Dies schrieb Dir zur Erinnerung. . .
From Album Amicorum
to Autograph Book

by Antje Petty, MKI Assistant Director

     Some of the beautiful and intriguing items in the Max Kade Institute’s collection are little autograph books and small, decorative boxes containing loose leaf poems and personal dedications. They represent a centuries-old German tradition of the Album Amicorum [book of friends], also called Stammbuch or, more recently, Poesiealbum.
     Stammbücher appear for the first time in the 16th and 17th centuries in the German- and Dutch-speaking areas of Europe, where it had become fashionable among graduating university students to have one’s personal bible signed by classmates and instructors. Soon inscriptions went beyond simple signatures to include reminiscences of common experiences, good wishes for the future, or a favorite passage from literature or poetry. Publishers foreseeing a lucrative market printed bibles with empty pages and soon also turned out small decorated books with only empty pages.
     Eventually these albums were not only passed around at graduation but accompanied a student throughout his life, gathering entries from relatives, friends, and important acquaintances. Others also took up the custom, especially those who traveled as part of their training or social upbringing, such as aristocrats, tradesmen, military officers, poets, or musicians. Stammbücher were usually circulated at a time of parting and served the bearer not only as a sentimental remembrance but as a collection of references by association in his pursuit of a professional or social career. Inscriptions were personal, yet frequently included
literary quotes, showing the writer’s—and by extension the bearer’s—social and intellectual standing. The messages emphasized values such as intellectual and political freedom, hard work, honesty, forthrightness, self-reliance, and friendship. Good wishes for happiness, health, good fortune, and prosperity were always included.
     Though they fell out of favor for a while beginning in the late 17th century, Stammbücher resurfaced in the first half of the nineteenth century. As earlier, they circulated among university students, especially fraternity members, but they now also became popular among the emerging educated middle class. These books were testaments to the values of the Biedermeier age (friendship, loyalty, family ties, domesticity, religious piety) and were passed around by women as well as men. Towards the mid-nineteenth century, Stammbücher became almost exclusively the domain of young women, and fifty years later, they were mostly kept by young girls. In Germany today, Poesiealben—as the books are now called—are still a fad among elementary-school-age girls.
In nineteenth-century America, high school and university graduates kept autograph books, a custom probably introduced by German immigrants and American students who had studied at German universities. However, they never acquired the widespread popularity they had in Germany, and yearbooks soon replaced autograph books even among American students.
     The changes in German-language Stammbücher are wonderfully reflected in the MKI collection. Early Stammbücher, often leather-bound and elaborately decorated, featured intricate artwork sometimes done by hired artists. Later, at the height of the friendship cult, writers often added their own drawings, pressed flowers, delicate needlework, locks of hair, or commercially available glossy glue-on pictures. These Lackbilder or Oblaten themselves became collector items. Common motives were wreaths, hearts, and the favorite flowers of remembrance: forget-me-nots, roses, and carnations.
     In addition to bound books, little 2.5-inch by 6-inch memory boxes containing loose-leaf paper were also popular; they came in elaborately decorated cardboard sleeves. Memory boxes had advantages: a single page could be handed to a friend to sign, or individual sheets could be given to several friends simultaneously; pages could be arranged selectively; and—if found undesirable for whatever reason—they could be discretely discarded.
     The oldest Stammbuch in the MKI archives is such a memory box. The box itself is bound in brown leather with the words Denkmal der Freundschaft (Memorial to Friendship) engraved in gold on its spine. The front cover is a colored print of a stage coach departing from a bucolic village scene, framed in gold and behind glass. The box has a cardboard sleeve and can be shelved like a book. Inside, single sheets of paper are held together by a broad green ribbon. We do not know the name of the young man who kept this Stammbuch between 1829 and 1832, but he had family in the Cologne area and traveled around northern Germany. Many entries are adorned with drawings or needlework.    Johanne Ehser (Voerde, May 1830), for example, stitched a forget-me-not onto her piece of paper with delicate bright green and purple thread; Caspar Quambusch (Voerde, May 1830) embellished his note with a watercolor of two hands emerging from clouds and clasping in friendship a bunch of flowers; and I. H. (Rade, September 1830) simply writes the words Hoffnung, Glaube, Geduld (hope, faith, patience) under the colored-pencil drawing of an anchor entwined by tiny roses and forget-me-nots. Most inscriptions are rather clumsy inspirational verses composed by family members, friends, and teachers, which pertain to the young man’s only vaguely defined future.

