Among the things that come in with donations that are perfectly logical, perfectly straightforward, and yet still difficult to handle are autograph albums. These fall into the category of books-yet-not-books, and I don’t have a category for that. For one thing, so many people would want to put Bridges of Madison County and similar titles into it that the category would soon lose what little meaning it ever had.
What I have to do, of course, before sorting them, is look inside. Once opened, auitograph albums fall into three categories.
A. Blank This kind of autograph album is simple. Now that we have a category for Blank Books, I can simply put the books there and hope somebody still WANTS an autograph album in the era when it’s easier just to write on somebody’s wall in Facebook.
B. Written in, and including somebody famous This is simple enough, too, because this kind of autograph album either goes into the Newberry’s collection, or into our collectibles section, depending on who the famous person is. (It’s happened only once, as a matter of fact. One autograph album included a note from the owner’s cousin, a fellow named Benjamin Harrison, who happened to be President of the United States at the time. That went upstairs. We still haven’t made up our minds about the autograph album of a high school kid who didn’t so much have famous friends but who grew up to be important in the world of architecture.
C. Written in by no one identifiable It is a great disappointment to me that many people writing in autograph books seem to have missed the point. When they ought to be writing things like “When you get old and think you’re swell, ask people how they like the smell. Yours sincerely, William Shakespeare” what they really write is “Hi! John”. No chance to figure out if John became a marketable celebrity, since there’s no last name, and not even a rude or charming verse to distinguish the page. Really, I don’t know WHERE to put the book, except maybe on the Scarlett O’Hara pile (I’ll think about it tomorrow.)
That’s where eBay is such a boon. Once upon a time, somebody gave us the manuscript of an unpublished book on handwriting analysis. This year, as autograph albums come in, I’m going to photocopy the manuscript, package it with the album, and sell the set as a practice kit for beginning handwriting analysts. Those of you sending in autograph books can help out by enclosing a note to let me know whether anybody in your album turned out to be an axe murderer, an atomic spy, or a commodities broker. If ALL your friends are now doing time, I MIGHT just be able to get more money from your old high school for not letting the album go on the market.