Saturday, July 20, 2013

Material Culture Minute: Bookmarking Rob and His Alter Egos

Over a year ago, while digging through one of my favorite booths in one of my favorite antique malls in Newark, Delaware, I spied some ephemera peeking through plastic behind a framed item on the wall. It didn't budge when I gently tugged, but I wasn't about to leave this stone unturned.

What could it be?

I yanked the plastic sleeve out from behind the frame and was delighted to meet "Rob, N.Y." via small snapshots attached to a hand-fashioned leather bookmark complete with fringe at the bottom. In one photo Rob labeled "DUDE," he donned a top hat and looked beguilingly into the distance; in another he labeled "ANGLE" (or did you mean "Angel," Rob? It's OK; I had a hard time with that letter combo too),  Rob wore a pointed paper cap and folded his hands as if in prayer. In the last photo, which he labeled "Rob" in "cursive," he offered his ordinary Rob pose. About $16 dollars later (a little pricey, I agree), the bookmark was mine to treasure as did its previous owner(s).

What motivated Rob to send this hand-wrought treasure? If he was anything like me, Rob simply enjoyed keeping in touch with friends and family via the post in a way that made it difficult for the person on the other end to forget about the sender. Rob's bookmark reminds me of contemporary greeting cards that aren't really about the recipient ("You are the best father!") but rather the sender ("I am your more talented child!"). (I am guilty of selecting such cards regularly.) Turns out Rob from N.Y. sent this homemade leather bookmark in the 1880s to a Mary [C.] Fletcher at 113 S. Vermont Avenue, Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mary, I discovered using Ancestry Library Edition, had been married to a Samuel Fletcher. I was unable to unearth much more information about the couple, but I bet that Mary was as delighted as I was to be on the receiving end of Rob's playful greeting.

From Nicole, D.E.

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