Editor's Note: There are only a few true scholars of bookmarks and our member Frank X. Roberts is one of them. This profile explains his interests and research methods.
Tell us about yourself – where you are from, your education and occupation.
I am a New Englander by birth (b. 1932) and educated in schools and colleges in the Boston, Massachusetts area, except for a PhD degree from the University of Buffalo, in New York State. I have worked as a Professional Reference Librarian, but most of my career has been spent teaching English and American literature, and Library Science world-wide, in England, Africa, Australia, and across the United States.
How did you start collecting bookmarks?
Though I have collected bookmarks, I had no special emphasis for collecting but simply picked up in my travels bookmarks that caught my eye or piqued my interest. Over time I found I had accumulated a number of interesting specimens. Upon retiring in 1997 from the University of Northern Colorado, I gifted most of my collection to the University, where it is now housed in the Archives of the University’s James A. Michener Library.
However, I did keep two leather bookmarks from my collection of historical and human interest. (I will touch more on this below.)
We often get requests about how to “retire” bookmark collections from collectors or those who inherit collections. Can you explain how you donated your collection to the University?
During the ten years I was employed as professor of Library Studies and Bibliographic Instruction in the James A. Michener Library at the University of Northern Colorado, my bookmark collection of some 900 items was frequently pressed into service to augment exhibits mounted by the library to celebrate, for example: "The Book" or "Reading" or "Academic Research" etc. When not being used for exhibits the collection was boxed and shelved in my office or elsewhere in the library. Thus, upon my retirement it seemed that the thing to do was to transfer ownership of the bookmark collection to the university. It is now kept in the Michener Library Archives where it is available upon request by library users (from on or off campus) to view or examine [ see [Description of Item], Manuscript Collections, F. X. Roberts' Collection: Bookmarks & Writings (SC 73), Archival Services, James A. Michener Library, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado. Accessed October 09, 2019.]. Transferring ownership was (in my case) simply a matter of signing a "Proffer of Gift" form. The proffer gave both physical and intellectual control of the collection to the Michener Library to manage, and use as wanted.
My special interest is the study of the history, development and use of bookmarks.
Tell us about your research into bookmarks. What questions were you trying to answer and how did you go about conducting your research?
My interest in researching the origin of bookmarks stemmed naturally from my collecting activities. Though, as I said earlier, collecting bookmarks was for me a casual activity. However, as I accumulated bookmarks of various kinds and types, two questions became uppermost in my mind: First, what really is a bookmark? that is, how do we define a true bookmark? Second, what was the origin of the bookmark? that is, when and where were bookmarks first used, and (per impossible!) by whom? (Spoiler alert: I eventually found no definitive answer to any of these questions.)
In an attempt to answer question one, (How is a bookmark defined?), I read through many dictionary definitions of the word "bookmark." (Working in a university library gave me access to a large number of dictionaries from the small pocket size to the OED.) Although details differed, depending on the size of a dictionary and the length of the entry for "bookmark," in the main dictionary definitions devoted themselves to the preserving, finding (or locating) function of the bookmark. Based on this fact and on my reading of as many articles about the use of bookmarks as I could acquire, I created my own working definition of the term: "A 'bookmark' is a finding device acting as a portable (or sometimes stationary) 'index' to guide readers to where they left off reading, or to mark for relocation some particularly interesting, appealing or useful section of text in a book." Dictionaries and glossaries do not normally define "bookmark" as something to be collected.
So the question remained, and even the "duck test" would not answer it. If it looks like a bookmark... If it acts like a bookmark... But what does a bookmark "look" like, and what does a bookmark "act" like? Obviously there may possibly be as many answers to these questions as there are types of bookmarks in existence. Perhaps for the bookmark collector the ultimate test would be to have the word "Bookmark" appear on the item. But that merely begs the question. It is a bookmark because it says it is! But can this really be the ultimate criteria? For example: In the library of Balliol College at Oxford University, there is still in place in a fifteenth-century manuscript (MS 161 Andreas Billia) a slip of parchment with Latin in medieval hand written on it. And in another fifteenth-century manuscript at Balliol (MS 209 Duns Scotus) there resides a larger parchment piece folded in two with writing in a medieval hand between the folds. Both of these scraps are no doubt long-forgotten "bookmarks." There is nothing written on them that says so, but who can doubt it. And what really avid collector would not want to posses such ancient "bookmarks?"
