Bookmarking Memories


Laine Farley and Lauren Roberts

In November 2005 I received an e-mail message from a sender with the intriguing name of BiblioBuffet aka Lauren  Roberts, who offered an even more intriguing proposition—would I co-write a column on bookmarks for the soon-to-be-launched website featuring book reviews and other bookish interests. I had been writing a modest blog about bookmarks but my Internet service provider managed to wipe out the whole site, so I was appreciative of a more secure space to try my hand at writing. Now, seven years later it is gratifying to reflect on how much I have learned from this experience, thanks to the wonderful encouragement and support of Lauren over the years.

As with many things, bookmarks provide the reason/excuse/opportunity that leads to something else far more significant. Although I have written about bookmarks that were evocative of other times and places, whimsical and clever in design, little jewel-boxes of beauty and elegance, or just plain interesting, there are three aspects that stand out: honing my research skills, connecting with people, and, well … bacon.

When I first began, I focused on describing the why and how of my collection and on descriptive essays around a theme as a way of showcasing the variety of bookmarks. As I acquired more old, even antique bookmarks, I began to research them by following clues on the bookmarks themselves—the manufacturer, the place, the date, or even the design. As a librarian, I am intrigued by the journey of doing research as much as by what I find, and this “excuse” to delve deeply into obscure sources was a thrill. Although research on recent topics was already easily accessible via the Internet, my period of writing columns coincided with Google’s massive project to digitize books from major libraries, including the ones that pay my salary. As more public domain materials came online, it was truly a boon to my research as I was able to discover advertising, old biographies of businessmen, and obscure trade journals that described company products and history. Coupled with genealogy sources that I subscribe to or that are free, I was often able to construct stories about the companies and their founders who used bookmarks for advertising.

While I also know that much more information remains in print, requiring onsite visits to libraries, I certainly benefitted from the convenience of doing online research which was usually good enough. In a few cases, I may go back and pursue stories that were unresolved due to lack of easy access to sources such as period newspapers. However, that luxury will have to wait for a time when other demands (like a full-time job) lessen.

My interest in doing research led me to make a presentation on the topic at the first, and so far the only, virtual bookmark collecting convention, held in 2010. This crazy idea proved to be a wonderful way to engage with other collectors around the world and was great fun to do. Unfortunately, it was hard to sustain the level of effort to do it again the following year, but it’s possible it will resurface in the future.  It was definitely one of the highlights of the past seven years.

One of the skills I tried to improve upon was telling a story about bookmarks based on my research. By uncovering personal events, finding similarities among bookmarks, or posing questions about the clues I found, I hoped to make information about these little pieces of ephemera more fascinating. The process certainly led me to make many interesting connections with people. First, there were people who were associated in some way with the subject matter who contacted me (or I contacted them during the course of my research). They include David Mostardi who has chronicled the history of Paul Elder, a San Francisco bookseller and publisher, Edwin Meeker’s great grandson Rick Glasby, and the most surprising and thrilling—Verdenal Hoag Johnson, granddaughter of Chester Hoag, one of the founders of the famous Whitehead & Hoag Co., maker of beautiful celluloid bookmarks. It is gratifying to connect these people with bookmarks that add to their knowledge of the people and companies that produced the bookmarks.

Then there were other collectors such as Alan Irwin, Don Baldwin, Frank X. Roberts, Hope Crandall, Stewart Barr, Lois Densky-Wolff, and Buffy Jameson.  While I knew about the bookmark collectors’ society in the UK and collectors such as Beryl Kenyon de Pascual and Joe Stephenson, I didn’t know how many collectors were in the U.S. so it was a delight to get to know some of them. The amazing thing is that each collector has his/her own special interests, reasons for collections and methods for categorizing and organizing that continue to fascinate me.

Finally there are the artists who use bookmarks as a small canvas or as a theme for their work. I’ve been privileged to communicate with Sarah Bodman and some of the artists who have participated in the Bookmarks exhibitions sponsored by the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England, including Mary V. Marsh who lives and exhibits her wonderful book-themed work near where I live. There was also Kate Connell whose design students at City College of San Francisco created a series of graphics for their library, including bookmarks as “consumable” art. And I had a wonderful correspondence with Jessica Holada in Los Angeles about her book-themed art including the fabulous “bacon book.”

Speaking of the bacon book, that leads me to the third memorable aspect of writing this column. I had no idea that bacon bookmarks would become such a “thing,” resulting in four columns and the greatest number of messages from readers, including a mention in the New York Times. This topic challenged my research skills and led me to artists, comic strip creators, YouTube videos, small town newspapers, fake bacon bookmarks in every sort of material, and more. I haven’t checked for new information for a while, so who knows what new stories may be lurking out there.

As far as individual bookmarks, it’s hard to pick any particular one that stands out, although the celluloid bookmarks have often led to good stories and are always beautiful to look at. There is one bookmark that is memorable, although I don’t own it and have only seen a photograph of it. It was allegedly given to Adolf Hitler by Eva Braun, and was stolen from a Madrid auction house in 2002. I wrote about it in a column called “Partners in Crime” about other notorious bookmarks and later Lauren wrote a column about its recovery by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency from a thief in Bellevue, Washington. No one was more surprised than I was when an ICE agent contacted me wanting to know where I found the information for my column in case there were any clues that would tie it to the suspect.

Even though it was exciting to participate in a small way in this event, I am content to learn about and showcase more modest bookmarks, and hope there will be new opportunities to do so. With enormous thanks to Lauren and Bibliobuffet’s readers, I am signing off with a reminder to use bookmarks (no dog ears) and preserve interesting ephemera. –Laine Farley 

* * *

This column has gone on for seven years. Most of the pieces written for it were by either Laine or myself, and in all that time the research and writing that has gone into each one has given me an immense appreciation for the vast histories and cultures contained in these small bits of ephemera. Who knew that something so small could hold so much information—and give so much pleasure.

