A proper guestbook is designed to entice. Wider than it is tall, its proportions make it a bit dramatic to open, as if one were starting an alluring storybook.
Increasingly, guestbooks have become a means for preserving memories of the friends and loved ones who complete our lives. Long a way to record the sentiments of guests at weddings and milestone events, guestbooks are also finding their way into less extraordinary, but no less significant, chapters of our lives.
At the conclusion of what has turned into an unusually stressful year, guestbooks for holiday company and family reunions can also provide a written affirmation of sorely needed love and well wishes. "I think it's a way of connecting," says Carole Young, a buyer and department manager at Greetings & Readings in Towson. "People go in and out of our lives so much now. I think we need to remember each other."
Outside of exceptional occasions, guestbooks - with appropriately themed decorative covers - have most notably found a home in vacation getaways, whether it's a place down the ocean or a mountain cabin. They aren't just found in elegant surroundings either; a humble second home on a river that provides weekend solace is reason enough to own a guestbook.
When Beverly Pitts and her husband Harold bought a small home on the Ochlochnee River, an hour's drive from their Tallahassee, Fla., residence, she also bought a guestbook. Pitts likens reading guestbook entries to receiving "a hug with a big smile attached to it."
Guestbook entries also provide a "virtual tour" of her friends and family's visits, long after they've left. "The whole thing comes vividly back to my memory," Pitts says.
Guestbooks can be found as well in private, non-vacation homes. Young recently bought a guestbook for her sister's new condo. "When people drop in, they write a quick little note, sign their name and the dates they've been there, what they had for dinner" and other domestic details, she says.
Not everyone chooses a guestbook for themselves. "They are a good gift item," says Hannah Keys Rodewald, of the Pleasure of Your Company stationers in Greenspring Station.
Elizabeth Bailey, Rodewald's partner in the Hannah Elizabeth Collection, a gift shop and event planning business, also in Greenspring Station, keeps a guestbook at her family's Ocean City condo. "We love getting the notes," Bailey says. "We know that people had a good time and what their experience was," she says. Visitors also leave tips about new restaurants and other attractions for the benefit of future guestbook perusers.
Guestbooks with blank pages are gaining in popularity over those with lined pages. Like scrapbooks, also enjoying widespread appeal, they invite contributors to sketch as well as write, and to include photos and other ephemera
"Many of our customers are creative and actually prefer the blank ones," says Jason Thompson, of Rag &Bone Bindery in Providence, R.I. "If you were the bride and groom, you don't need to see signatures," he says. It's more fun to see entries created with color markers, glue sticks and photographs, he says. "We took our guestbook on our honeymoon and looked at the funny stuff [contributed by guests]."
Guestbooks are placed in a wide variety of environments these days. There's one located next to the out-door labyrinth, a contemplative path at Govans Presbyterian Church on York Road. Guestbooks can be found at ground zero in New York, where untold visitors to the World Trade Center ruins have expressed their emotions.
Guests at bridal showers and funerals often sign guestbooks, as do visitors to inns, churches, galleries and restaurants. Online guestbooks abound.
Content varies, from cursory comments about a condo's new rug, to long ruminations about a walk on the beach or an adventurous day. Together, the entries reflect a family's life and times. Any given guestbook may disappear into an attic or become relegated to the yard sale pile. Then again, a guestbook may become a treasured heirloom as well as a resource for family historians.
The history of guestbooks appears to merge with that of calling cards, a common currency among the affluent in previous centuries. Cathy Baker, an instructor in the history of the book at the University of Alabama, speculates that in the 19th century, "upper middle-class people and upper-class people probably used guestbooks quite extensively, as a kind of archival record of not only what the family did on a particular day, but who visited them."
Today, "it's kind of funny how society has ... taken up that idea on all levels, not just on special occasions," Baker says.