I began my preparation for researching the origin of bookmarks by studying sources on the history of the book, and on the history of libraries, from ancient to modern times. My "reading research" gave me clues to where I might locate libraries in institutions of education, in religious institutions, such as cathedrals, and in museums, whose holdings included manuscripts and early printed books containing items notionally defined as "bookmarks" of various kinds and types. Having identified such places, I wrote to a number of them to make application as a visiting scholar on sabbatical leave from my university post. In this way I gained access to the manuscript and rare book collections held by, for example, the British Museum, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, other college libraries at Oxford and Cambridge universities, the libraries of both Exeter and Hereford cathedrals, the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England, and others. In these libraries I was able to do a hands-on, close up study of ancient bookmarks in medieval manuscripts, and in early printed books, as well as in more contemporary printed sources, up to and including the nineteenth century.
Where did you publish the results of your research?
Some of the results of this research has been written up in my 2009 monograph: Essays on Bookmarks and Related Topics. I plan to bring out a second edition of this book soon. In the book there is an essay titled, “Royal Bookmarks and Grecian Urns.” It reprises a tale of love and tragedy related to the two leather bookmarks mentioned above, and illustrated [below]. These souvenir bookmarks are now to be found (if at all) gathering dust in collectors’ cabinets, but still expressing like John Keats’ Grecian Urn, their flowery tale in silence and slow time.
In addition, my Bookmarks: An Annotated Bibliography has, as part of its introductory matter, a short, historical discussion on some possible origins of the bookmark. (See also the Subject Index of the annotated bibliography for sources which provide clues to the early uses and possible origins of the bookmark.) However, the definitive history of the bookmark has yet to be written. So for the nonce and most probably forever, the origin of bookmarks must remain only educated speculation. It would appear that the closest we may ever get to the exact origin of the bookmark is as it relates to that period of world history when "writing," "reading," and the creation and production of "books" (and by logical extension "bookmarks") were in their infancy.
What is your current interest in bookmarks?
Though I no longer actively collect bookmarks, I still pick up freebies, and sometimes make a purchase, if a bookmark sparks my interest. I do enjoy very much reading online about activities of IFOB members. And I look forward to celebrating with members World Bookmark Day in 2020.
By Georg Hartong
[Editor's note: See more examples of bookmarks from this series of swap meets in our Gallery of Bookmarks on Bookmarks]
Bookmark collecting is rather popular in France. French ladies especially do collect them, and most of them have at least one collecting theme: CATS!
There are several swap meetings in France during the year, for example, at Paris, Nancy and Grignan. The most frequented one is the weekend swap meeting in the Townhall at Malo-Les-Bains near Duinkerque at the Canalcoast, in the beginning of April. In 1999 the sisters Jocelyne and Lysiane Denière started the swap meeting and it became a famous, international event, with collectors from France, Belgium, The Netherlands and occasionally Germany and Spain. In addition to the swap meeting, the sisters arranged a thematical exposition every year and all participants got a special bookmark of the related exposition theme. The number of participants remained stable, 30 to 40 every year, so this swap meeting seemed to have a long future. But then several serious terroristic attacks took place in France and the government decided to demand severe security measures at public events, at heavy costs. Because of these costs the swap meeting had to be cancelled in 2017 and as far as I know has not been restarted.
The first 4 years the sisters published a small book every year, related to collecting and bookmarks:
Then the sisters started a new series in a new format: oblong (18 x 23,5 cm) - stiff paper - double-sided art photography, at the right end of every page a detachable bookmark - 10 by 16 folia.
At their website all 9 available titles with bookmarks and the prices are listed.
I have visited the swap meetings from 2005 until 2014 and greatly enjoyed my visits to Malo-Les-Bains and the contacts with other collectors!
By Georg Hartong
[Editor's note: See more examples of bookmarks from this series of swap meets in our Gallery of Bookmarks on Bookmarks]
There is no long history of bookmark swap meetings in The Netherlands. On 17th September 2005 Margreet du Pui, from Gent, Belgium, librarian at Sluiskil in the Dutch province Zeeland near the Belgium border and of course collector of bookmarks, organised the first swap meeting for collectors from The Netherlands, Belgium and France. Her library was a very suitable place and about 30 collectors were present, hoping a tradition was born. The swap meeting was continued in 2006 and 2007, when even a British collector, Joe Stephenson chairman of The Bookmark Society and editor of the TBS Newsletter, was present. But Sluiskil is situated very inconveniently in The Netherlands and the library didn't facilitate the meeting any longer, so nothing happened in 2008.
