Aestelology, anyone?

King_Alfred’s_Jewel
The Alfred Jewel, now in the Ashmolean Museum, from Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages by Henry Shaw, 1843 (public domain)

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 philatelytegestologists 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?

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29 thoughts on “Aestelology, anyone?

  1. I never – ever – turn down the corner of a book! Definitely not me.

    I like aesteology – it has a ring to it as it runs through my head, though your picture of the Alfred Jewel sends a covetous shiver along my spine. I’ve dreamed of digging in the garden and finding something gorgeous – a medieval ring would be wonderful. But an aestal … The thought makes me feel rather faint. I think the Alfred jewel has a similar hold over me as the One Ring does over Gollum! I wants it 🙂

    Any tips where I can find really nice bookmarks, BTW? I have a good steel initial one I bought from Waterstones but lovely examples seem few and far between.

    1. All I’ve found in our new-to-us garden is a couple of clay pipe stem fragments, Lynn, of the type used up to the early 19th century — a disappointment in what was originally a medieval plot. No animal bones though — the house was a butcher’s at one time — and definitely no dog ears! In a few seasons of archaeological digging I’ve unearthed Roman mosaics and coins, Neolithic potsherds and medieval graves — but never any treasure. It’s the hope that sustained me …

      Personally I dislike bulky or heavy bookmarks (silver or thick leather, for example) so don’t know about making recommendations. Myself I put my faith in serendipity, trusting that chance will provide a bookmark that takes my fancy — carpe indicatorium as it were!

      1. We found a lot of pipe stems and a partial bowl and some metal working slag too when we had our allotment as the site used to be a dump for the south of the city. I did love finding the pipe stems – common as muck of course, but still a tiny bit of history. I think I’d be disappointed at not finding something older in your garden too – it’s a lovely fantasy, isn’t it, finding something exciting or important? What you have uncovered during digs sounds wonderful – that idea that no one else has seen it since the day it was buried. Marvellous.
        I do like the metal bookmarks – I used to have a long, thin, pointed one the other half bought me which would have made a fabulous dagger. Sadly, I think it was tucked in a book and the book given away. They are heavy, but I like their sense of permanence – perhaps it’s the closest I’ll ever get to owning an aestel 🙂

  2. I still have bookmarks from the books my father used to order from Blackwell’s in the 1940s. I prefer philaestely because it gets the idea of love, and the connection with philately might be a plus because people would stop and wonder about a word they thought they knew.

    1. I like the idea of ‘a love of’ as implicit in bookmark collecting, though I suspect some might do it for entirely pecuniary reasons — rather different from philosophers who could reasonably be claimed to love wisdom.

      I had some bookmarks from Blackwell’s in Bristol (none from the Oxford flagship shop that I remember) but sadly a mis-timed move meant that their long time base in that city is now a restaurant and they’ve now no presence there that I know of. Of three independent bookshops in central Bristol none now remain …

      1. Blackwell’s in Oxford was one of the first places I went to in England. For us it was a bit like the mother church. Yes, the independent bookshops are dying here too, though a few survive in the hipper suburbs.

    1. A puzzle, Alastair; perhaps anaestelological, ‘being in a state of having no bookmarks to study’?
      I know I have enough substitute bookmarks around the house — mostly old or freebie postcards — but my problem is when I’m tucked up in bed with a new book to read, only to find my stash of bedside bookmarks is depleted to zero. I defy anyone to come up with a term for that.

  3. I never keep bookmarks long enough for a collection. They don’t seem to like my company. How about a term the luvvies from marketing would ascribe to, Book-Marketeers. Nice post by the way.

    1. Thanks, Davy. 🙂

      Book Marketeers? Sounds too obvious to have passed moneymakers by — I’m sure if you googled it or searched for the hashtag #bookmarketeers you’d find someone had copyrighted/trademarked it already!

  4. I have a bookmark that I love, it is one that folds over the page with a magnetic strip along the bottom. It makes me smile every time I open the book, which is not as often as I would like, but when I do, a small image of a brown bear with sunglass smiles at me….. I love bears 🙂 I have no idea what to call a collection of bookmarks, but I could never turn a page down, never have, never would…..so what about Page Savers 🙂

    1. Page Savers are, as far as I can see, either transparent pockets for preserving documents; or else used in computing for virtual bookmarks or something to do with screen savers or whatever clever marketing can come up with …

      Your magnetic bear-themed bookmark sounds ingenious, Lynne — obviously much loved too — but I’d worry that with my tendency to consume several books simultaneously I’d not know where to best employ it! I may just stick with bookshop-provided examples or rely on old postcards. 🙂

  5. I used to buy lovely little bookmarks for utilitarian purposes only. If I collected them it was only by accident, as I was prone to misplacing them. At one time I did have a nice “collection” sitting in my bedside drawer. Looking back, it would be fun to have kept them all, starting in childhood, I have no real memory of my first real bookmark, I was one of those who would use the closest thing at hand when it was time to stop reading. In my younger days I had the ability (and time) to read from cover to cover without stopping making bookmarks an unnecessary part of life.

    As for your word, I rather enjoy it. So much so, that I started to play around with Latin to see of I could come up with a new (pedantic) word for bookmark. Here is my offer to you Chris, Libellumprohibere. Libellum is one of many singular forms for book or notebook and prohibere is Latin for stop. So we have book stop. Not that a bookmark ever prohibited me from reading. 🙂

    1. Libellumprohibere is a fantastic term, Sari — if a bit of a mouthful! — and no I don’t think anything would stop me reading either. 🙂 So, do you not still use bookmarks? I’m been inspired to look at other possibilities now, inspired by libellumprohibere …

      1. Thanks to you, I too am inspired to make up new words for everyday objects. Yes, I do use libellumprohiberes now. My favorite came from Barns & Noble. It is called a “book thong”, as it is just a piece of string with two beads at each end. It is easy to use and very easy on the book binding.

  6. Well, there you have it. Poor Phil has to stamp off and go back to his latter list. Most were hasty about aeste. I do think if taken seriously it should not have LOL, and aesteology would have enough of the ‘wand’ route to serve.

    1. Can’t compete with these insightful puns, Col, however much they incite rejoinders. All I’ll say is that I’ve come up with an even better term for bookmark collecting which I hope to share in a future post …

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