Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The History of Bookmarks


Collecting Bookmarkers by A.W. Coysh "The need for some device to mark the place in a book was recognized at an early date. Without bookmarkers, finely bound volumes were at risk. To lay a book face down with pages open might cause injury to its spine, and the crease on a page that had the corner turned down remained as a lasting reproach." —A. W. Coysh in his work on the history of English bookmarks, Collecting Bookmarkers (1974).

Rotating disc bookmark made of vellum from ~1500 by Antiquarian Bookstore Steinbeisser Bookmarks were used throughout the medieval period in Europe, consisting usually of a small parchment strip attached to the edge of folio or a piece of cord attached to headband. The rotating bookmarks were attached to a string, along which a marker could be slid up and down to mark a precise level, to the row and column, on the page.

In 1584, Queen Elizabeth I was presented with a fringed silk bookmarker by Christopher Barker, who had acquired a patent as Queen's Printer in 1577. This gave him the sole right to print the Bible, and since he was also a draper, he used silk for the bookmark.

The Royal Museum of Brunei showcases an ivory bookmark made in India, which is embellished with a geometrical pattern of pierced holes dating from the 16th century and used in illuminated Korans. These are the earliest known references to bookmarks in written history and found in excavations.

Hoyt's German Cologne AdGirl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes VermeerIt was during the latter part of the 19th century that bookmarkers really took off as collector items in themselves. Bookmarks continue to be made of a wide variety of materials: linen, silk, satin, leather, paper, plastic, copper, gold, pewter, brass, glass beads, wood, ivory, bone, papyrus, vellum, paper, cardboard, and animal skins.

Sami from Lapland in Leather & Carved Reindeer BoneGumnut baby Bookmark Artwork by Cecilia May GibbsArt Nouveau by Czech Alfons MuchaKenyan Masaai BeadedSwitzerland Embroidered PatchworkSwitzerland Embroidered PatchworkNepali Carved Bamboo

Now Romanistas, y'all are book collectors, I know. Are you also collectors of bookmarks? (Ooh, can we all say Conference Goody Rooms together?)

A Bag of Moonshine — hogwash, illusion, nonsense — G.F Northall's "Warwickshire Word-Book" (1896)

Flaybottomist — pedantical whip-arse —Randle Cotgrave's "Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1611)


8 comments:

Diane Gaston said...

I love bookmarks as a promotional tool. They are inexpensive but useful and bookstores and readers like them. So I always have a bookmark made up for my latest books. I don't personally collect them, though.

Because I have bookmarks for all my books, I have them all over the house---except when I need one. Then I usually resort to a torn sheet of paper or something.

Keira Soleore said...

Heh, on having tons of bookmarks and not finding one. Now that Ms. Wee has started needing bookmarks, we seem to run out of them, and I use post-its, rulers, bits of paper, a spoon (!!), another book, anything at hand. And she does NOT like it.

As you know, I have two scrapbooks of bookmarks. I also have two bulletin boards covered with postcards, bookmarks, and whatnot memorabilia.

Here's the link to the first of my bulletin boards; click next to get to the others:

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=1321672&l=09461&id=641124052

Megan Frampton said...

Agh! Blogger ate my comment!

Anyhoo, I did say that I won't start a book unless I have a bookmark handy. I don't collect them, though. Just use them all the time.

Anna Campbell said...

Keira, lovely post as ever. I always learn something when I visit here. Needless to say, I love bookmarks. A lot of the English historical properties sell leather bookmarks and they're a wonderful, cost-effective, postable, light souvenir. Everybody I know ends up with at least one when I've done one of my UK forays. Bookmarks are currently close to my heart because for the first time, I did one for Tempt the Devil. And I just love it - and I love handing it out.

Keira Soleore said...

Yes, Fo. I'm the proud owner of one TTD bookmark. Use it? (shock) Nope. It's in my scrab-binder, just as Diane's are. In fact, I like to own two each, so that I can have both sides visible.

Annie West sent me this marvelous metal cut-out of the Sydney citiscape. I love it. It's hanging from my one of my two bulletin boards.

Megan, just as a certain tea cloth (*cough*Fo*cough) currently drapes my desk, clearly, bookmarks aren't meant to be used a page markers in my house.

And yet, I haunt the Goody Room at National looking for more. I admit it: I have a bookmark addiction.

Kathryn Caskie said...

I actually collect antique sterling bookmarks. I use the paper bookmarks all the time, but except for a leather Mary Balogh bookmark, I have never had one survive more than one book. I tend to bend them and tear them to mark pages especially when I am researching. By the end of a book, the bookmark is in a dozen pieces (much kinder on antique books than dog-earring.)

Keira Soleore said...

((Kathy)) So fabulous to see you here.

I need to start a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Bookmarks and as its first act of good faith, send you a case of post-it sticky notes. :)

Donna MacMeans said...

Keira - What a fascinating post! Thank you for this.

I use my own bookmarks much like business cards (hey - they're prettier than any business card!) and pass them out everywhere - but I rarely use them for my own books. I'll use a scrap of paper if convienent, but I'm afraid I won't hesitate to turn down a corner of the page, if needed. I know - I know - it'a a major faux pas - but what can I say. I'm lazy!