At the Antiquarian Society, as books are catalogued they are checked over carefully by our staff and often reveal between their pages the bookmarks of previous owners. These slips and bits are removed for conservation reasons and make their way to the desk of the Curator of Graphic Arts where they are added to the bookmark collection. Yes, we have a bookmark collection which includes handmade needlework, slips of paper, assorted ephemera and any flat item which may have been used to mark the pages of a book.
We have religious-themed markers that were removed from the bible collection, including a cut-out of the head of Christ which caused much conversation by those passing my desk (“I don’t see it! Where is the nose?”), and the expected needlework crosses, doves and chalices. An 1833 edition of William Cowper’s poems gave up a scrap of fringed silk, a ladies periodical included an advertisement for a rose nursery, and a mechanic’s manual shed a lone playing card (the five of clubs). In early days, the provenance of these small items was lost and so we how have a folder of stray bookmarks marked as “removed from nineteenth-century novels,” which includes a blank tax receipt for the town of Ashburnham, an undated note from Martha to her friend Jane asking her to “come sup and call with me on Mrs. Chester Wilson,” and a homemade marker of ferns inscribed on the verso “1876, A happy New Year to all yours, as ever, Clara.”
Before we chide these earlier owners for their untidy use of found material and bits and scraps to mark their place in their books, an assessment of contemporary practices should be considered. A quick survey of the books stacked by the bedsides in my house revealed the following being used as bookmarks: one of those annoying rectangular magazine advertising inserts, a scrap of newspaper torn from the morning paper, a feather, an actual bookmark given out by the public library to raise awareness for an upcoming building campaign, a postcard of a panda bear from a recent trip to Washington D.C., and, inevitably, a length of sparkly Christmas ribbon.