Sign Here: Autographs & Handwriting on Display in the California Room at the Civic Center Library
By Carol Acquaviva
The Anne T. Kent California Room presents a new display, “Sign Here: Autographs & Handwriting,” showcasing a variety of primary source material, from medical prescriptions to court documents, diaries, letters, and a child’s autograph book.
Through this exhibit, visitors can learn about graphology (the study of handwriting) and paleography (the study of handwriting through historic documents), and see how researchers examine handwritten records to decipher and understand our past. Included in the display are a selection of items that highlight Marin County’s history. For instance, an autograph book from 1928 which belonged to young Florence Paganetti contains many signatures and sweet messages, informing us of Florence’s friends and classmates. Florence was one of three children of Swiss immigrant Florindo (Joe) Paganetti and his wife Matilda, who ran a small dairy in San Rafael, and this book is part of a recent donation of Paganetti family materials.
Signatures are as unique as fingerprints. Historically, if a person was incapable of signing their name, whether for physical reasons or by way of illiteracy, they would sign an “X” instead. Sometimes the words “his” or “her” would be written above the X, and the word “mark” below, with a witness’ signature to vouch for the document’s validity. Such was the case in an 1871 example: a will for businessman Thomas McCune of Tomales, also part of this display.
Around 1906, stage actress Beatriz Michelena autographed a promotional portrait of herself and addressed a personal message to San Rafael automobile dealer George Middleton. A few years later, Beatriz and George married, and in 1913 George helped establish the California Motion Picture Corporation in San Rafael, and went on to direct many of its films. Beatriz had much success as a leading lady in CMPC films, and was one of the few Latina stars of the early silver screen in the United States.
The book Can Such Things Be by Ambrose Bierce was signed in 1908. (Bierce resided in San Rafael in the 1870s.) His inscription is to Isaac “Ike” Allen, who, like Bierce, was an editor for the San Francisco Examiner. This rare book sits on display next to a children’s primer from 1899 signed by its 7 year-old owner, Arthur Macdonald. Among the many other documents on display are Amos H. Stinson’s business ledger from 1889; a letter to Frank Lloyd Wright from San Anselmo youngster Jim Berger in 1956, requesting Wright design a doghouse for his dog Eddie; and a baptismal certificate for Martha Louise Nichols, from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in 1882.
I hope you enjoy viewing this display when you visit the Civic Center Library!