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Leather Bookmarks: My Travel Souvenir

When I was seven, my family went on our first summer trip to the UK. Out of those six weeks, we spent over a week in Scotland. It was both my brother’s and my first time visiting the country, and we both loved it. It was like a wonderland to us; my brother was enamoured with all of the steam trains that he could ride on while pretending he was an engineer on Thomas the Tank Engine. And me? I loved castles. I wanted to go to every castle in Scotland, despite my mother telling me multiple times that it would be impossible to do that in a week. 

Looking out from Duart Castle

My Poppa, my brother, and me standing on the grounds of Duart Castle watching the ferry to the Isle of Mull go past.

One of the first “castles” we visited wasn’t really a castle — it was a stately home on the ‘Great Houses of Scotland’ trail (which encompassed six stately homes and castles across the country, all of which I eventually got to visit). Hopetoun House, located on the fringes of Edinburgh in what is described as “a fabulous setting of built and rural heritage,” was stunning and full of so many amazing things — tapestries and turrets, to name a few — that I would never get to see in Texas.

My memories of the actual house aren’t very strong, and I feel like it would be visiting it anew if I were to go back. However, I do remember our visit to the gift shop afterwards. I looked all around the gift shop for something to mark the memorable occasion that was our visit. Eventually, I found something perfect — a leather bookmark embossed with ‘Hopetoun House’ and a picture of the ornate house itself. I loved reading and couldn’t check books out of the library fast enough, so why not have a nice bookmark for those books?

At Dunstaffnage Castle, looking down the well.

Having a great time at Dunstaffnage Castle looking down the well. My brother was trying to repeat his near-fall into a latrine at Hadrian's Wall earlier in the trip.

Then disaster struck. My mother said no. She reasoned that we were going to visit many places and this was only our first stop, so it was better to wait until I found something I really wanted. I’m sure I used every cajoling method my seven-year-old mind knew, but it didn’t work.

It seemed like every place we went from then on sold leather bookmarks, and I’m sure I pointed them all out to my parents. I’m not sure who came up with the idea first, but the family eventually decided that I could get one leather bookmark at every destination we visited, provided that it was the only souvenir I got (aside from postcards).

Some of my bookmarks

This is a small portion of my leather bookmark collection. The rest are still in America so I can't take photos of them at the moment!

I was perfectly happy with that. I collected occasional other items during our many other trips to Britain, but leather bookmarks were a constant. I bought them from street vendors in London, from distilleries in Scotland, and from castles in Wales. I even gave one of my favourites from our first trip (from Lincoln Cathedral) to my dad, who used it in every book he read until both the book and bookmark disappeared on a doctor’s visit in 2006.

I often returned to America with a thick stack of bookmarks. I kept them in a pile in my bookcase until the pile began to dwarf the heights of most of my books. I went through phases — sometimes, they were ordered by the date I acquired them, and sometimes they were ordered by colour. It helped to keep my memories strong of all the places I’d been lucky enough to go to at such a young age.

Marking my place in one of my favourite books.

Marking my place in one of my favourite books.

Eventually I settled on displaying them in two large binders designed for free-mounting photos. There’s over 120 pages with three bookmarks per page! I used to love thumbing through all of them, but sadly, I had to leave them in America when I moved to Australia. It might be ok to bring them over, but I’d be devastated if they were taken away and destroyed by customs.

I still collect bookmarks today. Whenever I visit somewhere new in Britain, I visit the gift shop because I know they’ll have one. They seem to be very much a British thing because you only occasionally see them in other countries — I have a few from scattered locations in the US, a few more from New Zealand, and a couple more from Australia. My family in England still sends me bookmarks from places they’ve visited, and I was even given a bookmark from the Endeavour replica (thanks Michelle!).

Other bookmarks

My collection occasionally branches out to other styles of bookmark as well. These are from Singapore, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and England.

The collection has branched out a bit though — I have a fuzzy bookmark made out of “kangaroo fur”, one made solely of paua shell, and another that my aunt hand-wove. I don’t seek out non-leather bookmarks, but if they are interesting and meaningful to me, I’ll add them to the collection.

