Look for the Detail!
Beryl Kenyon de Pascual
When seeing a bookmark for the first time we are more likely to view the illustration as a whole or to speed read the text than to examine its finer details. Only when curiosity makes us take another look or, as a collector, we gloat over a new acquisition and house it in an album, do we realize—and perhaps not even then—that an interesting, small, unobtrusive, pictorial or verbal detail has been overlooked. This might be the artist’s signature hidden in the picture, the source of an illustration or a play on words.
Walter Crane (1845 – 1915) was a leading illustrator and painter of his time who in his later years produced works in the Art Nouveau style. His designs of the twelve months of the year first appeared in 1893 and were created as a highly appreciated set of bookmarks for the Scottish Widows’ Fund insurance company. Each month’s design shows a young man and a young woman set in a scene typical of that month. In addition the relevant sign of the zodiac is incorporated into the picture. A closer look reveals the artist’s logo that nowadays is usually interpreted as a rudimentary crane (the bird) inside a letter C. It is generally to be found as a tiny detail in a corner of the picture or in the frame. In the example for March (reproduced above) it appears in the lower right-hand corner of the main illustration. The zodiac sign of the ram can be seen at the top of the picture above the woman’s head and March hares cavort beneath her feet. There is a saying about the weather in English: ‘If March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb’. This may account for the woman’s dress billowing in a strong wind while some sheep are exiting in the lower right-hand corner. Two horn-blowing cherubs and the shepherd’s panpipes also contribute to the wind theme. On the reverse of the bookmark figures are given for the company’s funds and revenue. The figures were reviewed annually and the bookmarks reissued on seven occasions with increasing totals. The last issue appears to have been in 1914 but the designs had such appeal that they were reproduced, with the company’s permission, by Old Grindle’s, an Edinburgh bookshop, which distributed them in the 1990s.
The German artist Hugo Reinhold Karl Johann Höppener (1868 – 1948), who used the sobriquet Fidus, produced at least two designs in the Jugendstil style printed in various colours for a German monthly magazine. Like Walter Crane he concealed his signature. The name Fidus can be seen among the intricate network of lines shown in the magnified detail of the red bookmark, but it can easily be overlooked. The blue bookmark merely contains the lower-case letter ‘f’. Readers may like to hunt for it with the aid of a zoom or magnifying glass.
The next bookmark shown here may be dated 1898 and is typical of its publishers, the same format appearing with a different series of titles on an example from 1895. When I first looked at the head of the bookmark the scene seemed familiar although I could not think where I had seen it before. A few years later I realized I had not seen it before but had read it. Analyzing the elements depicted on the bookmark we find a man reclining in an ‘aesthetic’ pose beneath a tree, beside him an open book, a pitcher (of water? of wine?) and a lamp of the type popularly associated with the Orient. These elements are very similar to those listed in one of the best-known verses of the 11th – 12th century Persian Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the loose translation by Edward Fitzgerald first published in 1859:
Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough
The bread, however, seems to have been consumed and the mysterious ‘thou’ to have departed. Fitzgerald’s version has been so popular that more than 650 editions have appeared, including some in the twentieth century and some on line. While writing this article I suddenly became aware of a further detail that I had overlooked. In the bottom left-hand corner of the border of Scottish thistles there is a tiny monogram ‘JB’ inside a diamond. So far I have been unable to find any information about this illustrator.
The fourth example is also from the late nineteenth century. The cosmetic firm of Cherry Blossom—not to be confused with the company that makes shoe polish—produced a bookmark featuring a nun on one side and a biennial calendar on the reverse. The earliest examples were printed in black and white and include the phrase ‘none nicer’, as in the reproduction of my 1889/1890 bookmark. I found the relevance of the nun puzzling in the context until I acquired a chromolithographic issue from 1897-1898. The latter is more decorative and does not have the die-cut page clip found in the black and white series. The nun was nevertheless retained as the central feature. The phrase ‘none nicer’, however, was amended to ‘nun nicer’. The light dawned on me. In some regions ‘none’ is pronounced the same way as ‘nun’. Since I pronounce the two words differently the play on words had passed me by. Possibly other people were puzzled at that time and this may account for the change in the spelling of the phrase to a form that highlights the pun and explains the apparent incongruity of the nun.
The final bookmark to illustrate the topic with which we are concerned is a Spanish combined bookmark/page-cutter of cardboard from the 1930s bearing the stamp of the Librería Francesa (French bookshop) in Barcelona. It advertises UVE oil. ‘Uve’ is the Spanish pronunciation of the letters U and V, i.e. ultraviolet. The oil claims to have been treated with ultraviolet radiation (ultravioletado). It could be used for removing make-up or for general skin care. A young woman in a negligée is shown putting Uve oil on her face in front of a mirror. The artist, however, sneaked in a further picture of the woman minus the negligée (and all other items of clothing) enjoying some UV radiation. Since illustrating nudity was considered risqué at that time, she was miniaturized in a roundel at the bottom of the picture. Amazingly there are some (male!) owners of this bookmark who have been unaware of this provocative detail. So look carefully at any bookmarks that come your way, you never know what surprises they may contain.
Bookmark specifications: Scottish Widows’ Fund
Bookmark specifications: Fidus (red and blue)
Bookmark specifications: Famous Scots Series
Bookmark specifications: Cherry Blossom (black & white)
Bookmark specifications: Cherry Blossom (litho)
Bookmark specifications: UVE Oil
Beryl Kenyon de Pascual was born in England and worked for some years as an international linguist. Following her marriage she moved to Spain and switched to the field of music, studying at the Madrid Royal Conservatoire. She has published numerous articles on musicology but is also the author of articles on bookmarks in both English and Spanish. She has been collecting bookmarks since 1995 and has a special interest in (surprise, surprise!) bookmarks related to classical music and musical instruments of any kind.