1830s – A young woman’s attractive leather-bound “Album” that was used as a commonplace book
Album. This book measures 3.5” X 4.5”. Although unpaginated, it contains approximately 130 pages filled with poems, notes, drawings, and illustrations. The handwriting is tiny and fine. There is an old neatly done paper repair to the front hinge that reattaches the front board of its black faux caoutchouc-gutta-percha cover. No owner’s name or location, however it was purchased at a Connecticut antique shop.
Popular for centuries, the origin of commonplace books can be traced back to the Renaissance when wealthy readers would copy their favorite passages from books into blank albums to create personal anthologies. Later, compilers often added notes, proverbs, adages, aphorisms, maxims, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, prayers, legal formulas, recipes, and many other useful tidbits of information. Creators frequently organized and even indexed their contents, and young women from better families were encouraged by parents to create commonplace books as evidence of cultural sophistication and a well-rounded upbringing. (For more information, see Miller’s Assuming the Positions: Cultural Pedagogy and the Politics of Commonplace Writing.)
The first textual entry in this book, poetically explains its compiler’s intention:
“In truth it is not every book / That is suited to the mind. / In some forever you may look / And no amusement find. / But seldom does an Album fail to please both grave and gay. / It teems with many a mournful tale and many a merry lay. . ..”. Very good. Item #009878
The handwriting in this book is exquisite, perfectly-formed, tiny calligraphy. Spelling and grammar are correct. Drawings are well done, and printed illustrations are well-mounted and captioned. It is definitely the work of a well-bred young woman from a wealthy family as attested to by its first mounted illustration of a beautiful young woman wearing what she identified as “My Riding Dress.” The compiler had special affection for the works of Lord Bryon and many are included, along with other authors’ poems (e.g., Sonnet, Supposed to have been Addressed by a Female Lunatic to a Lady by Henry Kirke White), ballads (e.g., Auld Robin Gray by Lady Anne Lindsay), and a riddle attributed to Hanna More. One of Lord Byron’s works is identified as being published after his death, which suggests this book was prepared in the 1830s.
Although commonplace books regularly appear at auction and for sale in the trade; this one is especially nice and was clearly created not just as a repository of favorite writings or useful information, but as a visual demonstration of social status, class, and wealth. Surely, this young woman’s girlfriends would have been intimidated and her suitors impressed.