Small notebooks of loose paper filled with well wishes, poems, and “remember me” signatures were once carried around by the masses. Otherwise known as autograph books, these little notebooks were the precursors of yearbook signings, business cards, and address books. The decorative “note boxes” fluctuated in popularity, being most popular during the Victorian era and 19th century, and dying out again in the mid 20th century.
The notebooks, or memory boxes, were made of cardboard sleeves that allowed for the loose sheets of paper to be bound after the sheets were sent around, hence the nickname of “note boxes.”
The practice of using autograph books dates back to the 15th century in the German and Dutch regions of Europe. Known at the time as Album Amicorum (Book of Friends) and commonly practiced by graduating university students for their peers and instructors to sign their goodbyes and well wishes.
As seen in the autograph books owned by Verna Mae Kirkland and Leana Boudreaux Brady, both women went to Plaquemine High School during the 1940s. During their last months there, they passed their books’ around.
These autograph albums were also popular to tote around while traveling. University professors at conferences would use the notebooks to have acquaintances write their information and current research. Additionally, tourists would ask any new friends or extended family to write small notes or addresses in the album for future contact. This can be seen in the notebooks belonging to “Bert” Nadler, Eliska Carmouche Hardingand, and Marie Pamelia Marchland.
Marie Pamelia Marchland was the granddaughter of Evariste Lauve and Celeste Brunet, who established Celeste Plantation in Bayou Goula. Her album contains well wishes, signed during Christmases at Tally Ho and Celeste Plantations in 1860-1862, as well as lithographs of girls, poems about the war, and newspaper clippings on Southern ladies and womanhood. Therefore, her book had a dual use as a scrapbook and an autograph book.
“Bert” Nadler, of Plaquemine, LA, also had a dual purpose for his book. It acted as a diary, documenting his 1916 trip to Alaska with his mother when he was eleven years old. But, it also includes addresses of people he met along the way.
Eliska Harding was a native of Plaquemine, LA, and a resident of Oakland, CA. Her books were gifted to her by friends. She used them to document trips she took around the United States in the 1930s. However, in her book, Harding appears to be thinking ahead for her album. Most of the pages are labeled “Verse or Toast,” and on the back were fill-ins like “full name,” “address,” “favorite color,” “eye and hair color,” “birthday,” etc. for her new friends.
Eventually, yearbooks, address books, and business cards became the norm, and the autograph books slowly faded out again. But these memory boxes are now signatures of the past that tell of once-close friendships, inside jokes, and travels.