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Bookmarks for Book Lovers

For as long as people have been reading bound books, there has been an accompanying need for bookmarks. These were not only a convenient way of marking one's place, but were also helpful in ensuring that damage was not done to an expensive, and possibly even unique, volume, by dog-earing the corner of the page, or by leaving it open, and therefore vulnerable to the destructive nature of sun-light, or to be otherwise ruined by the spillage of liquids and so on.

Practically any flat piece of material - cloth, paper, or metal for instance - can be used quite successfully as a bookmark. Often we employ anything that comes to hand, with bus tickets, till slips and business cards being firm favourites, but the perennial popularity of manufactured varieties clearly points to a desire amongst readers to adorn their reading matter with something more prestigious. This is especially true where books of some distinction are concerned; Bibles, collections of poetry and the classics are often favoured by one or more elaborate bookmarks.

The need for these items has developed down through the ages, with the earliest known example dating from the 16th Century. The simplest bookmarks were of a form still in existence today, that of the thin ribbon bound into the spine of the book. However, by the 19th Century detatchable varieties were to be had, often consisting of a piece of fabric onto which homilies and decorative designs had been embroidered.

Quite early on, the increasing popularity, and comparitive cheapness of bookmarks, suggested to businesses that they would make ideal items on which to advertise their products and services. These "advertising bookmarks" are now seen as particularly desirable by many collectors.

The Victorian era saw a rapid increase in this form of bookmark, with commodities as various as clothing, soap, pianos and medicines taking advantage of it. Often the designs were quite elaborate and made good use of the printing technologies of the day.

A variety of materials have been employed in the manufacture of bookmarks: leather, paper, silk, laminated card, plastics, celluloid, ivory, gold, silver and other metals; in fact anything that can be made thin and flat enough, has probably been utilised. What's more, the ingenuity of the makers of these items appears to keep pace with whatever the modern era invents. Holographic images and Fresnal lenses are examples of this, and it is not difficult to imagine a future in which bookmarks will be available incorporating microchip or nanotechnologies.

With all the talk of computers discouraging our need for books, there is very little evidence to support it. If anything, publishing seems to be on the increase. There is a longstanding love affair between human beings and books which remains undiminished. Books are portable, collectable, and can be accessed without the need of electricity. They contain the sum of human knowledge and experience. They also feel and smell good. No wonder we love them. And to help us keep track we also need the humble bookmark.

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