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Bookmarking the old-fashioned way

I never really had any interest in bookmarks.  My interest has always been in the books themselves.  But sometimes it’s difficult to collect one without the other.  They tend to turn up together.  Bookmarks left out of books don’t usually last long.  But neatly pressed between the pages of a book, they can last as long as the book.

That’s certainly the case with Tauchnitz bookmarks that regularly turn up within the pages of old Tauchnitz Editions, usually the paperback ones rather than hardbacks.   Over the years I’ve found around 50 of these within books, as well as buying others separately, so I suppose I have to admit that I now collect the bookmarks as well as the books.

I suspect a lot of the surviving bookmarks are ones that were never really used for their proper purpose.   They were inserted as advertising into the books at the point of sale, tucked in completely between the pages.  In books that were never read they just stayed there, sometimes untouched for decades.   By contrast those that were actually used to mark a page and then left in a book would have protruded slightly, and become worn and discarded.  And if any were left in paperbacks sent to the bookbinder, they’d be discarded and replaced with a nice silk ribbon – nice but uninteresting

Bookmark April 1893

An early bookmark – slightly longer than the books

It helps that most of the Tauchnitz bookmarks are just the right size to disappear inside the books.   In fact they started off rather bigger and few of the early ones have survived.  Luckily more of the later ones have, because they’re a fascinating piece of publishing history.   Tauchnitz had bookmarks printed probably every month for over 20 years, between about 1893 and 1914 and each month’s bookmark recorded the books issued that month.  Between them they’re more or less a complete record of the 1500 or so books published in that period.    Or at least I assume they are.   If I’m right to say that they were issued every month, then there should be around 250 different monthly bookmarks.   The Tauchnitz bibliography found surviving copies of only 56 of them.  I’ve found quite a lot more, and heard from bookmark collectors who have others.  That still leaves us a long way short of 250, but near enough to make it look as though they probably do all exist.  I’d love to hear from anybody who has others.

  Bookmark May 1903 front   Bookmark May 1903 back 

Front and back of the May 1903 bookmark

The design of the bookmarks remained essentially unchanged for 20 years, although there were minor changes in the colours and the details.  That may seem surprising in these days of constant design changes, but the design of the books themselves had been largely unaltered from launch in1842 until the first major redesign in 1914 – a period of over 70 years.  Although the early bookmarks list the books in roughly numerical order, with a short blurb about each one, they quickly became more selective about which books they wanted to promote the most.  The choice of which book to list first is then evidence of which book the publisher saw as most prominent that month.

The last regular bookmark probably appeared in July 1914, just over 100 years ago, but a further bookmark dated January 1915 swept up the final books published before the war effectively put a temporary end to the publishing of English books in Germany.  They never reappeared after the war in this format, although there were still occasional advertising bookmarks issued, often promoting the works of one particular author.

The final bookmark in the series?