The tradition of collecting autographs (or signatures) in a bound book can be traced back to the 1500s. German-speaking students traveling throughout Europe would keep these books as a way of documenting their scholarly achievements. The autographs, which could sometimes take up an entire page, also served as endorsements from fellow scholars and teachers. In addition to signatures, the albums often contained letters, poems, jokes, and quotes. By the early 1800s, autograph albums had taken on a new life as novelties and souvenirs of special events. They could be found in gift shops with elaborately decorated covers, often with the names and images of popular destinations. Others were given as gifts with the recipient’s name printed in gold leaf across the cover. They remained popular among students and would influence one tradition still practiced today: the yearbook.
The AJHS has several unique autograph albums in their archives. Below are a few samples from recently digitized collections: