by Lois R. Densky-Wolff

A. W. Coysh in his work Collecting Bookmarkers, a history of English bookmarks, states:

"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."

With the rise of printing in the fifteenth century, books were published in limited numbers and were quite valuable. The need to protect these precious commodities was evident. One of earliest references to the use of bookmarks was in 1584 when the Queen's Printer, Christopher Barker, presented Queen Elizabeth I with a fringed silk bookmark.

Common bookmarks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were narrow silk ribbons bound into the book at the top of the spine and extended below the lower edge of the page. The first detachable bookmarks began appearing in the 1850's. Most nineteenth century bookmarks were intended for use in Bibles and prayer books, and were made from silk or embroidered fabrics. Not until the 1880's, did paper and other materials become more common.

The great period of bookmark design and the use of luxuriant materials were during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The idea that a bookmark be used to keep one's place and protect one's book caught on, and bookmarks have been produced in a variety of materials ever since.

A.W. Coysh divides the history of bookmarks into four main periods: Ribbon, 1850-1880, Victorian Advertising, 1880-1901, Pre-World War I, 1901-1914, Publicity and Greetings, 1914-Present.

Another way to categorize bookmarks has been promoted by Joan Huegel, editor of Bookmark Collector; the only newsletter published in the United States devoted to bookmarks. Huegel identifies thirteen categories, which classifies old and new bookmarks as: Advertising, Commemorative, Foreign, Government, Handmade, Libraries, National Organizations & Chains, Novelty, Other Materials, Publishers & Booksellers, Religious, Silk, Woven & Ribbon, and Souvenir.

Bookmarks and pagemarkers are made from a variety of material including paper, celluloid, silver, gold, pewter, wood, brass, copper, ivory, aluminum, chrome, tin, plastic, leather, Fiberglas, ribbon, and silk.

Victorian and Edwardian paper and celluloid bookmarks were a favorite medium for publicizing goods and services, and as publicity for non-profit organizations. Booksellers, publishers, stationers, insurance companies, and manufacturers were quick to utilize the medium. Products such as soap, pianos, stoves, furniture, perfumes, patent medicines, shoes, clothes, tobacco, and foodstuffs were all promoted on bookmarks. The travel and entertainment industries also publicized their services using bookmarks. Highly colorful and decorative, often given away free, they were distributed by the thousands from Victorian and later merchants to their customers. The upsurge in the use of chromolithography, developed in the mid-nineteenth century, was a boon in the creation and marketing of these small works of the printer's art.

Advertising bookmarks were often produced as sets or series, usually produced in groups of four, six, or eight. They were offered as a give-away or product premium with proof of purchase. Soap makers, perfumeries, insurance companies, and food and furniture manufacturers all produced bookmark sets.

Celluloid, the forerunner of plastic, was first introduced into the United States in 1869 as a cheap substitute for ivory. Products made from celluloid were inexpensive to purchase, and popular with the public. Like paper, celluloid bookmarks advertised products, services, and events, and were also inexpensively marketed for sale. Many celluloid bookmarks were die-cut, as were paper-advertising bookmarks.

Pagemarkers are another name for bookmarks; typically referring to those made of metal with pierced blades and manufactured in England. These markers were crafted in novel shapes and often had ornate handles many bearing the monograms of their owners. During the Victorian era, publishers commonly bound books with the pages uncut. Book buyers had to slit their own pages, and it did not take long for combination bookmark-page cutters to appear on the market.

Some of these bookmarks were made of heavy paper but were not very effective. Bookmark-page cutters, or pagemarkers, began appearing in other materials such as tortoise shell, wood, sterling silver, gold, brass, copper, and ivory. In addition to slitting book pages, they were used as letter openers. When book pages no longer needed to be individually sliced, separate letter openers were manufactured that were distinguishable from pagemarkers.


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This article first appeared in Ephemera News or The Ephemera Journal, publications of The Ephemera Society of America, Inc. Ephemera Society Reprinted by permission.

No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without their express written permission.



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