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.
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!
This post begins a new feature to profile IFOB members. We learn more about Debrah who was last year's runner up for the Woboda raffle. Thank you, Debrah for sharing your bookmark stories. If you would like to be "interviewed" for a profile, please contact the IFOB editor. We are interested in all of our members!
Tell us about yourself – where you are from, your occupation, etc.
I was born in 1955 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and from the age of 7 lived and revelled in Sydney's Northern Beaches, living mainly in beachside Warriewood, until age 19 when I departed for my first adventure overseas to the UK, Europe and the Middle East, including living and working for 6 months on a kibbutz near Tel Aviv. My subsequent overseas travel has been overland through many countries of Asia, two subsequent trips to India, and most recently, two trips to the west coast of the USA, both inspired by SoulCollage® of which I am a Trained Facilitator. I have also travelled extensively in my homeland of Australia and I have lived in four Australian states (New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia) and the Australian Capital Territory, for varying periods of time. I currently live in the beautiful Camden Haven area on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.
I have an undergraduate honours degree in Information Science (B. App. Sci. Info.) from the University of Technology, Sydney (1990) followed by a 17-year management career in information services and libraries, in both the private and public sectors.
Sixteen years ago, after intensive training and practice I became an accredited Yoga Teacher and taught yoga for many years, sometimes solely and sometimes while also working another job.
I am now retired from full-time mainstream work and yoga teaching, but I continue to facilitate SoulCollage from time-to-time through SoulLight Collage and spend, my now more available time, on my various hobbies and projects, including family history.
How did you start collecting bookmarks? Do you remember your first bookmark?
I have been a keen collector of bookmarks from about the 1970s - at first serendipitously or by accident, and then more intentionally! One day I simply realised I had amassed numerous bookmarks, especially ones from bookstores, art galleries and museums and that I wanted to treat them with the respect they deserved! So, I started to focus more on them and to better manage and preserve them. I then started to intentionally look out for and collect bookmarks to add to my collection. I also started to research bookmark collecting and the history of bookmarks. This led me to some wonderful websites, especially the Mirage Bookmark website and its links and ultimately to connections with bookmark collectors all over the world.
Do you have any favorite types or special emphasis in your collection?
I enjoy collecting all bookmark genres, but my favourite genre is bookshop (bookstore) bookmarks, that is, bookmarks promoting bookshops, the ones they give you for free with your purchase(s) or even for just being a browser in their shop. I also enjoy collecting Book Depository (the online bookseller) bookmarks and have managed to complete a couple of sets and almost complete others. I also love bookmarks from libraries, art galleries and museums. In regard to format, I prefer collecting paper/cardboard bookmarks, but I do have some plastic, metal, wooden, leather and cloth bookmarks in my collection.
Here are a few of my most favourite bookshop bookmarks from my collection:
How do you acquire your bookmarks?
The bookmarks in my collection are (1) ones I have freely and personally gathered from bookshops, libraries, museums and other places and events in Australia and overseas; (2) ones I have discovered left in some of the used books I have purchased; (3) ones I have found left abandoned in libraries and library books I have borrowed; (4) ones I have chanced upon in a variety of weird, wacky and wonderful places; (5) commercial ones that I have purchased from bookshops and elsewhere; and (6) ones I have received through swaps with other bookmark collectors around the world. More recently, some of my bookmarks have been gifted to me from family and friends here in Australia and overseas. Certainly, I find that many of my bookmarks, especially those I have personally collected, are enduring and treasured mementos of favourite bookshops, books, places, people and events in my life. My other bookmarks, the ones that have been donated to me or swapped with me, have been sources of learning as they have initiated my research into where they are from or what they are about. (Yes, I am a bit of an information / research junkie)!
What has been your experience in using the IFOB Swap List?
Totally positive! It is a wonderful service! I have thoroughly enjoyed swapping bookmarks with fellow collectors from all over the world. I also get contacted by people for swaps via my Mark My Place website, but it is also great to be listed on the IFOB Swap List.
What do you enjoy about IFOB? Anything you would like to see IFOB do in the future?
I enjoy everything about it! The community of collectors, the information on the website and its links to more information, the articles, the Swap List, the aim to increase public awareness of bookmarks, and World Bookmark Day! IFOB is already doing a lot of great things and I hope it continues to exist into the future.
Do you have any plans to celebrate World Bookmark Day next time?
Most definitely! I will be participating in the events offered by IFOB, including the bookmark raffle. I also plan on mounting a Bookmark Collecting / World Bookmark Day display at my local public library and giving a free public talk on bookmark collecting at the same venue. It is a large and busy public library and I am sure it will generate some interest. I will be talking with the library manager and am hopeful of gaining her support and permission for this to go ahead.
Do you collect anything else?
I have been an avid reader since childhood and an enthusiastic book collector since my early teens. Collecting books and bookmarks goes hand-in-hand really! Now I have thousands of both! In addition, I collect other book ephemera such as bookshop business cards and postcards. I am also interested in bookplates and bookends, but I only collect those virtually on Pinterest!