Editor's note: Gaby was chosen by IFOB editors as the first winner of the Asim Maner Award for promoting bookmarks based on her enthusiasm for bookmarks as evident in her profile, and also her contributions to IFOB including help with updating and editing the library, workshop and events pages and additions to the galleries on owls, bookmarks on bookmarks and care of books. She also made a generous donation to IFOB. Thanks and congratulations, Gaby!
Another early bookmark is the one I got from a Japanese penfriend in my early teens. It was a paper bookmark with a ribbon and lots of Japanese writing on it so I had no idea what it was about. The picture showed a highway or something. It was not particularly attractive but a souvenir of a long over friendship that I kept with the letters and everything else my friend sent.
Later on I received more bookmarks from foreign friends, some were bought, some hand-made. I also travelled quite a bit, and when I happened to come across a nice one, I bought it for myself. Then also traveling friends brought some from abroad to add to my “collection”, which I didn’t see as a collection myself, though I thought about the best way to display them, finding it a shame to just keep them closed away. For that purpose I even got myself a book (Karl Heinz Steinbeisser: Lesezeichen sammeln). Later on I had the idea to display them under the glass of my coffee table (as you can read and see in the blog.
Specialties that I like
From all the bookmarks I have, the ones that I treasure most are the ones that have a story to tell: of people who made them or brought them for me, of places where I have been, of things that I have seen or that I love. Here are some examples: I have a bookmark-doll folded of Origami paper which a friend with Japanese origins sent to me.
I also treasure a bookmark made of fine black lace that I got on a holiday in Malta where I saw old women do such intricate lace works. Then there’s a very special bookmark from Lapland made of thick purple felt with a plant stitched on it, it has a leather ribbon with a bead made of reindeer bone or horn.
In my collection are also a few bookmarks from Africa made of different kinds of African wood with cut-out African animals. From Nepal I have a bookmark made of hand-made Nepalese plant paper. It has a drawing of a flower on it and a folded human figure.
In Portugal I found a bookmark made of cork in the shape of a sardine. Georg Hartong, IFOB co-editor, sent me some bookmarks from the Spanish Pyrenees with dried flowers on them. I could go on like this. So in spite of keeping all bookmarks to be able to swap, I have made up my mind to actively collect the following:
In this context I would also like to thank Jeffrey Edel for the lovely wooden bookmarks that Laine sent to me as part of the Asim Maner award. I love the idea that he recycles tiddles and bits and includes them in his works.
There’s another story to tell about a French lady whom I got to know after leaving one of my baskets with bookmarks, as well as a note saying that I am a bookmark collector and would happily welcome every bookmark that someone wants to leave for me. A little later I found a postcard in the free library asking me to get in touch concerning bookmarks. I never managed to reach the person by telephone so I wrote a letter instead which I left in the library. A few weeks later it was gone but I never heard from this person. Then several months later I found another postcard, same handwriting, same request. This time the telephone number worked. It turned out that the lady never found my letter, but thanks to her perseverance we finally met and she gifted me well over 100 new bookmarks and many postcards as well (which I gave away to collector friends). Though she loves to read, she doesn’t collect bookmarks herself, but is just the type of person who picks up things and when she meets the right person she gives them away. What an idea! We have since stayed in touch, even exchanged presents, I gave her a handmade bookmark, and she gave me a handmade bookend in the shape of a cat!
I got to know Asim after I had been reading an article about bookmarks called "Fascinating Bookmarks" in the German magazine “Flow” (special edition about books). The author had interviewed Asim and there was a reference to the IFOB website which I looked up out of interest. I liked the page and though I did not call myself a collector then, I thought I could let the webmaster know that. I got an instant very friendly reply from Asim and since then we stayed in touch. I became a member of IFOB, Asim wrote a blog about my coffee-table, I helped with some requests, participated in the raffle. He really had a way of sweeping people along, without ever pushing. Anyway since then I decided to call myself a collector and (re)started to collect more actively. Even when he was on holiday he answered IFOB-related messages, and when a few days later I got to know from his daughter that he had died. I was so shocked that I stopped looking at my bookmarks and didn’t return to the IFOB website for ages. I really admired Laine when she decided to take up the job as editor, with all the incredible work it involves. Regina from Lithuania with whom I was in contact at that time, helped me to make up my mind to continue collecting and I am pleased now that I finally returned to my passion. Not only for winning the award 😉 that Laine and Georg so kindly offered to me. Thank you once again for this honour!
