Today is Queen Victoria’s birthday. The British monarch was responsible for creating some interesting social trends. It was because of her, for example, that birthday books became popular. Birthday books had spaces for each day of the year and you recorded the birthdays of friends and family members in the appropriate spots.
Birthday books were first created in 1866 by a Bristol publisher named W. Mack but they really only grew to be widely popular items when it became known that Queen Victoria checked her birthday book every morning. Initially, the books were published with Scripture passages assigned to each day of the year. Later poetry was featured either by a variety of authors or a single author like Shakespeare or Rossetti.
Years ago while helping my Aunt Viola Schmidt move I found two birthday books that had belonged to my grandmother Annie Jantz Schmidt and her sister Matilda Jantz.
My grandmother’s birthday book is called The Birthday Book of Beauty and for each day of the year, there is a quote from a famous poet about beauty. Grandma received this birthday book in 1911 when she was 19. She kept it up to date for many decades.
Grandma married Peter Schmidt in 1917. The names of her children born in the 1920s are all in the birthday book. My Mom shared her birthdate with her cousin Verna so both their names are recorded for July 11 although Verna was born in 1913 and Mom in 1925.
Grandma also entered the names of her grandchildren born in the 1950s and 1960s. My name is recorded on my birthdate October 16th. The poem by Keats for my birthday talks about the simple loveliness of English girls.
My brother Mark born ten years later on March 5th was assigned a more well-known verse from Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
Grandma has recorded two names here for September 4, her sister Matilda Jantz who was born in 1885 and her niece Edna Ewart who was born in 1911 the year Grandma received her birthday book and sadly also the year her sister Matilda died.
After my grandmother’s older sister Matilda died her book came into my Grandma Annie’s keeping. Matilda’s book was much older than my grandmother’s although it is not dated.
Matilda’s birthday book is in Gothic German script and features Bible verses rather than poetry.
My Grandmother Annie and my Great Aunt Matilda’s birthday books are real family treasures. I am so grateful to my Aunt Viola for keeping them all these years.
It’s fitting that on Queen Victoria’s birthday my post pays tribute to a birthday tradition she helped to establish.