The album amicorum (in German: Stammbuch “friendship book”) is a predecessor of the modern autograph book. The tradition dates back to the 16th century, when there was a trend to collect autographs of renowned reformers. Particularly among university students, alba amicorum were common up to the 19th century. As a token of their friendship, they would fill the pages of each other′s albums with poems, citations, sketches, or paper cuts, and sign them. Not only friends were asked for their signature but also instructors, churchmen, noblemen, or high-ranking officers in order to secure their protection if a student intended to change to another university. As late as the 18th century, alba amicorum were popular among protestants rather than catholics – not surprising considering the origin of the genre.
Until the middle of the 20th century, alba amicorum were mainly valued as sources for the history of universities. Only recently, this perspective has changed. There are about 20,000 publicly-owned specimens known to exist which are gradually being catalogued.
The University Library of Erlangen-Nürnberg possesses approximately 90 alba amicorum, mainly from the 17th century. All alba are indexed in the catalogued.