A bookmark is a thin marker, commonly made of paper or card, used to keep one’s place in a book and so be able to return to it with ease. Other frequently used materials for bookmarks are leather, metals like silver and brass, silk, wood and fabrics. Many bookmarks can be clipped on a page with the aid of a page-flap.
History of bookmarks
Bookmarks were used throughout the medieval period, consisting usually of a small parchment strip attached to the edge of folio (or a piece of cord attached to headband).
As the first printed books were quite rare and valuable, it was determined early on that something was needed to mark one’s place in a book without causing its pages any harm. Some of the earliest bookmarks were used at the end of the sixteenth century, and Queen Elizabeth I was one of the first to own one.
The first detached, and therefore collectible, bookmarkers began to appear in the 1850’s. One of the first references to these is found in Mary Russell Mitford’s Recollections of a Literary Life (1852): “I had no marker and the richly bound volume closed as if instinctively.”
By the 1860’s attractive machine-woven markers were being manufactured, mainly in Coventry, UK, the centre of the silk-ribbon industry.
One of the earliest was produced by J.&J. Cash to mark the death of the Prince Consort in 1861. Thomas Stevens of Coventry soon became pre-eminent in the field and claimed to have nine hundred different designs.
Most nineteenth-century bookmarks were intended for use in bibles and prayer books and were made of ribbon, woven silk or leather.
By the 1880’s the production of woven silk markers was declining and printed markers made of stiff paper or cardboard began to appear in significant numbers.
This development paralleled the wider availability of books themselves, and the range of available bookmarkers soon expanded dramatically.
Modern bookmarks are available in a huge variety of materials with a multitude of designs and styles. Historical bookmarks can be very valuable, and are sometimes collected along with other paper ephemera.