For as long as there have been books, readers have felt a need to mark their place so that they know exactly where to start when they next pick it up. Bookmarks are therefore almost as old as books themselves. It is thought that bookmarks were used in 1stC AD codices. The oldest surviving bookmark dates from the 6thC AD. Made of leather and vellum, it was attached to a Coptic codex. Early bookmarks, it seems, were firmly attached to a volume. Detached bookmarks have not survived from early times, but no doubt readers used scraps of paper, bits of fabric, or anything that came to hand, much as many readers do today.
The first commercially produced bookmarks appeared in shops in 1860. They were made of machine-woven fabrics and soon became collectors’ items. By the 1880s paper was cheaper and bookmarks were more commonly produced from stiff paper or cardboard. Bookmarks today can be made from metal (like a big paper clip), paper, leather, fabric, feathers, ribbon, wood, wool, cord or plastic.
I prefer my bookmarks to have a literary theme (though I do own a few that feature favourite paintings as well). I have a lovely one featuring a Venetian glass bead dangling from one end (ideal for a Donna Leon novel), I have several Jane Austen-themed ones, a papyrus one from Egypt, a hand-embroidered one with my initials, and dozens with literary quotes on. And yet, even with such a good supply, I do sometimes find I’ve used a scrap of torn-off paper, or a bus ticket to mark my place in a book.
Are you a regular user of bookmarks? Do you have any very unusual ones? What style of bookmark do you prefer? Tell me by leaving a comment.
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