Collecting manuscripts, letters and autographs as a business and hobby dates back to Aristotle who amassed a library of maps and scholarly papers. During the era of the Ptolemys beginning in 306 BC, autographs were acquired and preserved. Empires conquering other empires helped themselves to these collections storing and preserving them until some other empire “borrowed” them. Centuries of fallow collecting occurred until the 17th century when a rekindling of interest in autographs and preserving documents became de rigeur. England created a market place for autographs with auctions. Collecting became a profit centered business.
Ushering in the Victorian era, people created autograph albums of a wide range of people who were unconnected. One autograph may have been from a person famous in one field of expertise with the next autograph from someone far ranging from that knowledge. Autograph hunting became an insatiable mania! By the 1880s in the United States, there were store fronts that sold autographs and auctions were held. Among America’s autograph collectors were J P Morgan and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Even today in the 21st century star struck people wait at stage doors to get the autographs of the Broadway show stars, opera singers, ballerinas, country western singers, rock bands, comedians and even politicians. They hold on to these signatures as an emotional and physical reminder of the experience they just had.
In the past 12 years I have purchased two of Gena Branscombe’s autographs that were for sale on the internet. The first was in 2008 when an original autographed manuscript of the first three measures of her song “Serenade” came up for sale. This is the first three measures of the first song on my CD … what a find. The manuscript is framed and hangs next to my piano. Whoever the original owner of this small manuscript was must have collected original snippets of composers’ music.
Last week autograph #2 was added to my Gena collection. Marked “teneremente” with four measures of her song “Heartsease”, written below that – “St. Valentine’s Day 1926” – signed “with love Gena Branscombe”. “Heartsease” is also on my CD … another find.
This autograph came with some provenance. The autograph was given to Geraldine Bergh, daughter of Geraldyne Bergh, an heiress in social and charitable circles. She was the wife of renowned American composer, conductor and accompanist, Arthur Bergh. Geraldine assembled an autograph collection of artists, singers, actors, conductors, composers, writers and other music personalities that she met. Her collection of over 800 autographs was given to a church who sold it to an antiques dealer who sold it to me.
This lovely autograph is to be framed and hung next to my piano.