Thomas Stevens claimed to have been the inventor of silk woven bookmarks, registering 9 different designs in May 1862. Official records show that it was another Coventry weaver, John Caldicott, who registered the first bookmark design in February 1862. Stevens was certainly the most prolific, being able to offer around 60 different designs by the end of that year and, by 1876, boasting some 900 different designs (of which around 750 have been recorded). His bookmarks were a huge success. They could be bought at stationers, exhibitions and directly from the factory. It is not known when Stevens reached out to the American market. He was certainly present at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 and there is evidence that a working loom remained in an exhibition building after the event closed. The Stevens company attended many exhibitions both home and abroad. Looms remained in production in Blackpool at the Winter Gardens and also the relocated Crystal Palace at Sydenham, London. Originally the bookmarks were referred to as ‘Illuminated Book-Markers’ and, briefly, as ‘textilographs’. When Stevens produced his first series of mounted silk pictures in 1879, the word ‘Stevengraphs’ was used to describe them and silk bookmarks became just ‘Stevens Bookmarks’. In the 1870s the prices for each bookmark ranged from sixpence to two shillings and sixpence depending on the size and complexity of the design. Bookmarks were sold pinned to a paper card although today most of those have become detached. The earliest cards just had a stamp mark whereas later cards became more elaborate displaying numbers of prize medals won and the number of designs available – a useful aide to dating the individual design.
Some examples of the paper cards. The bookmark was pinned to the card. The embossed version gives the 1860s address at Queen Street.
Stevens Bookmark Gallery: A small representative selection from different design categories
There is no representation of the size (length and width) of the designs shown in this gallery. Stevens bookmarks can vary between 5 inches in length (shorter for favours) and 13+ inches for the very large designs. The width can vary, between an inch or so to around 3 inches.