Sei immer Mann und groß durch innere Kräfte,
Und überlaß nie andern ein Geschäfte,
das du noch selbst zu enden magst;
Zeig [?] Harmonie in Wort und That, und weiche
kein Haar breit, stark wie eine Königseiche;
Und felsenhaft sei, was du sagst.
Gewidmet von Ihrem Freund und Vetter

  O. W. Küpper
  Wermelskirchen im April 1829

Be ever a man, stand tall through inner strength,
Never leave work for others
That you yourself are able to finish;
Show harmony in word and deed, and yield not
Even one hair’s width, be strong as a royal oak;
And may what you say be unshakeable.
Dedicated by your friend and cousin
  O.W. Küpper
  Wermelskirchen, April 1829

Was wären wir Menschen ohne die Hoffnung!
Die Hoffnung leite auch Sie mein junger Freund!
Und führe Sie in eine glückliche Zukunft!—
Freundlich erinnern Sie sich stets:
Ihres Lehrers und Freundes

  A. Pieper, Stiftsprediger
  St. Bassum, den 26ten Febr. 1829

What would we people be without hope!
Hope may guide you, too, my dear young friend!
And lead you to a happy future!—
Kindly always rememberYour teacher and friend
  A. Pieper, Seminary Preacher
  Stift Bassum, February 26, 1829

     Stammbücher often marked the beginning of a new stage in the bearer’s life. Sophia Baass’ Album Amicorum in the MKI collection marked her impending emigration from Mecklenburg to America. Between March and May 1851, Sophia circulated her album—a pretty white memory box decorated with delicately embossed and colored flowers—among her family and friends who would stay behind. While their entries include good wishes for Sophia’s journey, they also express a sense of sadness about the impending separation, together with hope that love and friendship will prevail across great distances. Many pages are adorned with drawings. Franziska Haacke sewed (!) an extremely delicate paper cutout of a green wreath onto her page. Maria Langhof included a lock of her hair with a pink ribbon, and “Cousin Wilhelmine” wrote:

Weil uns fremdes Landt soll trennen,
und wir nicht beisammen sind,
Laß nie aus dem Gedächtniß kommen,
Daß auch wir Verwandte sindt,
Denk in gut und schlechten Tagen,
hier zu Deiner Verwandten her,
Wenn Dich trübe Stunden plagen,
Rufe meinen Gruß zur Wehr

  Zur Erinnerung an Deine dich ewig liebende
   Cousine Wilhelmine

Since foreign lands shall separate us,
And we cannot be together,
Never forget
That we are relatives, too.
Remember on good and bad days,
Your relative here,
If cloudy hours trouble you,
Recall my good wishes to defend against them.
   In memory of your forever loving
   Cousin Wilhelmine

Aunt Sophie added:

Auch in weiter Ferne, denke zuweilen Deiner
Dich liebenden Tante

  Sophie Kniesch geb Dusch

Even in faraway lands, remember at times
Your loving aunt
   Sophie Kniesch, nee Dusch.

     On May 30th, 1851, Charlotte Walter in Schwerin wrote the last entry from Germany in Sophia Baass’ album:

     Nehmen Sie, liebe Sophie, zum Andenken meine besten Wünsche für Ihr Wohl und Glück! Der Himmel beschütze Sie und Ihre lieben Angehörigen und möge er seinen Segen zu dieser Überfahrt Ihnen allen verleihen! Diese wenigen Worte kommen aus treuem Herzen, und verbinden damit noch den Wunsch nicht zu vergessen Ihre Charlotte Walter

    Dear Sophie, take as remembrance my best wishes for your wellbeing and happiness! May Heaven protect you and your dear family and grant all of you his blessings for the [transatlantic] passage. These few words are coming from a loyal heart, and extend the wish that you not forget your Charlotte Walter.

