An album amicorum is the name for an early version of the autograph book in the German-language region. It immortalized the owner’s friends, acquaintances, relatives, professors and teachers, and other figures of authority with epigrams, mottos, or adages of friendship, wishes, dedications, coats of arms, drawings, silhouettes, embroideries, locks of hair, pressed flowers, or the like. They were especially widespread in the middle classes and student circles of the 18th and 19th Centuries. In addition to their function as memorabilia, they were especially used as letters of recommendation in student circles when changing universities.
The oldest known example to date by Claude de Senarclens (began in 1545), one of Calvin’s associates, comes from Wittenberg. It is therefore interesting to note that the tradition of the autograph book found widespread acceptance primarily in Protestant circles until the 18th Century. Whether the roots of the autograph books were in fact originally in the medieval genealogical ancestral tables, tournament books, or dynasty books can only be suspected today.
In any case, the student autograph books turned into remembrance books over the course of time. The latter had ready-made graphic prints as the sheets of the autograph book with picture motifs that could be arranged as desired. During the 19th Century, the fashion of the autograph book increasingly declined. The function of friendship souvenirs for students was now increasingly assumed by objects depicting colors such as dishes and mugs decorated with dedications.
Autograph books are quite interesting for research today because they permit conclusions about the writer’s mentality and moral standards, as well as the fashion currents. The uncensored autograph books can serve as an important source for the biographical data of individuals and the student associations, which were generally prohibited until 1848. The autograph books of Ludwig van Beethoven and Babette Koch are considered to be especially famous.
The format of the autograph books changed through the course of their history from bound books with empty or just partially printed parchment or paper sheets to the currently popular pre-printed friendship books. The autograph books primarily existed in the sedez or octavo format until the end of the 18th Century. They later also became available in the horizontal format or in the form of loose sheets that could be stored in cassettes or folders.