Pieces of History: What I learned From a Collection of Vintage Bookmarks By Carlisle Huntington

Last Summer Collins Library received a generous donation of vintage bookmarks, ranging in age from the 1800’s to the 1950’s. For the past few weeks I have been given the privilege to work with these tiny treasures. The sheer size of the donation, hundreds of artifacts, varying in size, colors, style, and historical significance, made it difficult to immediately ascertain how the items should be categorized and stored. So for the time being, the collection lives in a small study room in the basement of the library, where for two hours a day, five days week, I get to work with them.

Before embarking on this project, I had no idea how rich of a history there was surrounding bookmarks. Nowadays, we’re perfectly content using any old scrap of paper to mark our place in a book (if we’re not using our kindles, Iphones, tablets, or various other reading devices), and most of us are completely remiss about dog-earing pages or marking up our favorite passages. In fact, many consider tears, stains, markings, and all other minute imperfections to be tell tale signs of a book well loved. However, this was not the case in the 1800’s. Back then to be in possession of books, and to be literate to begin with, was a cherished privilege. And as a result, bookmarks, were a highly desirable keepsake, first being exchanged as handmade gifts, often crafted from fine silk ribbons with hand painted or embroidered designs. Just take a look at some of these beautifully crafted bookmarks in our collection:

bookmarks_1Bookmarks then eventually evolved to the precursor of modern-day greeting cards, being massed produced by corporations for a variety of Holidays and occasions. One such printing Company that is well documented is Stevents Bookmarks, which produced a variety of intricately woven bookmarks from 1862 to 1876.

bookmarks_2As the mass production of bookmarks progressed, they became the perfect outlet for advertising as well.

bookmarks_3The collection even includes WWII propaganda bookmarks.

All of these fine bookmarks harken back to a time when to own a book was not such a sure thing, and to read was a cherished privilege. These bookmarks may seem like trifles to some, easily forgotten or overlooked, but they hold a rich history and give us insight into our ever evolving relationship with the written word.

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

– Carlisle



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