Inside The Charming “Friendship Book” from 1795

This quirky book is filled with mementos and poems that tell show decades of friendship.

In 1795 a creative soul endeavored to create a one-of-a-kind scrapbook, savoring the memories and people that colored her life. The author, Anne Wagner, spent the next 4 decades adding to this friendship book. Books like these told the story of who the author knew, as well as recording fun details of beautiful places they had been or things they enjoyed, a tradition begun by young men in Germany in the 17th century.

Friendship books had been widely adopted for women by the time Wagner began her book and they served as a sort of Facebook for the pre-electric crowd. Wagner’s book is held by the New York Public Library collections and since this fragile book is not available to check out, the digital scans of the book serve as a wonderful peek into the past.

Front cover of Ann Wagner’s Friendship Book. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
A delicate drawing and a lock of hair from her friend, Eliza Crooke. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
Collage and drawing. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
“Ah! the shadow mocks our hearts!” Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
A lovely ink and watercolor drawing of a seashell, covered in lacquer and signed by Wagner’s friend. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
More studies of specimens: a butterfly, a feather, and two seashells. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
“Think of your sincere friend sometimes.” Via/ NYPL Digital Collections

Wagner lived in Lancashire, England, and was the aunt of poet Felicia Dorothea Browne, and Wagner apparently traveled a bit if her scrapbook is anything to go by. We love that everything from drawings to cut-outs to human hair made the book!

Celebrating the birth of Princess Anne. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
“A faithful friend is the medicine of life.” Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
Behind the rice paper is an inscription from Eliza, almost like a pop-up book with tabs. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
Collage from 1804. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
Braid of hair tied with a blue ribbon and inscription by Elizabeth Venables, 1803. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
Some of the symbols are quite mysterious. Likely only Wagner knew their true meanings. The infinity symbol with diamond makes frequent appearances throughout the book. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
Lovely poem either by or about Livia. See full transcription below. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections
“Lest Time’s pervading powers should harm
There’s tributes, which with Fancy’s aid
Are wreathed by Life’s endearing charm
The breathings of Affection warm-
Each vivid tint of tender thought
Are here to Sanctuary brought
Safe, since on Friendship’s altar laid.”
This wonderful watercolor by Wagner’s friend, Georgina, was one of the last entries in the book and the date “1834” is clearly visible below her signature. Via/ NYPL Digital Collections

The whole book is chock full of wonderful memories and quaint souvenirs of another world in which ladies collected mementos of their cherished friendships and social connections. Part autograph book, part sketchbook, part travelogue, Wagner’s friendship book is a unique artifact from the Georgian era.