So, all in all, is it weird to own more leather bookmarks than I own books to read? Possibly. But is it any more odd than owning more fridge magnets than you have fridge space? To me, both collections serve the same purpose — they are a reminder of the wonderful times I’ve had and the amazing places that I’ve visited.

Plus, it means I should never lose my place in a book again.

Do you collect anything on your travels? If so, what do you collect and how do you display your collection when you get home?

Thanks to KimbaLikes’ “Write Stuff” blog hop for inspiring me to write this post!

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10 Responses to Leather Bookmarks: My Travel Souvenir

  1. Adrian Sutton July 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm Reply

    If you do want to bring the bookmarks into Australia, probably the safest way to do so is to post them. You’ll want to double check with customs before hand, but if they are rejected they will just be returned to sender rather than destroyed. Just be sure to fill out the declaration accurately. It’s pretty rare to find leather products that wouldn’t be allowed in, it would have to be leather made using historic techniques and even then I doubt it would be an issue.

    • Kristin July 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm Reply

      Yeah, I don’t know if I agree that the safest way is posting them. I’ve had too many things lost/destroyed by either Australia Post or the USPS that I wouldn’t trust a collection that I value so much to them. Plus, do they actually return them to sender? When my friends had things sent to them that couldn’t get past customs, they were sent notes saying they had to pay a lot of money ($45 for a packet of tea, for instance) to have it radiated and sent to them; otherwise it would be destroyed.

      I figure they would probably be allowed in since they aren’t untreated animal or plant products, but I figure I’m better safe than sorry.

  2. Kim-Marie July 15, 2012 at 10:54 am Reply

    Oh, I love that story! That is a lifelong love of leather bookmarks. I felt I was with you in the castles, pressing my nose up against the gift shop window!

    Thank you for sharing a Write Stuff story with me. 🙂

    • Kristin July 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm Reply

      Thanks Kim-Marie! It definitely is a lifelong love of leather bookmarks!

  3. Deborah July 15, 2012 at 2:49 pm Reply

    What a gorgeous story and such lovely memories. I don’t really collect things but have bits and pieces from my travels. For some reason I seem to have a few wall hangings – bought in Africa (Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Sth Africa) and then a few from East Timor etc. Some of the latter are just lovely pieces of cloth that I’ve hung – so they’re kind of decorative PLUS offer up memories!


    • Kristin July 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm Reply

      Thanks Deb! Those wall hangings do sound cool — and definitely sound like they’re special because you couldn’t get them here! It would be great to have that reminder of a good trip every time you walk in and see them.

  4. Linda ~Journey Jottings July 19, 2012 at 10:44 pm Reply

    How long are you staying in Oz?
    If you were staying for any period I think I’d be tempted to contact Australian Customs and check out what the situation is with them – and also the American customs for when you want to take them back!

    The origination of how your bookmark collection began is charming –
    It’s beautiful having travel memories associated with tactile (small) objects 🙂

    • Kristin July 23, 2012 at 9:34 pm Reply

      Thanks for your comment Linda! I’m planning on staying in Oz permanently. I think you’re right — contacting Australian customs would be the best idea. Hopefully they’d be able to give me a definitive answer — preferably in writing so I could carry it with me! I’m not too concerned about American customs though, they hardly bother checking anything and I’ve never had any trouble with the bookmarks there before.

      Glad you liked the story! It really is nice to be able to pick something up and remember a face or a place almost instantly.

  5. liz July 17, 2015 at 12:50 pm Reply

    I lost my bookmark made “kangaroo fur”, Do you Know, where can I find it?
    Thanks I love leather bookmarks.


    • Kristin July 20, 2015 at 8:11 pm Reply

      Hi Liz, that’s unfortunate that you lost your bookmark, but glad to hear from a fellow bookmark lover! I know that I’ve found them in shops like ‘Australia the Gift’ in Brisbane and Cairns, so you might have some luck getting another one there.

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