06 June 2023
Do you remember autograph books, the dinky little hardback volumes with blank pages waiting to be filled with the signatures of friends, family and maybe someone famous... Rachel Bellerby shares the story of one such book from her family history collection.
So do we gather in this book,
The great, the good, the kind, the dear;
And bless the pages while we look
On memory’s honey gathered here
So wrote M.Y. Midgley on 22 August 1948, in my grandad Stanley Richmond’s navy blue autograph book. It is, I imagine, what was once a fairly standard volume – hardbacked, around A5 size, with 100 pages just waiting to be filled with rhymes, poems and, of course, autographs from friends, family… and maybe a few famous people.
I can see George Formby (1955), Stan Laurel ‘thank you’ (undated) – both perhaps obtained when each visited a theatre show my grandad attended. People seem to have dipped in and signed a page wherever they wanted, so the entries aren’t in date order (oh my goodness, I could never have allowed this if I'd had an autograph book!!).
Looking through the sketches, rhymes and signatures gives me an insight into a couple of decades of my grandad’s life. A few theatre bills and letters are slipped between the pages, including a note returning a postal order that Stanley sent when requesting an autograph from a theatre performer – returned with the words ‘we never charge for sending a signed photograph, it is our pleasure to do so’.
Some of the entries were written during World War Two. Did the soldiers pass the books round in idle moments, comparing stories, chatting about who was who, long-ago theatre trips? Perhaps the books were a poignant symbol of the world they one day hoped to return to.
I wonder how many people have autograph books nowadays? I think it might be impossible to get celeb signatures nowadays, but perhaps not. Do you have any autograph books in your family history collection? If so, we’d love to hear from you.
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