Monday, November 14, 2011

The Ties That Bind

Being "friended" in the 18th century came with a heavy price. If you were presented with a friendship album from someone dear, you were obliged to honor them with an endearing image or affectionate verse in the best hand you could muster. This popular pastime remained a pursuit of the leisure class, students, and young children for nearly 200 years, until it fell out of favor in the mid-20th century. Clearly because the customary inscription was a burden to many, as any "friending" response was without aid of "white-out", spellcheck, do-overs, or even a "like" button manicule. Oh the pressure!
      The two friendship albums featured here are over 200 years old and were begun just 26 years apart. The first one above dates from 1769 to 1772. It is an autograph and ephemera album belonging to a gentleman by the name of Michael Conradt, likely from Germany or Austria. It is written in German, Latin, French and Italian. The title page features a charming watercolor image of a harpist and accompanying pages include pressed flowers, cut-paper silouettes and verses in fraktur. Conradt was likely a student and his book was filled with affectionate and academic inscriptions from fellow students. Learn more about this book at The Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company, where it is currently for sale.
      Below is the friendship album of a much adored Anne Wagner inscribed with reverent verse and detailed illustrations of watercolor, pen and ink, pencil sketches and cut paper collage. Begun in 1795 and completed 39 years later in 1834. The entire Anne Wagner friendship album has been digitized and is on view in the special collections at the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery.

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