Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 12, 2021

Only Collect

Human beings, it seems, are inherently prone to collect things. It must originate from our earliest days as a species, when we sought and collected food for survival: Existence depended on our success as food collectors. Later, we gathered wood for fires, stones and bones to use as tools (or weapons), and so on.

Once we developed some technology, we made and collected first plants for basketry and then clay for pottery in which we could collect food and water. We learned more sophisticated things to do with stones, and ended up with prized collections of scrapers, arrowheads, axes, grinders and even sewing needles.

Today, some people collect those ancient stones, tools, baskets and pottery, not to use them, but to enjoy looking at them and — yes — occasionally to sell them for more than they paid.

Sometimes, though, things just pile up, without having been actively gathered or garnered.

Dust accumulates, as does worn-out clothing, old magazines and ideas for great stories or blog posts that simply don’t play out. Ahem.

I’ve actively collected my share of things: rocks and fossils, old rulers and measuring tools, vintage dinnerware, books, and have the storage boxes to prove it.

It occurred to me recently that there’s a classification of things here at Under Western Skies HQ which seem to have accumulated on their own and — without any effort from me — have formed a collection: bookmarks. In fifteen minutes of searching around the manse, I found these:

You can see they came from a variety of sources: libraries and bookstores, publishers, philanthropic organizations, museums.

Very few of them came here intentionally. They simply arrived and took up residence.

In other words, “collect” can be both transitive and intransitive.

One can actively collect bookmarks (which people do), in which case the verb has an object: That’s a transitive verb.

On the other hand, dust, old shoes and bookmarks simply accumulate in the intransitive sense: they collect.

Which seems to’ve happened with our bookmarks. Yes, I’ve intentionally picked up a few of them along the way, but they’ve also arrived in the mail or shown up in books acquired in yard sales or library used book sales.

Some of the earliest bookmarks were vellum, fabric or leather, often attached to the binding in order to protect books, which were — in early times, inexpressibly valuable.

Some books, like the one below from the Modern Library, still have that feature.

Heaven forbid that you mark where you fell asleep with some casual slip of paper. This is Willa Cather, after all!

Investigating the business of collecting bookmarks, I’ve learned there are serious collectors of the genre. Bookmarks apparently showed up soon after the first manuscripts were sewn into codices, right around Zero A.D., and there are extant examples from at least the sixth century.

Admittedly, the Under Western Skies library includes few manuscripts or bookmarks from the sixth century.

At various times in the past century and a half, and still today, decorative bookmarks have taken a variety of forms, made of fabric, leather, even precious metal — sometimes enormously elaborate.

Why not have an attractive, well-designed bookmark while reading a great work of literature? It can only enhance the experience.

I have at least one bookmark in that category, an embossed leather one with an Art Deco design I received as a gift. Here it is paired with a work of literature that was one of the first subjects of this blog, a dozen years ago: Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” marking that memorable passage: the madeleine episode.

The mass-produced, printed bookmarks that accumulated here are something else. They are, strictly speaking, promotional pieces. The word for items like this in the collecting biz is “ephemera.”

In the serious world of marketing, everything depends on identifying a target audience and sending them a message that induces (incites? motivates? compels?) them to buy or do something.

Who defines readers of books as their audience?

Obviously, as those bookmarks demonstrate, publishers and book stores print bookmarks. So do museums, assuming their clientele are readers. There are theaters, arts organizations and so on.

A bookmark makes a difference. No one wants to get a book from the library or — worse — loan a book to a friend to find the corners of the pages turned down. Use a bookmark! Even if it’s a playing card, colorful autumn leaf or a theater ticket.

Have a favorite bookmark? How’d you acquire it? Any collectors of bookmarks out there? Please leave a comment.

Copyright Brad Nixon 2021


  1. When I read a book I take notes on the bookmark, which therefore for me has to be a strip of regular paper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is, actually, an excellent practice. When I own a book, I make pencil notes in the margins and underline stuff. NOT borrowed or library books, of course.Thanks for the thought. Read on!


    • In a similar vein, I put small page marker strips on my bookmarks. When I want to stop reading, I put a strip to mark where I left off on a particular page (or on other pages that I might want to return to at another time). Although some of my cardboard bookmarks are quite old and tattered, none of them would fall into the collectibles category.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I’m following this. Yes, there is the occasional book here that has various pages flagged for future reference. Doesn’t work with library books, though. Still have to write stuff down or make photocopies.


  2. I just noticed that I have the same Getty Museum bookmark as you!


    • Possibly, we acquired them on a mutual visit.


  3. This was an interesting topic to cover. Anything can be a collectible, why not bookmarks! Here’s my favorite bookmark (you may recognize
    the boy in the photo!) And the book pictured is what I just finished after our recent visit to Savannah.

    (I’ll email the photo to you, my technical skills fail at trying to post it here!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • This service doesn’t make it simple to attach files. I look forward to the bookmark. Forrest Gump? A Savannah boy. Thanks!


    • Ah, just got it. THAT boy! (For readers, it’s a leather bookmark with a window that displays a photo of Piano Nan’s son when he was a young lad).
      I have seen the Midnight in the Garden house in Savannah that you toured, but didn’t go in, nor have I read the book. I think I’ll put it on the reading list … which never seems to get any shorter. Thanks again.


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