For me, it began, as I have said before, with a clump of golden brown hair (male by the look of it) tucked into a late nineteenth-century book about books. The chapter it opened was “Baldness and Intellectuality.” I like to think the original owner of the book left part of himself in there, but who really knows?

From there I went on to find them in bookstores, occasionally in old books, and eventually eBay. Some time after that I started up BiblioBuffet, and among my ideas for columns was this one. I had often browsed my bookmarks, wondering where one had come from, or why that one that been made, or even what did this mean? So when I knew I wanted to write about them but realized I couldn’t handle two weekly columns, I scoured the Internet for “bookmarks.” I wasn’t sure what I was looking for exactly because I really couldn’t find it—until I stumbled across Laine’s aforementioned blog on bookmarks that I instantly fell in love with. But she seemed to write only once a month. Did I dare ask her to join me in an unknown adventure with no pay and a heavier deadline?

In my initial e-mail to her I tried to sound stately and safe. I was an unknown entity so I didn’t want her to think I might be stalking her. I evidently succeeded in coming across as I wanted because she agreed to join me in writing about our newly discovered mutual passion.

Laine has mentioned that three aspects of writing the column that stand out for her. I think mine center around two: people I met through it and the immense historical impact that these tiny objects represent.

The first person I met through the column was a man named Allen Irwin, who kept a blog about his own bookmark collection—and who turned out to live in the same town I did. Alan and I eventually met several times to peruse our collections. We also, along with Laine, organized the first, and to date only, Bookmark Virtual Convention. (We still dream of another, but it’s going to take more than we have right now.) Every year, he takes a three-week trip with his partner, Harriet, to some exotic port and brings home bookmarks as souvenirs. Occasionally, I have been the fortunate recipient of his generosity.

Shortly thereafter, Frank X. Roberts came into our bookmark lives. A retired academic who had lived all around the world, Frank had settled into Colorado. Someone brought up his name to me and Laine, I think, had an old e-mail address for him—which worked. I introduced myself and On Marking Books and somewhat presumptuously asked him if he’d like to contribute to it on a regular basis. Not only did he, but he brought an unusual richness, complexity, and historical perspective such as I had never anticipated. He loves history and it showed as he explored a world of antique bookmarks and their historical contexts.

Another person is Don Baldwin, who writes about and publishes his bookmarks at his blog, Bookmarks Buzz and at Flickr. Don was one of the presenters at the virtual convention, and his presentation, filled with images of unusual and glorious bookmarks, attracted lots of oohs and aahs. I admit, a bit shamefully, that one in particular, had I had access to it, might have caused me to think about knocking Don upside the head, not enough to really hurt him but enough to knock him out long enough so that I could grab that one and get away.

There is also Sarah Bodman of the Bookmarks Projects, who we have written about for several years now. Sarah heads up this exciting annual event where artists (or anyone) can participate by submitting original bookmarks to be given away through various venues, including BiblioBuffet. To date, there have been 356 artists who have collectively contributed 35,600 bookmarks. And I own some of them, which are truly beautiful pieces.

I also want to mention Joe Stephenson, a generous man living in England who put Laine and I in touch with the Bookmark Society. (Bookmarks are a more popular collectible there than in America.) Joe was particularly helpful when I wanted to write about an unusual bookmark that had puzzled me. It was for British War Savings Certificates, yet it boasted a swastika. I could not understand the combination until Joe enlightened me, and I discovered a heretofore unknown piece of history that expanded from a form of war savings into the symbol’s rich and varied history.

Beryl Kenyon de Pascual introduced herself to us and introduced us to some remarkable bookmarks of mostly, but not exclusively, a Spanish focus and often with a musical one too.

Meeting these people and more through bookmarks has been an unadulterated joy, but what about the bookmarks themselves? Need I say I adore them? I had cause recently to go through my entire collection, and in doing so what struck me again, aside from the sheer number of them, was their beauty. Even the well-used ones seem to say so much. I remember where I got them, and why. I handle them the way some people handle photographs of their beloved grandchildren. Yes, I have favorites but I can honestly say that I don’t have any I prefer over others. Each one, whether new or old, in excellent or poor condition, pretty or plain, die-cut or rectangular, is heavy with meaning both personal and cultural. Each one is a world for me—a world of history, of time, of people and places and events. They are miniature worlds bursting forth, quietly, unassumingly, for those who want to see. –Lauren Roberts


Laine Farley is a digital librarian who misses being around the look, feel and smell of real books.  Her collection of over 3,000 bookmarks began with a serendipitous find while reviewing books donated to the library. Fortunately, her complementary collection of articles and books about bookmarks provides an excuse for her to get back to libraries and try her hand at writing about bookmarks. Contact Laine.

Almost since her childhood days of Mother Goose, Lauren has been giving her opinion on books to anyone who will listen. That “talent” eventually took her out of magazine writing and into book reviewing in 2000 for an online review site where she cut her teeth (as well as a few authors). Stints as book editor for her local newspaper and contributing editor to Booklist and Bookmarks magazines has reinforced her belief that she has interesting things to say about books. Lauren shares her home with several significant others including three cats, over 1,500 bookmarks and nearly the same number of books that, whether previously read or not, constitute her to-be-read stack. She was a long-time member of the National Books Critics Circle (NBCC) as continues her work as book design judge for Publishers Marketing Association’s Benjamin Franklin Awards. Contact Lauren.



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