Wedding Guest Books (Podcast)

Wedding Guest Books

Maureen Woodman, wedding planner at The Essex Room, discusses the history of wedding guest books, modern interpretations that many couples are using, and whether or not she expects to see the tradition continue in the future.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today with Maureen Woodman, a wedding planner for on and off site catered events at the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about wedding guestbooks. Welcome, Maureen.

Maureen Woodman: Hi, John. Thanks for having me.

John: Sure. Maureen, what is a wedding guestbook and what did that traditionally look like?

Maureen: A wedding guest book would be … you would go to your reception hall, you would come in. There would be a little guestbook attendant, usually somebody that was between 10 and 20, the younger junior bridesmaid or something. And they would sit there. They would greet you. They would give you your place cardholder for your table assigned seating. They would ask you to sign in. You would drop off your money card or your gift. You might write a message in it, congratulations. So glad for your wedding. Some people, if they moved, their address, if they were kind enough, they would put their address in the book so when you did your thank you notes, you didn’t have to go hunting out the address.

John: Right.

Maureen: Or they would write a message, a little private message in there and books, you bought them at the Hallmark store. They probably cost around 5 or $10. They were traditionally white with gold or white with silver. You always had to get a pretty guestbook pen, could have a feather on it, and you would kind of have that after your receiving line. Everybody would line up and write their name in the book. So that’s what it was. And I would say in the last 10 years that is not what it is anymore.

John: Right. Things have changed and people are really doing some kind of unique personal takes on what the wedding guestbook is. What are some of the favorite examples that you have of this changing style for a wedding guestbook?

Maureen: I think the biggest one is it kind of looks like a family tree, and it would have all kinds of branches on it. It could be on a piece of paper. It could be on something that was cut out. It could actually be on a cutting board where they had the indelible markers. It could be sitting freestyled on the easel. It could also be little tiny things like I’ve seen where there’s trees and you make a wish and write your name and then you hang the ornament from the tree. I’ve seen little hearts where you write your name on the heart and then the heart goes into a box, like a shake it up kind of box, almost like sweetheart candy from Valentine’s. Remember those little red charm candies? All these crazy things.

Maureen: Of course, the craziest one for me, my daughter married a boy from Mexico, and in Mexico they sign a dress shirt. So when Vanessa and Franco got married, we had to buy a white dress shirt for Franco, and you got all cotton fabric markers, different colors. And when the people came in they wrote a message on the shirt and then Franco was to wear that shirt on his honeymoon. That was for good luck.

John: So he’s walking around on his honeymoon with a shirt with people’s names all over it.

Maureen: Yeah, yeah.

John: That’s funny.

Maureen: So it was a very traditional kind of thing. Probably my favorite one is the cutting board, and how you get your name in there is kind of interesting. But it’s very strange to me. You still come in. You still get your place card, your assigned seating. You still drop your envelope off, your gift. That really hasn’t changed much. But how you sign into the wedding has changed, or there’s no signing anymore. So the only way you would know who came to your wedding would be if you had your wedding planner collect the place cards that weren’t taken from the table.

John: Right.

Maureen: And that’s how you know when someone came to your wedding.

John: And then you compare that to your list that you sent out.

Maureen: Your list, sure. And I wonder, I’m married 37 years. I can’t actually say that I’ve looked at my guestbook in 37 years.

John: Yeah.

Maureen: I don’t even know if I still have it.

John: It is a little bit of a sort of a formalized throwback to just, I don’t know, just have this list of everybody that was at your wedding. Like you said, how often do you pull that off your shelf and look at it? But maybe with something more decorative, I think that might be what people are getting at with the trees and the hearts and things like that, that that might be something that somebody could hang on their wall in their house and make it more of an art piece rather than just this sort of formal book that’s on the shelf.

Maureen: Another thing that’s popular is some of the kids may take their engagement photo and have that done with matting on the side. So say it’s their engagement photo. They have the white mats done. You sign the mat and then they frame that and hang that in their house, as well. So that’s another one that’s pretty popular, where they’re signing the mat of the picture and then you get it professionally framed and you have it in your house. So you know people came to the wedding.

John: And again that’s something that you’d put on your wall as a piece of artwork and you’d always be looking at it.

Maureen: Yeah. At least you could use that.

John: Right.

Maureen: And you could control the picture that was in it because you could pick the picture that you wanted to use. But I would say that that’s probably the ones I’ve seen the most.

John: So do you see a wedding guestbooks as a continuing part of wedding receptions and do you think that this trend of uniquely styled guestbooks, like these art pieces, will continue?

Maureen: I don’t think so. I would say out of all the traditions, it’s going.

John: Yeah, it’s just not as popular anymore as it used to be. Are you seeing more and more couples opting out and just not doing anything like that?

Maureen: Another one that they use that’s kind of fun is they will get the instant Polaroid cameras now. Not like the instant Polaroids from long ago. They’re little tiny ones and they take these strip shots and some of the girls will have a guestbook set up like a scrapbook. So you would take a picture of yourself, and this would go on during the wedding, not necessarily when you entered the function hall. So you would go back to the entry room. You would take a picture of yourself, or if you were with somebody. You put your picture into the scrapbook. They come with little tabs, little silver tabs that you stick the picture in. And then they have these markers that you write on the scrapbook pages.

Maureen: And then again you would say Maureen and John came to the wedding, had a great time, blah, blah, blah, hugs and kisses, best wishes. At least with the scrapbook guestbook, you would have photos. So then maybe that will be kind of like a fun coffee table book for your family.

John: Right.

Maureen: Where you could leave that out and people could say, oh look, that’s what you looked like when you were at my wedding or something. So kind of again, that’s a different one, too. And that’s expensive to do that. Those little Polaroid cameras are about $70 and that film is really, really pricey, and the scrapbooks are probably going for about 30 or $40, and then, of course, all the real stickers that go along, so that guestbook could probably run you almost $200 when it’s done. So a lot of girls might forego that just to have a bunch of pictures with a signature.

John: Yeah. So again, you’re seeing less and less people doing wedding guestbooks in general, but if they are, they are maybe branching out and doing some of these more art pieces that they can hang on their wall or a scrapbook like you’re talking about so that they can… it’s something that they will use moving forward as opposed to just a book that won’t get touched for 30 years.

Maureen: Exactly. It’s something that they could have that’s more useful as opposed to just going up in the attic in the box. Yeah, definitely.

John: All right. That’s great information, Maureen. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Maureen: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me.

John: And for more information, you can visit the Essex Room website at or call 978-768-7335.