During a recent spot of tidying at home, I came across a box containing my childhood collection of bookmarks.
When I was growing up my parents were second-hand booksellers in Bristol. One exciting perk, or by-product of this for me as a kid, was finding all kinds of bookmarks that previous readers had left behind in many of the books Mum and Dad bought, which I was allowed to keep. Very occasionally you’d also find paper money hidden within the pages of books too, but this I wasn’t allowed to keep.
Sifting through some of the bookmarks, it was interesting to note a few themes or threads.
Judging by the numbers produced (many more than shown here) Insurance companies appear to have been big on bookmarks.
The likes of Scottish Widows, Royal Exchange and Northern Assurance once appeared to commission a lot of commercial artists to illustrate their own branded bookmarks. I suppose it makes sense for an industry that spends much of its time reminding people to renew or change policies to print these reminders on objects devoted to the very purpose of remembering.
I particularly like the Northern Assurance series of city and townscape panoramas – including London and Aldeburgh in Suffolk.
Animals and scenes and subjects from nature also feature on many of the bookmarks – I seem to have had a thing for birds – the box contained quite a few bookmarks with illustrations of real birds along with various others – including Puffin of course – used to promote books and reading.
Some of the most interesting and funny bookmarks I’d collected are old public service messages and adverts, with their now almost comically stilted sounding phrasing and matter of fact declarations of quality, or finger wagging warnings and informative notices.
Amongst the ads, pens, cigars and cigarettes figure prominently – I’d guess that this is because their shape is perfect for reproduction on a bookmark.
My favourite is a bookmark extolling the virtues of bus travel: TAKE IT EASY. TAKE A BUS. Clearly produced in an age before Mrs. Thatcher made her infamous (albeit possibly apocryphal) declaration that: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” – although the illustration on the bus bookmark shows a rather self-satisfied looking woman, (looking not unlike Margaret Thatcher funnily enough), who’s delighted to have nabbed herself one of the cool seats upstairs at the back.
There are also a few here with an esoteric theme – this was my Dad’s specialist area so there are some bookmarks featuring the likes of Madame Blavatsky, promoting Occult bookshops or histories of The Rosicrucians.
Naturally many bookmarks feature writers and poets, alongside the bookshops that sold their work. I was sad to note that all of the Bristol based ones I found now no longer exist. I can remember what an incredible, eye-widening treasure house George’s Children’s department used to be. This is described on their bookmark as having “the largest stock of books in the West for children of all ages”. Take that Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and South Wales.
I hope you enjoy taking a look at some of these as much as I once enjoyed collecting them.
If you are especially interested in bookmarks, then there are lots more shared and talked about here: International Friends of Bookmarks