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2001-09, 331, Art, Bookmarks, Jurgen Wegner


And I ask you: Is there anyone out there who does not collect bookmarks?!

Bookmarks are everywhere. They are not just to be found in that old second-hand book you picked up at the church fête for ten cents last Saturday. Think of any place, activity, society, any area of human endeavour you like, and bookmarks are sure to have been produced. Insurance companies, dentists, universities, local councils, real estate agents, coach lines, hotels and fashion shops, government departments and agencies, an on-line [sic] children’s bookshop, art galleries, churches and religions, B&Bs, music shops, schools, publishers, the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia even (Illustration 1), drug rehabilitation centres, motels, nursing mothers associations, drug companies … and also Amazon.com … all have produced (and still do produce) bookmarks.

Illustration 1

This is a sure indication that not only is the printed book alive and thriving, its influence is all-pervasive and on the increase. Despite what people have been saying for years about the future inroads of the Internet and e-books on print, here is proof positive that books are still thought of by the community as a key vehicle for advertising. And the humble bookmark is the medium. Never has there been more printed matter produced than today. And never have there been produced more bookmarks.

Why then is this such a Cinderella area of collecting? The values of the bookmark are many and varied and go far beyond the eccentric’s obsession with collecting junk. They are sources of pictorial history, of local, commercial and technological history; a source for the history of typography, of the layout and graphic design of printed matter, of social, cultural and political history and ideas; specimens of the work of the printer. They are world history writ small. Why then are such things as postage stamps, phonecards and, of course, the ubiquitous bookplate given the mantle of respectability, while the collector of bookmarks and dozens of other categories of printed ephemera (see Rickards, 2000 below) is regarded as akin to the hoarder of odd shoes and used shopping bags? I guess like everything in our society it all boils down to the money-making angle. Things one collects with the idea of financial appreciation are regarded by our society as serious collecting; things collected for their social and historical usefulness are usually regarded as so much junk.

Are there any serious collections or collectors of bookmarks out there? I mean not just an accumulation of items in a shoebox (or archive box). But a seriously collected, researched and indexed collection … public or private? Only one springs to mind … but then this area is not one of major concern to me and I can hardly claim to be an expert on the subject.

To expand on some of Jon Prance’s questions from the December 2000 issue of Biblionews:

1) What is the earliest known bookmark? I am sure someone seriously interested in this question could spend a couple of years (and maybe a lifetime) on it! Coysh (1974), while perhaps not a serious history of the subject, is definitely the most populist and accessible. It is more commonly available in the David & Charles edition and should be in most large libraries. It is essentially an Englishman’s overview with all that this implies. I was recently talking to a librarian about printed ephemera in general and he bemoaned the dearth of printed material on the subject. I guess we all fall victim to a form of cultural myopia whereby we fail to conceive of the possibility that the earliest printed bookmark may not have been produced in London. What do we readers really know about the history of the bookmark in Finland, Russia or Italy?!

2) Blank bookmarks are really a totally separate topic. To include these on a discussion of the subject would be casting a very wide net. Though, of course, most collectors would, if not seek them out, at least have representative examples in their collection. These are more in the category of things found in books and include not only blank slips with annotations by former readers, but also their shopping lists, their friends’ holiday postcards … and even teabag packets, condom wrappers, and bank notes. (Please send me any examples of the latter you come across as they are of special interest to me.)

3) Defining bookmarks. I would not use “decorative and promotional”, as both of these are fairly subjective concepts. Two categories would be the commercially produced bookmark (i.e. bookmarks you buy from a shop as a gift or souvenir) and the trade bookmark (i.e. free bookmarks produced by people marketing, advertising, promoting something). Then there is the things in books category which could comprise two subcategories … the second being of self-made or manufactured bookmarks such as the home-produced “silks”.

4) The storage of bookmarks goes hand in hand with their organisation. If you are a focussed collector or collect omnivorously, you will need some sort of system or organization which will also determine to a large extent the method you will use to store them:

a) You will never use the “magic” self-adhesive photo albums for any kind of printed ephemera!

b) I imagine that most collectors favour the “shoebox” style of collecting and organisation. Here you sort and file them into a variety of containers … or just chuck them in a box for the day when … . This is not as clumsy and crude a method as you may think. The simplest solution is not always the worst.

c) A version of this (and one to be recommended) is to use superseded 5×3 ex-library card catalogue drawers. Generally available now that libraries are dumping their card catalogues and shelflists. 6x4s are preferable; but these are harder to find being exoffice furniture and not ex-library.

d) Plastic sleeves and photo albums are another favourite method. The problem is really one of the size and bulk of some bookmarks. Photo albums are generally made for the standard postcard-sized photo and these are too small for most bookmarks. The Australian Bookmark News (Illustration 2) contained an ingenious method of using a soldering iron for creating pockets in standard A4 plastic protector sleeves … though my concern would be the toxic fumes you could inhale. If you are serious, go and buy the bank note album sleeves which are ideal for most bookmarks and readily available.

e) Size does matter. What do you do with a genuine bookmark 94 x 345 mm. in size? Or the one recently produced by a library department for their open day which is a bookmark but with balloon and chocolate attached! I donated a copy of this to the State Library of New South Wales and am looking forward with keen interest to their ingenuity in devising a solution to this storage problem!

f) I personally think it is also a good idea to date all new and recent bookmarks acquired. Something to the effect of “01” for the year 2001 or “8/01” for ones acquired in August 2001. This can also be applied to other printed ephemera and will later save someone much heartache in trying to establish dates 20 or more years down the track.

