I begin reading a new book last night, but before I turned to the first page, I selected my bookmark. You see, the bookmark is very important. Not only must the size be in scale with that of the book, but everything else must harmonize with the book’s subject matter. The book I began is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson about his attempt to traverse the Appalachian Trail. Sorting through my treasure box of bookmarks, I nixed my pewter bookmark from Franklin Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. It has nothing to do with the story.
|Bookmark from Franklin Roosevelt's Little White House in Warm Springs|
My crocheted cross bookmark wouldn’t be appropriate – a four-letter word appears in the book on page 4!
I decided my plastic Tweety Bird bookmark would be rather silly to mark a story of hardship and endurance. (But now I’ve read far enough along to know that Bill Bryson and his companion - two out-of-shape, middle-aged men who packed Snickers bars -would probably appreciate Tweety).
So, I’ve chosen a green bookmark bearing an inspirational saying printed atop green and gold leaves and bearing a gold, metal leaf for the tassel. I think this is the best choice, evoking the book’s woodsy subject.
I’ve collected bookmarks as long as I remember. Many have been given to me as gifts. My grandmother often gave me one, along with a book, for occasions. And my souvenirs from family vacations almost always included commemorative bookmarks. Then there are the ones that have caught my eye at the checkout counters of bookstores. I can’t resist spinning those little racks, because the best ones are sure to be hiding on the backside! Sometimes one just calls to me to take it home, and so I do.
After admiring my collection spread out on my bed last night, I decided to research the history of bookmarks. The earliest known ones date from the Medieval or Middle Age (the 5th to 15th centuries). Since monks were charged with copying and keeping many of the manuscripts of the time, some of the oldest bookmarks have been found in medieval monasteries. One example is a clip-on disk made of vellum that apparently was used to mark lines on scrolls or columns on pages.
|Rotating vellum disk used to mark columns or lines, circa 1500 A.D.|
In 1584, Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland, was presented a fringed, silk bookmark by Christopher Barker, the Queen’s Printer. By the 1700’s, narrow, silk ribbons were commonly bound into the spine of books. And in the 1850’s collectible bookmarks first appeared. The Victorian era from 1837 to 1901 was the hey-day for advertising bookmarks handed out by businesses.
|English, Victorian advertising bookmark|
Since the cost of books had fallen with increased production, even people of simple means acquired their own libraries. And so, young girls, perfecting their sewing skills, created embroidered bookmarks to keep and to give. During the 1860’s, machine-woven bookmarks, fancy enough to be given as special gifts, debuted.
By the 1880’s bookmarks printed on stiff paper began to replace the woven ones. Specialized bookmarks followed. Companies such as Gorham and Tiffany made them in unusual shapes and out of materials such as gold, brass, copper, celluloid, pewter, mother-of-pearl, leather and ivory.
|Sterling & mother-of-pearl bearing William Bryant's image, mid-1800s|
|Sterling bookmark from Norway, 1890s|
The pages in books were often not separated during production, so many bookmarks were fashioned as little knives or swords to aid the reader in cutting apart the pages. And today, bookmarks still exist - beyond the kind we save on our computers to mark favorite webpages. They come in various shapes, colors, and materials bearing pithy or inspiring sayings. I even read that President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan presented George H. W. Bush, the 41st President and famous broccoli hater, with a bookmark in the shape of a stalk of that vegetable.
I found that story by Googling “bookmarks,” and, after scrolling through the list of all the results related to computers, I began to see some surprising results. There are actually bookmark “haters.” I knew there were haters for just about everyone and everything in popular culture from celebrities to fashion trends. But haters of bookmarks? I must confess my surprise and ignorance. There are folks who, even though they read bound books, don’t use bookmarks and – here’s what surprised me – don’t want the rest of us to use them either. One person, whose diatribe I read, railed that there is “bookmark conspiracy” to get us to spend money on bookmarks! Imagine the nerve of those bookmark manufacturers! And speaking of money, even Steven Spielberg threw his two cents in by disdaining, “Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use the dollar for a bookmark?” Well, that’s your call, Mr. Spielberg, but you can probably afford to buy one, even if it costs more than a dollar. I’ll keep my dollars in my wallet for when they’re needed, and use a bookmark for its intended purpose. And as for the conspiracy theory, I don’t think Big Business, Big Brother, Aliens, Communists, or even Mad Scientists are plotting to control us through bookmarks. Just don’t buy them if you don’t want them, but don’t try to deprive the rest of us!
|Bookmark bearing image of the statue of Diana, goddess of the Hunt, at Bayou Bend Gardens|
As for me, I’ll go right on matching my bookmarks with my books or selecting ones based on the season or my mood. Right now, besides A Walk in the Woods, I’m also reading One Summer by Bill Bryson about all the interesting things that happened in America in the summer of 1927. For that one, I’ve selected a Bayou Bend commemorative bookmark. Bayou Bend is the mansion that belonged to Ima Hogg (you read that right - Ima Hogg) who was the daughter of James Stephen Hogg, the 20th governor of Texas. The home, constructed between 1926 and 1928, now belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The date of the house made the bookmark perfectly compatible with the book.
I’m also reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder with my daughter, Laura. Yes, I named my Laura after the author, because Little House in the Big Woods is truly the first book that I loved. I read the books to her at bedtime, though at 10-years-old she can read quite well herself. As we share the stories of a girl who lived a long time ago, we mark our progress through the pages with a commemorative bookmark that my Mama ordered for me from the Little House in the Ozarks gift shop when I was 9-years-old.
Reading and bookmarks are pleasures my family has passed on to both my teenage son and my daughter. And as long as there are bound books (please, Lord, let them not be all replaced by the digital kind!), our family will treasure our bookmarks for marking pages in stories and moments in our memories.
May your tea be sweet and your cotton high,
Leigh Ann Thornton