1 November 2017 Susannah


Book with bookmark

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.

Jane Austen bookmarks

Jane Austen bookmarks

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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Featured image credit- Book with bookmark from https://pixabay.com/en/book-historically-antiquarian-old-92572/
Body image credit- Jane Austen Bookmarks, JASA

Comments (22)

  1. Melody

    There’s a website called forgottenbookmarks.com in which a bookseller displays some of the items they find in the books that cross their shelves. Photographs, tickets, money, flowers, buttons and other small items are all featured. Each find must have its own story, if you use your imagination.

  2. Kate DeMayo

    I also have a wide collection of bookmarks, and like you, Susannah, still seem to often find myself without one and grabbing the nearest scrap of paper! I am also a fan of themed ones, but I would be lying to say that I am organised enough to match bookmark with book. I have a couple of really nice ones that are magnetic and hold onto the page for you.
    Like Malvina, I have a few treasures that my children made me. I also love art ones (unlike the art postcards I buy and put in drawers, these at least get looked at regularly), but I think my faourite comes from “Better Read than Dead” bookshop in Newtown. The back of the bookmark is a “to do” list , with the first item supplied: “Go to bookshop”.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I like the sound of the ‘to do’ bookmark! Quite a few libraries create bookmarks with lists of good books to read in certain genres – crime, biography, sci-fi etc. I think what i’d really love is a bookmark that told me how to find more reading time.

  3. Malvina Yock

    I love bookmarks that my children made when little – still have a treasured few that haven’t fallen apart, particularly one of an orange cat with black whiskers my oldest son made in primary school. As he’s now 38 it has proven remarkably resilient! Also bookmarks from special places. I’m still using an albatross one from the Pickwickian Tour of NZ, and a Mona Lisa one I bought in the Louvre.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      How lovely to have bookmarks your children made for you. And of course I am thrilled that you have picked up some nice bookmarks while on tour with me. Hope they all bring back very happy memories.

  4. Christine Christofi

    I hate dog-eared books so have a collection of bookmarks. Probably the most unusual was one I picked up in Snowdonia, North Wales, home of lush grass, pristine waters and sheep, sheep and more sheep. Some enterprising individual came up with the idea of using all those sheep droppings and yes, the bookmark was made from sheep poo.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      A sheep poo bookmark – wow! That really is different. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Elizabeth Rusiti

    I buy bookmarks featuring “postcard style” photos of places I visit, and use them as souvenirs that are always a nice reminder of a trip. Unfortunately, I recently lost a bookmark I bought in Port Lockroy, Antarctica. It’s a long way to go to replace it!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It sure is a long way to go for a bookmark! It is nice to have memories of places you have been, but also of places you hope one day to visit, if a friend has sent you a postcard. When I was a child my mother received a postcard of Green Gables which she gave to me. I kept it for years, dreaming that one day I would go there. Have now been 3 times.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That’s a nice idea. It must make it feel that Christmas and birthdays last much longer!

  6. robyn Scott

    I take panoramic shots of Sydney Harbour and get them printed up to bookmark size. When I travel and open my book there is always a reminder of our beautiful city. I also do this when I travel abroad so always have “memories”.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Great idea!Then you can show people overseas how beautiful our harbour is.

  7. Miland Joshi

    I’ve occasionally bought thin metal bookmarks as souvenirs, but the ones I actually prefer to use I make myself from strips of paper. I particularly favour the strong paper used as backing for sticky transparent plastic. I fold the strip in a Z-shape so that it can hang on the top edge of a book but leave a portion sticking out (think of a Z with the top stroke extended to the left below the bottom edge, and the bottom stroke extended to the right a good bit longer).

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Ones you have made yourself sound like the very best sort of bookmark!

  8. Tania Arthur

    My bookmark of choice is the ticket from the latest art exhibition I’ve been to, sometimes they get used a lot, especially if exhibitions are few and far between. Thanks for a lovley article Susannah.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Art exhibition tickets will always bring back nice memories when you open a book. Will you get to the fabulous Dutch exhibition coming soon to Sydney? And next year there will be the amazing Lady and the Unicorn tapestries coming from Paris. Lots of great art to look forward to.

      • Tania Arthur

        Yes, we’re planning a weekender trip from Brisbane. Early in the New Year. Also, family trip to Adelaide to skillfully coincide with Monet, Renoir exhbiition in May. I haven’t heard about the Lady and the Unicorn, is that a JW Waterhouse exhibition coming to Sydney?

        • Susannah Fullerton

          The Lady and the Unicorn is five medieval tapestries that normally live in the Cluny Museum in Paris. There is a lovely novel about them, called ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’, by Tracy Chevalier, who wrote “Girl with a Pearl Earring’. It gives a version of how the tapestries might have come to be created in Belgium. They were found in the 19thC by a French writer called Prosper Merimee when he visited a castle. They were in a bad way and rats and mice had started eating them, but he rescued them for the nation and they were superbly restored and are just fabulous. I am not sure what month they are coming to Sydney, but I am so looking forward to seeing them here.

          • Tania Arthur

            That book sounds very intriguing, I will have to look it up at the library. The tapestries themselves sounds beautiful. Thanks so much, always enjoy your insights, warmly, Tania

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