These images might seem more appropriate for Hallowe’en, but our autograph book with a twist is a charming way to think of friends, past and present, as the festive season approaches.
The Ghosts of My Friends1 was a printed book with blank pages which enjoyed a surge of popularity in the early 1900s and was ‘arranged’ by author, Cecil Henland. The pages were made from paper suitable for blotting with instructions to sign along a printed line on the page. The page was then creased while the ink was still wet, producing a ghostly image of the signature. The resulting smudge would often resemble an insect or a frog – although what this said about the writer is unclear!
Our example dates from 1907 and mostly features signatures from the Sedgwick family, collected over a few days in December 1907, perhaps during a festive family gathering?
The collection from which this book is taken reflect a particular branch of theTritton family, the records being passed and amassed through several generations encompassing the Devas, Sedgwick, Tritton and Verney families. Records include diaries, photograph albums, household and personal papers. Collections of family papers such as these offer an unique insight into the lives of our predecessors that we would not otherwise have. Once upon a time, historians were a little sniffy about family papers (no serious historian would be interested in a laundry bill!), but now we realise it is precisely these records, so mundane and quotidian, that are such a valuable window into our common past.
The Ghosts of My Friends book is a twist on the fashion for autograph collecting. Autograph collecting as a hobby has been around since the late 1700s, but really became fashionable in the 1840s when the penny post came in and sending large volumes of letters came within the reach of many people. The hobby is still popular today, and you may be able to find an old, still blank, copy of Ghosts for you to collect (and smudge) the signatures of your own friends. A unique Christmas gift?
Cecil Henland is often described as a children’s author, but it seems the only books she produced were The Ghosts of My Friends and similar volumes. The Christmas Book, included blank pages for people to write their wish-lists, and additional pages laid out to record the celebrations and events of the Christmas season, and Your Hidden Skeleton, an autograph book similar to The Ghosts of My Friends, in which the blotted signature was intended to reveal the hidden skeleton of your friends! Maybe that’s the one for Hallowe’en?
Henland also had a more serious day job as the founder of the National Society of Day Nurseries in 1906 to improve standards for day care nurseries. Their work is continued today by the National Day Nurseries Association.
1 Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR4964/40
This article was Document of the Month for the Warwickshire County Record Office in November 2016. Further articles can be found on their website.