    But Sophia Baass’ album is not just an old-world momento. She continues to collect inscriptions soon after her arrival in America. Accompanied by a color-pencil drawing of garden scene with a willow bent over a pedestal inscribed Andenken (in memoriam), the very next entry reads:

Edle Freundschaft nur verbindet
Seelen zu der schönsten Pflicht.
Und die Kränze die sie windet
Welken selbst im Grabe nicht

Robert Hintz a. Prussia. State Wisconsin.
Milwaukie, the 10’ February 1852

Only noble friendship connects
Souls in most beautiful obligation [?]
And the wreaths it twines
Will not wilt even on a grave.

     It is interesting to note that Robert Hintz writes the above verse in German and in the old German script, but signs it in English. His English, however is a literal translation, still showing German grammatical structures.
Another (undated) entry in Sophia’s album—adorned with a crocheted wreath of brunette hair—is entirely in English, but also seems to be the work of a non-native speaker:

Life is onward try it ere the day is lost
It hath virtue buy it at whatever cost
  Louisa L Keith To Mrs. Sophia Bass

      While Stammbuch entries in the mid-nineteenth century included inspirational verses that may or may not have been composed by the writer, they tended to be personalized texts. This changed in the second half of the nineteenth century when almost all entries took the form of rhymes which were frequently copied from now popular “Stammbuch poetry collections” and magazines.
     A good example is the album of Amande Lorenz from Niederröblingen, who in 1906 at the age of 20 immigrated to Milwaukee to join her uncle, the famous panorama painter Richard Lorenz. Amande’s album has the bigger (5-inch by 8-inch) size of the Poesiealben popular in Germany today. Most entries are from 1900, written by her classmates, parents, and siblings. Almost all end in the formulaic signature “Dies schrieb dir zur Erinnerung…”. (This was written for you as a memory by…) The verses chosen are standard sayings without any direct connection to a specific person, time, place, or event. Some even appear more than once. For example, the following verse was selected both by “Mitschüler Otto Knote” (a classmate) as well as “Schwester Hilda” (her sister).

Sei deiner Eltern Lieb’ und Lust,
im Alter einst ihr Stab
Und tiefen Dankes in der Brust,
Besuche oft ihr Grab
.

Be your parents love and joy,
Their support in old age
And with deep thanks in your heart,
Visit often their grave.

     The Stammbuch tradition continued in German-American communities, even among people who had never lived in Europe. Here the albums often show an interesting mix of language and cultural adaptation. An interesting example is the “Album Souvenir” of Theresa Graettinger. The 6-inch by 8-inch book was printed in New York as a scrap book for “selections, sketches, autographs, etc.” Empty pages are interspersed with art prints that—like beads on the thread—depict the different stages on the path to adulthood expected from a young pious and virtuous woman. The first images in the books depict religious scenes (the Holy Family) and family bliss (a grandmother reading to her granddaughter). Towards the end they show depictions of coming of age and female friendship (three young ladies taking a boat ride), finally culminating in marriage (a wedding scene in front of a church).
     Entries in Theresa’s album range from 24-line poems in the old German script (Anton Thormählen, Milwaukee 1881) to simple sentences in English: “Remember your friend Frank Brand” (Milwaukee 1880). There are a number of verses in English or German that refer to womanly virtues such as patience, modesty, and love for music; most were written by Theresa’s friends and teachers at St. Catherine Academy in Milwaukee. On the other end of the spectrum, brothers Michael (in English) and Alois (in German) added more humorous verses:

Liebe Schwester, ich sann her und hin
Was wohl im Stammbuch schicklich wär
Da fiel der kleine Spruch mir ein:
Du mögest ewig glücklich sein
.

Dear sister, I pondered over and over
What would be proper for your autograph book
Then I thought of this little verse:
Be happy forever.

