Write Stuff – Bookmark This

If you’ve ever rummaged through dusty hardcovers in your grandma’s attic, you’ve probably seen a bookplate. These decorative labels, usually pasted inside the front cover, say something like ?This book is the property of Anne Shirley.? Charming relics? Maybe, but you probably own a similar accessory that could have the next generation puzzled: bookmarks. This week, we look at the beauty of the lowly bookmark, an item that could soon disappear in our increasingly digital world.

Most of us have used bookmarks for so long and so casually that we barely glance at them anymore. And with any old slip of paper serving the same purpose, It’s not surprising that we overlook the artistic care bookmarks used to be created with.

The Bookmark Shop’s site notes that, because books were originally very rare and therefore valuable, bookmarks were created as a way to ?mark one’s place in a book without causing its pages any harm.? According to The Ephemera Society of America’s website, one of the first references to bookmarks is from 1584, ?when the Queen’s Printer, Christopher Barker, presented Queen Elizabeth I with a fringed silk bookmark.?

From the original materials of silk or ribbon, bookmark design eventually expanded to include virtually any material a creator could imagine: cardboard, wood, metal, tortoiseshell, and even bone. Not only were bookmarks useful for readers, they also inspired the artist’s?and advertiser?s?imagination.

Over at Mirage Bookmarks, you can get a glimpse of both the weird and the wonderful. There’s a vintage woven bookmark featuring Mao Tse-Tung, as well as a promotional bookmark for the 1937 Paris Exposition?officially known as the Exposition Internationale des Arts et des Techniques Paris. Then there’s a handmade leather bookmark, created as a Christmas gift in 1946 for some now-unknown reader.

But even more fascinating are the creations at Silver Bookmarks?a stunning personal collection of over one thousand (mainly) silver works of art. Some contain valuable stones, others are exquisitely carved, and some feature delicate moving parts such as clips and springs.

If all these examples give you a new appreciation for the unsung bookmark, don’t despair that e-readers will make them vanish forever; these pedestrian little items might not disappear as soon as you think. On the photo-sharing site Flickr, there’s a group set up specifically to share original bookmark art. And the official Warner Brothers shop even has a set of Harry Potter broomstick bookmarks to tempt younger readers.

Still, for all the bookmark love that still exists, It’s not hard to envision a very near future in which the need for bookmarks has disappeared as surely as illuminated manuscripts. I think I’ll hang onto that first-edition Nimbus 2001 bookmark after all.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).

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