After the book came along, the bookmark was an inevitable invention, and is probably as or almost as old as bound books. I don’t know how the ancients who wrote on scrolls remembered their place, but surely they had some equivalent of the bookmark. Many older, bound books, and some new quality editions have a built-in bookmark, a fabric ribbon that is sewn or glued into the binding. Very handy and not likely to get lost even if it falls out between the pages.

Like bookplates, bookmarks are a collector’s item, and while some collectors use their bookmarks, others just collect them. You can get them in most bookshops and many souvenir shops. Some are plastic or laminated and will last for ages, while others are made from thick paper and will age along with your books.

For some, the joy is in making and owning or giving one-of-a-kind bookmarks, for others, it’s having as many different ones as possible. Some prefer to use impromptu bookmarks. I have found several such improvised bookmarks (along with bookmarks designed for the purpose) inside second-hand books. The most common ones I have found in this way are receipts and airplane boarding passes, but I have also found banknotes, stamps, postcards and post-its, and numerous pieces of paper, often with notes or drawings on them. I lost my I.D. card in a book when I was about 13 and didn’t find it again for several years.

I prefer made-for-the-purpose bookmarks, but will use whatever comes handy if I haven’t got a bookmark. I have a couple of durable plastic ones, one of which is my favourite – a picture from Saint Exupéry’s classic The Little Prince. I also have some extra long ones I made out of an old calendar, and one made of papyrus, a souvenir my aunt brought me from Egypt. Most of my bookmarks, however, are promotional ones from bookshops or libraries. Both the National Library and the Reykjavík City Library regularly change their bookmarks, and while a good number of them are promotional, some of them contain artwork as well. I have a few National Library bookmarks that commemorate exhibitions at the library or the birthday of a famous author, and from the City Library I have a series of bookmarks depicting the Icelandic Yule lads, and another series where a picture was divided into four parts and you got one quarter of the picture per month until you had the whole thing. I have a couple of very nice ones from both libraries commemorating the anniversary of H.C. Andersen that I want to laminate for durability.

Next post: Learn to make an origami bookmark.

Questions for my guests:
Do you have a favourite bookmark?
What interesting or unusual bookmarks (or other items) have you found inside second-hand books?


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