     Long ignored and dismissed as trivial, the Album Amicorum has been re-discovered by community scholars, especially historians, in recent years. Universities and fraternities in particular have begun to appreciate the unique perspective Stammbücher offer on the history of their institutions. In 2004 the University of Göttingen Library even chose the Stammbuch of one Carsten Miesegaes (1767–1846) from Bremen as its “Book of the Year” (http://www.sub.uni-goettingen.de/archiv/hsd/buch/0504/index.html). Local museums—for example, the one in Herne (http://www2.herne.de/kultur/poesie.html)—have featured Stammbücher as unique documents of community history, culture, and self-presentation. The Stammbücher in the MKI collection bring a unique perspective, another piece in the puzzle that was the German-American experience.


Additional images

Theresa Graettinger

Inside cover
Inscription by Caspar Kroeger, 1879

Alvina Steinfort Brennecke

Cover
Hugo Zedler, text and drawing
Pauline Schiffer, 1876, text and Oblate

Sophia Baass

Cover
Charlotte Walter, 1851
Franzisca Haacke, cutout wreath
Louisa L. Keith, text and braided hair
Maria Langhof, 1851, text and hair
Robert Hintz, 1852, text and drawing

Anonymous Stammbuch in box

Anonymous drawing of a flower
B. Heuser, 1829, drawing
B. Heuser, 1829, text
Box cover
Caspar Quambusch, drawing
Caspar Quambusch, text
Goebel, drawing
IH, drawing of anchor
Johanne Ehser, 1830, stitched flower
Johanne Ehser, 1830, text


Alternative (rhyming!) translations of moral ditties, by Jack Thiessen

Sei immer Mann und groß durch innere Kräfte,
Und überlaß nie andern ein Geschäfte,
das du noch selbst zu enden magst;
Zeig [?] Harmonie in Wort und That, und weiche
kein Haar breit, stark wie eine Königseiche;
Und felsenhaft sei, was du sagst.

And be a man and great by virtue's hone,
Tend to your business, persisting though alone,
See every effort through, steadfastly, even on your own!
Reveal accord in word and deed; be slow to jest and joke;
And waiver not an inch from your endeavor, be solid as the village oak;
And firm in your conviction when intentions you make known!
_____________

Was wären wir Menschen ohne die Hoffnung!
Die Hoffnung leite auch Sie mein junger Freund!
Und führe Sie in eine glückliche Zukunft!—

What is mankind when of hope devoid?
But may new hope lead you my friend, so young and dear!
And lead you to a future, bright, of troubles free and clear!
_____________

Weil uns fremdes Landt soll trennen,
und wir nicht beisammen sind,
Laß nie aus dem Gedächtniß kommen,
Daß auch wir Verwandte sindt,
Denk in gut und schlechten Tagen,
hier zu Deiner Verwandten her,
Wenn Dich trübe Stunden plagen,
Rufe meinen Gruß zur Wehr

If now a foreign land will come between us
And we no longer close will be,
Let us united be in spirit,
Combined in mutual harmony.
Reflect on joy, disperse the blue,
On loved ones ponder on a distant shore,
If heaviness then still besets you:
May faith sustain you evermore!
_____________

Edle Freundschaft nur verbindet
Seelen zu der schönsten Pflicht.
Und die Kränze die sie windet
Welken selbst im Grabe nicht

Noble friendship braids the flowers
Every challenge it will brave:
And the wreaths on lovely bowers
Will not wither till the grave.
_____________

Sei deiner Eltern Lieb’ und Lust,
im Alter einst ihr Stab
Und tiefen Dankes in der Brust,
Besuche oft ihr Grab
.

Be to your parents happiness,
In old age be their stave,
And grateful always, as they bless
Your frequent visits to their grave.
_____________

Liebe Schwester, ich sann her und hin
Was wohl im Stammbuch schicklich wär
Da fiel der kleine Spruch mir ein:
Du mögest ewig glücklich sein
.

Dearest Sister, back and forth
My thoughts in random roam:
What kind of wishes should I send?
May good memories be your home!

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