A Treasure Reclaimed
Cherishing these small but precious books that chronicle the sentiments of youth
Discovering a treasure trove of memories from the early 1900s at the bottom of a dusty old box of books.
Being a book lover, the first things I look for at flea markets are books— new, old, shiny or shopworn. What matters to me is the content. At a recent sale, I spied a small box under a table with some dusty old books in it that had obviously been ignored by other buyers. Inquiring about it, the vendor said, “Take it as is and it’s yours.”
Returning home and dying of curiosity, I immediately delved into the ragged box. On top were some old, outdated reference books, a calculus book, an old, worn Bible and several novels written by unknown authors. Some tattered newspapers were folded in two, and beneath them—to my amazement—i discovered a well- worn black leather book with the word Autographs written in faded gold letters across the cover.
From what I’ve read, autograph books originated back in the mid- 16th century among European university students who wished to preserve memories of their classmates and teachers upon graduation. These took the form of sketches, poetry and verse, and although they were chiefly confined to Dutch and Germanic cultures, by the late 18th century they were popular in America and flourished until school yearbooks replaced them.
Carefully turning the fragile pages of this book, I realized it was someone’s treasure of memories. Who would trash something like this? I wondered. The dates range from 1915 to
1926 and appear to have been written by friends who attended Provincial Normal School ( for teacher training) in Vancouver from 1925-26—90 years ago!
One by one, I gently turned the faded gold-rimmed pages and began to read the beautiful sentiments, which were accompanied by some extraordinary coloured sketches.
The first page shows a delicate black-and-white sketch of a dogwood flower, followed on the next page by a poem written in December 1915 and signed “Yours as ever, Dad.”
The following pages, 43 in all, with most written on both sides, reflect the affection with which this lady was held by her classmates. On one page, there is a King George V 2- cent stamp, which reads, “By gum—it sticks!” signed “Howard Brown.” There is also a painted picture of orange poppies decorating another page, a sailboat and lighthouse on still another, a whole page devoted to an owl in full dress sitting in a tree, and many more, all with loving sentiments.
These are truly little works of art and should be preserved. The last entry in the book is from the recipient herself and reads: “This ends the book of affection, the album of beauty and truth, this ends the sweet collection of gems that were gathered in youth.” It’s signed “May Cornwall, June 11th, 1926.”
After reading this exquisite little book, I remembered that I too, have an autograph book somewhere in the recesses of a trunk that I had largely forgotten existed. Upon retrieving it, I saw that it was dated 1942 to 1945, my elementary school years at Sir Richard Mcbride, almost 75 years ago!
Although it doesn’t contain any works of art, it has many of the same sentiments, poems and sayings as May’s does. My favourite teacher wrote: “Choose not thy friends from outward show, feathers float but pearls lie low.”
The same verse occurs in May’s book as well, 20 years earlier.
Reading over the names of these friends brought back old memories of days gone by when we were all young and eager to face the future with our dreams and aspirations. I can’t help but wonder where they’ve all gone and whether their dreams came true.
Our autograph books are truly a record of our past as surely as a diary or journal and should be treasured as such. These are words and sentiments that were written in our youth and should be forever remembered. It is sad that May’s book was destined to end up in a dusty old box, but I shall treasure it for her. n