By Scott Paulson, Communications & Engagement,Exhibits & Events Coordinator
UC San Diego Library
Our Geisel Library building is indeed named after Dr. Seuss, and our visitors have expectations of specialized activities that have an educational/research component and, when possible, also involve Seussian creative participation. Exhibiting unusual bookmarks, along with reference materials that relay the history of these "quitter strips” and then encouraging visitors to make their own one-of-a-kind bookmarkers (using specialized tools and carefully collected supplies) is our newest annual event, with complete credit and many thanks to the inspiration and leadership of IFOB!
For IFOB’s Third Annual International Bookmark Day, the UC San Diego Library was proud to participate! We had wanted to join IFOB in the first and second year of the event—but the third time was the charm for us. We’re late, but we’re committed!
My live radio show, Ether Tale Radio Theatre, mainly does live radio drama, but we also discuss books and support/promote book events (poetry, too). We mention World Bookmark Day briefly at the beginning and then fast forward to 29:20 when we truly talk about it for around seven minutes.
The Exhibit - Installation
Below is a picture showing an early start in installing the UC San Diego Bookstore bookmarks for our Library exhibit.
You can see here that we’re using various lucite stands, so that the bookmarks can be shown at different height levels, helping to provide interest in an otherwise flat landscape.
At one point, we do move some of the bookmarks as far forward as possible in the exhibit case, for patrons whose eye-level view might be influenced by a wheelchair.
Some visitors can’t peer over the exhibit case lid, but they may be able to view better through the side and front glass panels of the cases.
The generous blank spots on these bookmarks allow the bookstore clerks to relay personal reviews!
The Exhibit - Featured Bookmarks
In the exhibit we showed bookmarks from our Library staff’s personal collections and official bookmarks from various UC San Diego offices, including the debut of a new bookmark from our campus Sustainability Resource Center.
I visited Susie Reneau’s hidden hillside art studio for an unrelated exhibit project and asked if I could buy these original bookmarks for my personal collection (and to exhibit in our World Bookmark Day exhibit.) Susie often works in black & white, but she is otherwise very colorful and very active. She is also a well-known, semi-retired bubble artist!---but not in the dancing, vaudeville sense. Her bubble shows are a floating family-friendly delight of physics and fun.
I enjoyed showing my personal bookmark collection, some self-made, some tourist art from recent travels, and many were impromptu gifts from friends and family who know that I can always use another bookmark!
Create Your Own Bookmark
On 25 February, World Bookmark Day, we held an event where visitors could make their very own one-of-a-kind bookmark at the exhibit site.
Of special interest was a demonstration of needlepoint bookmarks that was presented throughout our two-hour event.
The floor was busy, as visitors could choose from eight different stations to visit to create their own bookmark –all featuring different supplies and tools.
Bookmarks make great event fliers---we’ll be sure to promote our annual Paper Theatre Festival through bookmarks this year!
And I think we should celebrate the upcoming 30th anniversary of our Library chimes with a bookmark to remind people that we take song requests!
By Georg Hartong
There is apparently a widespread bad habit of marking the place where the reading of a book has stopped, by making a fold in the top corner of a page: making dog-ears. In other languages the same phenomenon has a different name: in Dutch: 'ezelsoor', in German: 'Eselsohr' and in Danish: 'Aeselorer', all meaning 'donkey's ear'. In South-Africa, in the Boeren-language (familiar to Dutch), they name it 'varkore', pig's ear.
How is this called in French, Spanish, Italian and other languages? Does anybody know?
The first scan shows three German bookmarks.
The second scan a Danish and two Dutch bookmarks; on 'operatie ezelsoor': 'a book is not made of steel' and 'a book is not made of stone'; Bladwijzer means Bookmark; the remaining text: 'donkey's ears are ears that do not belong in books; even closed you keep seeing the book; donkey's ears spoil the beauty of a book; can you promise never to make donkey's ears again, Hi-a?
