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Autograph Albums and the Commercialization of Memory in the United States

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Cultures of Memory in the Nineteenth Century

Part of the book series: Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies ((PMMS))

Abstract

This chapter examines the creation and use of autograph albums as tools for memory-making and identity performance in the nineteenth-century United States. It problematizes the notion of separate spheres, especially in the supposed separation of personal versus commercial, that persists in historical examinations of the nineteenth century. As objects that circulated in the culture of sentimental exchange and memorialization, autograph albums provided a semi-private venue for emotional expression and displays of virtue. A large commercial industry evolved to support album-making, and autograph albums became critical to middle-class displays of character. This chapter argues that such displays depended upon consuming commercial goods; albums can thus help reconstruct both the material and commercial dimensions of memory-making and identity performance.

For their comments on this chapter, the author would like to thank Amanda Mushal, Katherine Grenier, and the audience of the 2017 annual meeting of the Nineteenth Century Studies Association held in Charleston, South Carolina. Research assistance was provided by Sara Shields, and supported by the Winterthur Museum and the Misericordia University Faculty Research Grants Program.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Cassandra Good (2015) suggests that friendship albums are occasionally erroneously referred to as autograph albums (chap. 6). Sanchez-Eppler positions friendship albums between the earlier commonplace books and later autograph albums, which she notes only contained signatures and short messages from acquaintances and not the lengthy prose of devotion in friendship albums. The albums I look at here have both long and short verses, hand-drawn and pasted imagery, and span both the ante- and post-bellum years. Archivists called them autograph albums (rather than friendship albums), though the examples here clearly fit within both categories. (Sanchez-Eppler 2007, 301).

  2. 2.

    The poem also appears in the literary magazine The Casket (1826), 156. The only attribution is “S. M.”

  3. 3.

    A survey of approximately 85 newspaper advertisements for albums, culled from the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America database (accessed between July and October 2018), demonstrates that booksellers and stationers across the United States marketed these items widely by mid-century. The sample set included advertisements ranging from the mid-1830s through 1900, from locations throughout the United States but mostly smaller, regional urban centers rather than large commercial centers in the Northeast. I would like to thank my research assistant, Sara Shields, for her invaluable work in helping to collect and sort this data. See also Jabour (1999, 157).

  4. 4.

    Whereas some manufacturers staked a claim to the market for albums through patents (which provided exclusive right to manufacture certain registered designs), branding provided market share by drumming up demand for the brand-name product. Brand-name goods were not necessarily patented in their design.

  5. 5.

    My own survey (conducted through Google books) of these volumes yielded twenty-three unique titles published between 1826 and 1891, with multiple reprints appearing.

  6. 6.

    As Michael Cohen claims, this poem initially appeared in James Montgomery’s “Mottos for Albums,” under the title “By the Owner” (the twelfth in that volume). Cohen suggests that this metonymic copying helps to imagine the album as a bouquet of flowers, and each inscription as a blossom in the bouquet. Note that the Montgomery excerpt also appears in Tomisetta (1880, 5).

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Black, J.M. (2020). Autograph Albums and the Commercialization of Memory in the United States. In: Grenier, K., Mushal, A. (eds) Cultures of Memory in the Nineteenth Century. Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37647-5_3

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