatures. I also have one from my grandparents’ generation. I am always amazed at the beautiful drawings and paintings. It seems that everyone was a wonderful artist in those days. Maybe I should put some of them up on the blog … they really are great. “See that old man over there?” “Yes, grandpa.” “The one who can hardly walk?” “Yes, grandpa.” “Run over and ask him for his autograph.” I ran across the road and the old man sat on a low wall and carefully wrote his name. “W. J. Bancroft.” “Thank you,” I said. He passed away about a week later. Billy Bancroft: full back for Swansea — “Bancroft made his first club appearance for Swansea on 5 October 1889. He would play for Swansea for his entire career and is considered one of the greatest fullbacks to have played for the club. In the fourteen seasons he played with Swansea he was their top points scorer in twelve of them.” and Wales — “Bancroft was first capped on 1 February 1890 against Scotland as a replacement for the injured Tommy England. Bancroft would play 33 times for his country, all consecutively, a record that would lay unbroken until Ken Jones did so in 1954.” Both quotes from Wikipedia. An old man who can hardly work sometimes is filled with golden memories!

    Liked by 1 person


    June 15, 2016 at 9:13 am

    • Wow! I must look a little more carefully at the individual signatures in the albums I have. I keep uncovering new sources of information in this project and at this point I am just gathering information for the proposal. Great story Roger. You definitely should post this information! Jane


      jane tims

      June 15, 2016 at 4:28 pm

  3. Hi Jane, allison here. Yes, i had an autograph book, nothing fancy, probably from Stedman’s, the Dollar Store of the day. I’m sure i had friends sign it–girl friends for sure–and maybe i ventured to ask one of my aunts to sign; probably i did not ask my uncles. I do not recall anything written inside, interesting or not.

    Liked by 1 person


    June 15, 2016 at 7:36 am

    • Hi Allison. I had at least one autograph book. My Mom wrote: Ain’t no use to sit and whine, When your fish ain’t on the line, Keep a goin’. I imagine cell phone messages are the modern equivalent. In the books I have, men wrote almost as often as women. Jane


      jane tims

      June 15, 2016 at 7:58 am

  4. Love many
    Trust few
    Always paddle
    Your own canoe.

    And, of course, that old classic:

    Yours ’til the undertaker under takes to take you under!

    Liked by 1 person


    June 15, 2016 at 7:29 am

    • Hi. That canoe verse is in most of the autograph books I have. Good advice too, although I’ve found you can trust your friends. For example to BBQ even in the rain! Jane


      jane tims

      June 15, 2016 at 7:52 am

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