Illustration 2

The above is aimed at the amateur. The word “amateur” is not necessarily pejorative. A great many of the fine collections in our public institutions have been sourced from such people. All researchers owe them a great debt. But are there any really serious collectors out there? How many different bookmarks have been produced in Australia? Or the world? Australian bookmark figures would easily run into many thousands of different bookmarks. I would imagine many millions of different bookmarks have been produced world-wide. A collection of several hundred or even a couple of thousand are quick and easy to accumulate and accommodate (unless they are rare and individually valuable). But imagine a collection of 10,000 or 50,000 on a multitude of topics and dealing with many different issues. How do you retrieve information on French bookmarks dealing with the subject of transportation, Australian bookmarks on aboriginal topics, the portrayal of political issues on Italian bookmarks leading up to World War II. The article by Peltzer (1993) as described in Sparks (1995) gives an analysis of bookmarks found by Michael Asher in psychology books in the Public Reference Library at the Pompidou Centre.

Has anyone approached a significant collection using computerised indexing and retrieval? Anywhere? Apart from the amateur’s attempt at list creation? I am more interested in any method of automated description allowing for the keyword retrieval of such things as producer/s, design/ers, subjects, printers, date and place of production, &c., and for this information to be able to be sorted and then to create lists. A random example would be:

Ralph Lawton, Bookseller. Ralph Lawton, Bookseller: Quality secondhand books, pamphlets and ephemera. Hughes, ACT: [Ralph Lawton, Bookseller, 1999?]. 1 bookmark: ill. ; 165 x 48 mm.

Notes: Die-cut bookmark parodying the shape of the bookseller; caricature of Lawton holding open bookand showing front and rear views of self; buff card printed offset, single colour brown; verso lists subject specialities.

Subjects: Booksellers, Secondhand; Caricature; Australian Capital Territory; 1999.

For those interested in the subject I attach a few references to the literature on bookmarks. A great deal has been written about them(and a vast amount on the broader subject of printed ephemera). It would be useful to have an extensive bibliography to this literature available somewhere.

Further reading:

1. Australian Bookmark News. 1 (1995-1999). While it is a newsletter produced by an enthusiastic amateur it really is a valuable contribution to the bookmark literature. Now discontinued.

2. Bookmark Collector 1 (1987). Publ. Erie, PA; still current?

3. Bookmark Society Newsletter. 2nd ser., (1988) Jan.- .

4. Burn, Diana P. “Love the giver: bookmarks stitched on Perforated Bristol Board”. Antique Collecting, 22 (1988) Feb., p.54-56.

5. Coysh, A.W. Bookmarkers. A.W. Coysh and R.K. Henrywood. Princes Risborough: Shire, 1994 (Illustration 3).

6. Coysh, A.W. Collecting Bookmarkers. Newton Abbott: David & Charles, 1974. Chiefly ill.; also published: New York: Drake, 1974; the best-known and best introductory work generally available.

7. Grasser, Otto. The Bookmark Book: A book of bookmarks. Ottawa: Black Squirrel Press, 1988. Bookmarks produced by the Black Squirrel Press 1985-87; limited ed.

8. Healy, Ian. “There’s not much money in books: forgotten bookmarks in National Library materials”. Good Weekend, (1986) Oct. 11, p.51-53.

9. “Illuminated book-markers”. Bookseller, (1862) July 31, p. 467-468.

10. Jonker, Abraham. The Bookmarkers of the Scottish Widows Fund. Torquay: Neopardy, 1981 (Illustration 4).

11. McPharlin, Paul. “Victorian bookmarkers”. Colophon, n.s., 2 (1937) 3, p.355-366.

12. Pelzer, Birgit. “The insistent detail”. October, 66 (1993) fall, p.93-112.

13. Rehse, E.-Günther. Lesezeichen. Itzehoe, Germany: Verlag Beruf + Schule, 1994. Includes ill. and a one-page bibliography

Illustration 3

Illustration 4

 14. Rickards, Maurice. The Encyclopedia of Ephemera. London: British Library, 2000. Includes a small section on bookmarks; a must-see for its coverage of what to collect in the broader context; a copy is held by SLNSW.

15. Roberts, F. X. “Bookmarks : silent sentinels”. Wilson Library Bulletin , 68 (1993) 4, p.40-43.

16. Segnalibro / a cura di Marco Ferreri. Mantova: Corraini, 1995. Exhibition catalogue with ill. and one-page bibliography.

17. Sparks, Linda. Bookmarks: A bibliography. [USA: L. Sparks?], 1995. The source of about half of the items in this list; contains ca. 150 references.

18. Sprake, Austin. Stevengraphs: The reference book on Thomas Stevens’ mounted silk woven pictures and mounted silk woven bookmarkers. Guernsey: A. Sprake, 1968. Published in a limited ed. of 1000; the State Library of Queensland has a copy of this(Illustration 5).

Illustrations 2, 4 and 5 from the collection of and by courtesy of Linda Conn.


Illustration 5




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