Outside of book, bookmarks and other book related items, I collect postage stamps on women that fit with my project theme of “ I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR! Women’s Suffrage, Women’s Rights, Equality and Liberation: A Postal Herstory to 2015”. This is a huge project which I have been doing since the mid 1980s and am hoping to bring to culmination in the next couple of years. My plan is to eventually donate the several large stamp albums to a relevant women’s organisation and to share the whole project with the world via a website which I will create.
Anything else you would like to share?
To me, bookmarks, in addition to their function of marking the place one is up to in a book, are small works of art and beauty or whimsy and many of them share inspirational, important and educational messages in a compact, effective and meaningful way. Part of me loves, enjoys and relishes this hobby of bookmark collecting and part of me thinks it is dorky, nerdy and a bit of a waste of time! The first part wins out though, by far! Like all people who have the collection bug, whatever it is they may collect, there is no point trying to rationalise, explain or justify it. I have decided to just enjoy it and to share some (but not all) of my bookmarks with interested people via my Mark My Place website and blog.
I also collect (pin) bookmarks of all kinds on Pinterest. As of August 2018, I have almost 16,000 bookmarks, of all kinds, pinned on my board and nearly 3,000 followers, many of whom have re-pinned my pins. There are clearly lots of bookmark fans out there!
Finally, I can’t end this profile without sharing the front and back images of two favourite Aussie (Australian) publisher bookmarks from my collection.
by Regina Mačiulytė
We are glad to hear Regina Mačiulytė’s story about her bookmark collection. Regina wrote to me not long ago and asked to exchange bookmarks. She sent some from her country but also some made from her photographs which were very beautiful and interesting. Making photographs into bookmarks is a good way to exchange with others and show interesting sites from your location that would not be available otherwise. Regina has a good eye for photography! Let’s hear more about how she got started.
- Laine Farley, August 2016
THE STORY OF MY BOOKMARK COLLECTION
I want to share the story of my bookmark collection with my collector colleagues from the IFOB and elsewhere. I started collecting bookmarks 3-4 years ago. I thought that I could collect them and it could be like my hobby and passion. Though I am collecting bookmarks for a few years only, there are some older bookmarks in my bookmarks box. My oldest bookmarks date from 2004 and they are handmade by a colleague of my mother who produced them as a paper collage. At that time, this lady was sick and wanted to do something that made her feel good. She thought that those bookmarks would make nice gifts for herself and for other people she knew.
At that time, as I received those bookmarks from the colleague of my mother I was very happy and I had the first time the idea of collecting bookmarks. However, it took several years before I really started to collect bookmarks. My father helped me very much with my hobby as he was traveling a lot. He would always come back home from another country with some bookmarks for me.
I also collect postcards from other places by sending and receiving postcards to other collectors. Some of these postcard collectors who I even don't know personally don't use or collect bookmarks, and as they heard that I collect also bookmarks they helped me by giving or sending me bookmarks as a gift. Also family members, friends and other people who knew that I collect bookmarks kept giving me bookmarks which they collected for me from different places.
At the beginning I thought that I am the only person who collects bookmarks. Later, I found out that I was not alone as a bookmark collector, moreover that there were many other people who also like to collect bookmarks as I do. That gave me the opportunity to swap bookmarks with collectors from other countries and to enlarge my collection.
I also like to make bookmarks by myself. I love photography and my father suggested that I could make possibly nice bookmarks with my photos. So I started producing bookmarks in cooperation with a publisher in 2015. Now, if I am about to take a picture I always think if this would make a nice bookmark.
Getting more and more a serious bookmark collector and producer, I started to visit book fairs. In Vilnius, the capital of my country Lithuania, every February there is a very good book fair where I can collect bookmarks for free, and some publishers even allow to take not one or two bookmarks only, but many. Thus I come back home from the book fair often with 60-80 new bookmarks for my collection. Many of them are doubles to be used for swapping with my bookmark friends in many different countries. This year, I visited also the book fair in Riga, Latvia our neighbour country, in February and could collect bookmarks there as well.
In my collection, the biggest number of bookmarks are from Lithuania. Second country is Poland, where my father goes visiting every year. I have about 2800 bookmarks from 51 countries at the moment. It's amazing how fast my collection grows. Almost every day, I can add new bookmarks to my collection with a little help of my collector and swap colleagues. It's a very pleasant and fulfilling experience to make friends over the country borders with people who I even do not know in person.
In November 2015 I made a very first exhibition of my bookmark collection in Panevezys, Lithuania. This year I had two exhibitions in my city Siauliai, Lithuania. Maybe next week there will be a third exhibition in the botanical gardens of the Siauliai University. A fourth exhibition is planned in the school I have attended earlier. My exhibitions awoke the interest of some local newspapers and they wrote about me and my passion – collecting bookmarks.