The world is filled with magpie minds and natures. You name anything that has the whiff of the mass-produced and there’ll be someone, societies even, collecting it enthusiastically. I was encouraged to collect stamps when I was a kid, steaming used ones off envelopes, affixing them to gridded album pages with special adhesive tabs. Many of them ended up stuck to a papier mâché tray I’d made and varnished over. I also had a thing about matchbox labels — Bryant & May’s designs for England’s Glory and Ship labels varied a lot, I seem to remember. Then there were the coins that my father collected from countries around the South China Seas — I’ve still got a box of them somewhere. I could go on …
But I digress. I’ve already posted about bookmarks, those simple devices for keeping the page reached when there’s a pause in reading a book; it so happens that three of the bookmarks I’m currently using advertise independent bookshops. One is for Seaways Bookshop in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire: it features a stylised lighthouse designed by Sarah Earl — referencing the nearby beacon on Strumble Head — and is mostly bilingual (for example ‘bookshop’ is siop lyfrau in Welsh). The second bookmark is from The Hours Café & Bookshop in Brecon, Powys, with an Art Deco logo and an extract from a laudatory Guardian review, which reads in full:
Bookshops are only usually like this in dreams. Housed in a three-storey Tudor building, all exposed stone walls and inviting nooks, the Hours is a bijou shop stocking just 1,000 covetable titles (fiction, art, poetry, crime, children’s titles, walking guides and local interest) in an environment to invite lingering. The current owners opened the shop in 2010 after years in the corporate sector. They wanted to create a place to stumble upon and cherish, and they’ve succeeded. Next to the books, there’s a brilliant café with free wireless internet access and papers; upstairs there’s a comfy reading room. The shop takes its name from the working title for Mrs Dalloway. Virginia Woolf, you feel, would have loved this tranquil, creative place.
My last is for a defunct secondhand bookseller, Bristol Books, not to be confused with the publishers who now trade under that name. This was an Aladdin’s Cave for me when I was a schoolboy, and even now the bookmark’s retro design using different typefaces, like a Victorian advertisement, brings back memories of the sights and smells of the bookshop I haunted for oh-so-many reasonably priced bargains. The black-edged pink bookmark reads in part
SECONDHAND BOOKSELLERS | BRISTOL BOOKS | WE STOCK A LARGE | AND VARIED SELECTION OF | SECONDHAND | BOOKS | POPULAR & ACADEMIC | from HISTORY | to HORROR | … and beyond!! | BOOKS | ALWAYS SOUGHT | CASH PAID | BRISTOL’S BIGGEST | AND BEST SELECTION OF | SECONDHAND | BOOKS …
Seeing these three souvenirs got me thinking that there must be avid collectors of bookmarks, as there are for virtually every other object one can think of. (Fred, created by artist Rupert Fawcett, even had his cornflake collection.) And, yes, any search engine worth its salt will point you in the direction of any number of bookmark collections, bookmark collectors’ societies, specialist producers of laminated bookmarks and so on. There are groups who discuss all paper ephemera, or deal exclusively in leather bookmarks. Antique bookmarks appear in hallmarked silver, or in woven silk as Stevengraphs (as produced by Thomas Stevens of Coventry from 1862).
And yet, try as I might, I can’t find a collective noun for these collectors or a learned term for their obsession. Stamp collectors are called philatelists and are aficionados of philately, tegestologists collecting beermats practice tegestology and even those studying beer labels call themselves labologists. Bookmark collectors seem to be bereft of a serious term to label their hobby. So what would be a good word, preferably one made from the roots available in dead languages like Ancient Greek, Latin or Anglo-Saxon?
Here are a couple of suggestions which, if you like either one or the other, we could promote as a meme which may even disseminate widely online and come to be accepted. Both are based on an obscure word apparently in use over a thousand years ago: æstel. The scholarly consensus is that this, glossed in Latin as indicatorium, was a pointer for following the words of a Latin codex in Alfred the Great’s day. The so-called Alfred Jewel (the lettering around it declares that Alfred ordered me made) was found in Somerset, part of the old kingdom of Wessex; it is considered to be the handle to a wand or staff — hastula or hastella in Late Latin, meaning a ‘little spear’ — designed to indicate the words to be read instead of the reader using their digit. In other words the æstel or astel, looking like a conductor’s baton or a Hogwart student’s wand, would point to where you had last got in your reading. A little like a bookmark in fact, though you wouldn’t close your book on it.
So, my first suggestion is philaestely, formed of the Greek for ‘love’ and the Anglo-Saxon for an indicator. Yes, it’s a little bit like philately, but I don’t think it would be confused. The other suggestion is aestelology, meaning the study of bookmarks; this is my preference, but don’t let that sway you too much. Feel free take the poll below. Alternatively, you may have a better suggestion, in which case I’d like to hear from you. After all, you are a bookmark-user, are you not? You don’t, heaven forfend, turn down the corner of your page?