The history of bookmarks
A. W. Coysh in his work Collecting Bookmarkers (New York: Drake, 1974), a history of English bookmarks, states:
"The need for some device to mark the place in a book was recognized at an early date. Without bookmarkers, finely bound volumes were at risk. To lay a book face down with pages open might cause injury to its spine, and the crease on a page that had the corner turned down remained as a lasting reproach."
With the rise of printing in the fifteenth century, books were published in limited numbers and were quite valuable. The need to protect these precious commodities was evident. One of the earliest references to the use of bookmarks was in 1584 when the Queen's Printer, Christopher Barker, presented Queen Elizabeth I with a fringed silk bookmark.
Common bookmarks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were narrow silk ribbons bound into the book at the top of the spine and extended below the lower edge of the page. The first detachable bookmarks began appearing in the 1850's and were made from silk or embroidered fabrics. Not until the 1880's, did paper and other materials become more common.
The great period of bookmark design and the use of luxuriant materials was during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The idea that a bookmark be used to keep one's place and protect one's book caught on, and bookmarks have been produced in a variety of materials ever since. Contemporary bookmarks are made from a variety of material including paper, celluloid (the forerunner of plastic), silver, gold, pewter, wood, brass, copper, ivory, aluminum, tin, plastic, leather, Fiberglas, ribbon, and silk.* *This article by Lois R. Densky-Wolff was used with the gracious permission of The Ephemera Society of America.