The third scan shows an English bookmark, a South-African one and a shaped one.
As you can see from the listing on our Events page, there are many book fairs all over the world. They provide an opportunity for readers, writers, publishers and related organizations to be immersed in books, ephemera, and even art and music. And, of course, they are great places to find free bookmarks. Here are two reports on recent book fairs in Vilnius, Lithuania and Oakland, California, USA.
It's like a cultural event where you can meet friends or people you know and meet once in a year.
As you can see, where you can buy fiction books, there are many people. Sometimes books are cheaper at the book fair, but sometimes it's just 2 euros or less. Also you can ask for writers’ autographs. Science fiction books are not so interesting, but also sometimes there are many people.
Also you can get bookmarks. This year I found about 100 new bookmarks.
In the music hall there are so many young people, who want to have photos with their idols. My idol is Andrius Mamontovas. He is one of the best musicians and has been singing more than 30 years. He is really famous in Lithuania.
8 kambarys is a group who sing rap/hip-hop. They are very nice people.
the Ephemera Society of America had a special display by a collector of Native American themed advertising ephemera. It’s possible there are some bookmarks in this detailed display. [warning: some people may find these depictions offensive, but they are artifacts of their time]
Of course, there were free bookmarks to acquire such as these from book dealers.
A curated exhibit of first edition books by L. Frank Baum and the subsequent authors of the "Wizard of Oz" series, courtesy of Joel Harris, a local member of the International Wizard of Oz Club, was complemented by a lecture from a librarian from the University of California, Berkeley, Peter Hanff. He talked about the publication of the Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum, based on his extensive collection of books and printing ephemera. He also gave attendees a special keepsake postcard—but it could be used as a bookmark too!
Even if you are not a collector of rare or antiquarian books, it can be worthwhile to attend this type of book fair to see the history of books and variety of interests among dealers and collectors.
Check our Events page section on book fairs to locate one near you. Many are held on a regular basis. And let us know if there are others we should add to the list.
- By Laine Farley
Our member Gaby Dondlinger from Luxembourg has been having fun sharing Woboda bookmarks in three interesting ways. Before Christmas, she enclosed a bookmark with her holiday greeting cards--a nice surprise for her friends and family.
Gaby has a talent for making tiny books that she sells at Christmas markets. Here are some photos of her display where she also included Woboda bookmarks. Aren't her tiny books adorable? They need some tiny bookmarks!
The third place she shared bookmarks was in Little Free Libraries in her region along with signs about World Bookmark Day. She reports that a lady who is responsible for one of these places in Germany was very enthusiastic to learn about Woboda. She has been taking care that everyone who comes to get a book also gets a bookmark, and announced Woboda in the little local magazine.
Librarians and teachers devise many creative activities and incentives to encourage reading among school children—contests and prizes, charts of progress and gold stars, puppet shows, plays and parties all to make reading fun and interesting. Of course, bookmarks play a role as small prizes and mini-teachers of book etiquette. They may possess more power than we thought, as we learn from Jeffrey Edel, a semi-retired woodworker (and voracious reader).
He lives in Bryson City, North Carolina, USA, a small but beautiful town, which as he notes is “tucked up against the Tennessee border amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains.” He used to live in Jacksonville, Florida where he met his friend Karen, an elementary school librarian. She dresses up as the Book Fairy and has had success in getting young children inspired to read by using the bookmarks he makes - her magic wands! Jeffrey says she is “astoundingly creative” and also works with the Scholastic Book Fair program.
More durable for children than paper, the bookmarks Jeffrey makes are from all types of salvaged wood including oak, poplar, black walnut, cherry or whatever he has saved from his years as a woodworker. He adds bits of broken jewelry, coins, watch fobs, jewelry pieces or whatever might make them interesting and ornamental. When asked if he makes them for sale, he said, “They are meant to be encouraging gifts and if someone wanted one I would try to accommodate them if possible.”
Jeffrey would like to hear from our members — “who better than the experts” — on ideas and feedback for improving his designs. He would also like to know of other initiatives to inspire children to read using bookmarks. Please respond by making a comment below or to the webmaster and we will be sure they get to Jeffrey.
And the next time you use a bookmark, think about its magic powers!