An enduring autograph

In the 1920s and 30s it was an underprivileged child indeed who did not possess an autograph book, usually given as a birthday or Christmas gift. For about a shilling you could buy these books, often with attractive covers and interleaved with pages ranging from white to pastel blues, pinks, green, yellow and mauve.

In those days of restricted travel ‘celebrities’ were thin on the ground so most of the contributors were relatives, friends, your teacher, Brown Owl or heroes of your village or town cricket or football team.

The first person you approached for an entry had to be someone special, a brother, sister or best friend, for you knew exactly what they would write.
Turning to the first page with enthusiasm (but not originality) they would inscribe: “By hook or by crook I’ll be first in this book.”

The second person to be asked invariably turned to the end page and wrote the same verse substituting “last” for “first.”

Your book gradually filled with poems, quotations, water colours from a talented aunt or uncle, a variety of contributions that generally reflected the character of the donor, humorous, artistic or serious.

As one became older, interest in the autograph
book waned. Mine went after a year or two, the result, I think, of a playground swap.

One entry, though, remains as clear in my mind’s eye as the day it was written by the scratchy nib, dipped in the penny bottle of Stephens’ blue black ink nearly 70 years ago.

The writer was my grandma, apple-cheeked and ample-bosomed, who always seemed to smell of newly-baked bread.

her offering encompassed simple wisdom which I have recalled many times throughout my life. It read: “Do not stain today’s blue skies with tomorrow’s clouds.

Erica Clayton