Clipping Service

So then, chocolate chip chutney, if we covered rubber bands on Monday, what shall we talk about today? Yes, that’s right: paper clips!

Say, don’t make faces like that. You had your chance to click on the picture of the big 125 exhibit, and you chose something with Book Fair content instead. Oh, your mouse slipped? Happens to me all the time. Keep looking for mouse galoshes on eBay, but apparently only Prada makes them, and those aren’t wide enough for Newberry mice, which have very broad feet. Why, every time somebody spots one, they point and cry “EEEEE!”

Where were we?

Paper clips have been used as bookmarks practically since their invention. The really big advantage to paper clips as bookmarks is their ability to double as a thumb guide. A paper clip is less likely to fall out of the book than a paper bookmark, so all you really need to do is run your thumb along the edge of the pages and pull at the lump of metal. In fact, I have had books donated in which the original owner actually used a dozen or so paperclips for just that purpose, putting one at each chapter.

But paper clips can never, at least to a seller of books, be considered ideal for marking your place in the book. For one thing, they bend the pages. This is true of most thick bookmarks, especially the metal ones. But the design of the paper clip makes it ideal for bending the page in a very small area, and very deeply. This creates a groove which nothing can remove.

Further, given time, they rust. These new stainless ones even seem to rust, or tarnish anyhow, given time. And rust does a lot of good on a page. It glues the paperclip in place. It marks the page with red marks, so that even if you do remove the paper clip, the mark remains forever. And in many cases it makes the page more brittle, so that if you remove the paper clip, sometimes that bit of page comes with it. (Post-It Notes and their imitators, do not bend the page or rust but, given time, will fix themselves so firmly to the page that they also will remove the paper when you try to pull them loose.)

The only time paper clips fail to cling forever to the page is when they have been used to attach something important—a note from the author or a check from the publisher—to the front free endpaper. Then, because I try to charge more for that little piece of paper, they let it drop free the first time a customer opens the cover.

Of course, the alternative, which I find in a lot of books from before the advent of paper clips, is a straight pin, which bends the page, rusts, AND stabs the poor, unwary Book Fair manager. And for some reason blood—even mine—is hardly a good selling point. Better to go with rust: same color, doesn’t attract vampires.

NEXT: Something else on your desk with the rubber bands and paper clips.


People have been leaving metal objects in books for centuries: (By the way, if you do prick your finger on those straight pins, you can remove the blood from the books with your own saliva.)


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