A blank book in which to insert autographs of celebrated persons, or in which friends insert pieces as memorials for each other. — Webster, 1882
Autograph Album. Ma tells Carrie and Laura that autograph albums are blank books where friends write and sign their names to verses that you keep to remember them by (Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 10, “Mary Goes to College”). Autograph albums have been found in Europe that date to the 1500s. While collecting autographs of famous persons has always been popular, collecting remembrances of friends were something that anyone could easily and inexpensively do. Contrary to Nellie Oleson’s comment to the girls in the De Smet school, autograph albums weren’t passé in the 1880s, although it was often thought to be a bother to be expected to “stand and deliver” a witty verse upon demand. — Bismarck D.T. Tribune, October 1884.
The following “Chat About Autographs” was published in 1880:
…An autograph album is a reflection of its contributors, for an autograph is almost as good a keepsake as a photograph. There we lovingly gaze upon pages hallowed by the tokens of dear friends, some of whom have vanished from our life but not from our love; and, again, there are pages which, is lost would never be regretted. The album’s writings are as various as the writers, and often a laughable effort at originality is disclosed. There may be found upon one page a beautiful sentiment, while the opposite page may be graced with some exquisite doggerel. There are some stock mottoes for albums. Did you ever look through a respectable collection of autographs and not find from once to a dozen times, “When this you see, / Remember me?”
Autograph albums could be elaborate purchases or simply made by sewing small sheets of paper together into book form. The gilt and red autograph album owned by Laura Ingalls is part of the collection of the Laura Ingalls Wilder / Rose Wilder Lane Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. It was signed by the McKees, Fred and D.A. Gilbert, Ida Wright, Mary Power, Mary Ingalls (in Braille), Grace Ingalls, A.J. Wilder, Alice and Arthur Whiting, Cap Garland, and others. Entries are dated from January 1882 to March 1885.
Shortly after her marriage in 1886 to President Grover Cleveland, The First Lady was visiting in the Adirondacks and noticed a local artist fashion a bit of birch bark into a leaf shape. Mrs. Cleveland declared that it was “just too lovely for anything at all—except to adorn the page of an autograph album,” and the leaf was inserted in hers. She then went on to personally fashion a hundred of the birch bark leaves, and they were signed by both herself and the President. Until the supply ran out, any person writing to obtain an autograph of the President was sent one of them! [Mitchell, D.T. Republican, November 24, 1886, page 4]
Photograph Album. In the Little House books, the presence of a photograph album on a center table shows affluence in contrast to the simpler style of the Ingallses’ home, where their table is adorned with wildflowers displayed in a pitcher of water. Like the velvet seats on the train in By the Shores of Silver Lake (Chapter 3, “Riding in the Cars”) or the plush sofa in the hotel in Tracy (Chapter 4, “End of the Rails”), the Tinkhams’ plush album and the Wilders’ velvet are touches of Victorian elegance found – in the Tinkhams’ case – even on the rough Dakota prairie.
The Ingalls family is never mentioned as owning a photograph album or posing for a photographer, although they did both in real life. An album belonging to the Ingalls family is on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder / Rose Wilder Lane Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. Although it is not clear what photographs this album once contained, it is usually open to display photographs of young Clarence and Eva Huleatt of Pepin, Wisconsin. An album belonging to Laura and Almanzo Wilder shows a photograph of Alice Ingalls Whiting as a young woman.