Vintage Mail Order Patterns: One Big Family?

Four Vintage Mail Order Pattern Envelopes; different names, but similar style.

Four Vintage Mail Order Pattern Envelopes; different names, but similar style.

I’m a relative novice to vintage patterns, but I’ve had enough pass through my hands to recognize the typeface and visual style of the “Progressive Farmer” pattern (see below), which American Age Fashion wrote about recently as “Becky Stott’s pattern.” Read the blog  here.

A "Progressive Farmer" Pattern. Photo courtesy of AmericanAgeFashion.com

Becky Stott’s “Progressive Farmer” Pattern. Photo courtesy of AmericanAgeFashion.com

 

Photo of mailing envelope, courtesy of AmericanAgeFashion.com

Photo of mailing envelope, courtesy of AmericanAgeFashion.com

Doesn’t it seem a little odd that The Progressive Farmer has a “pattern department” in New York City? 

Visually, the appearance of that “Progressive Farmer” pattern is a very close relative of these:

Marian Martin mail order pattern courtesy of rememberedsummers on Ebay.

Marian Martin mail order pattern courtesy of rememberedsummers on Ebay.

Marian Martin mail order pattern, courtesy of rememberedsummers, Ebay.

Marian Martin mail order pattern, courtesy of rememberedsummers, Ebay.

Anne Adams half-size mail order pattern, courtesy of rememberedsummers, Ebay.

Anne Adams half-size mail order pattern, courtesy of rememberedsummers, Ebay.

Anne Adams mail order pattern for a wrap dress or apron, from rememberedsummers on Ebay.

Anne Adams mail order pattern for a wrap dress or apron, from rememberedsummers on Ebay.

Those patterns only seem to come from different companies. I’ve noticed that there was at least one pattern company in New York that specialized in making patterns that would be sold through regional newspapers. Sometimes they bore the name of a pattern company like “Marian Martin” or “Anne Adams,” which were possibly the names of individual designers. But the illustration style, the lettering, and the instruction sheets’ layout and typeface are nearly identical, and, although they were mailed in envelopes with different (but stylistically similar) designs on them, the return address was almost the same for many companies.

Return Address for Marian Martin and Anne Adams Patterns.

Return Address for Marian Martin and Anne Adams Patterns.

RoseButtons wrote about this 2009, but sadly, the site is no longer active.

Rose Buttons quoted Barbara Brackman’s book Women of Design:

Quilt Historian Wilene Smith has determined that Nathan Kogan, Max Levine and Anne Bourne formed a business called Needlecraft Service, Inc. in 1932. As yet pattern historians know nothing about the actual designers who created the innovative patterns and drawings. To add to confusion about company history, Smith found that Needlecraft Service set up two competing branches to make the most of cities with competing newspapers. Laura Wheeler might offer patterns in one newspaper and Alice Brooks in another. Each “designer” had a different New York city address, which Smith thinks were mail drops to distinguish the bylines. The company also used regional names such as Carol Curtis in the Midwest and Mary Cullen in the Northwest. Marian Martin and Ann Adams [sic] were additional bylines, [primarily] for clothing patterns.

Apparently, some newspapers would sell such sewing patterns under their own names, e.g. “The Progressive Farmer.”

"Own Name" pattern for Tap Shorts, courtesy of rememberedsummers on Ebay.

“Own Name” pattern for a Dance Set, courtesy of rememberedsummers on Ebay.

This pattern from the 1930s was listed on Ebay; it says “Own Name” at the bottom:

"Own Name" on bottom of pattern; courtesy of rememberedsummers on Ebay.

“Own Name” on bottom of pattern; courtesy of rememberedsummers on Ebay.

It took me a long time to realize that it was a sample — meant to be sent to a newspaper, which would have its “own name” printed on the patterns it chose to feature! [At least, that’s my guess.]

photo courtesy of AmericanAgeFashion.com

photo courtesy of AmericanAgeFashion.com

The Vintage Traveler  confirmed in a comment  on americanagefashion.com that The Progressive Farmer was a regional newspaper. It’s possible that Becky Stott’s Progressive Farmer pattern was also sold under other newspapers’ names. The mailing address, Old Chelsea Station, NY, is the same as that on an “Alice Brooks” pattern that was listed on Ebay, and on “Needlecraft “patterns, like this transfer pattern for an embroidered quilt. Only the box numbers — 147, 162, 163 — are different.

Allice Brooks Design mail order pattern, courtesy of rememberedsummers.

Alice Brooks Designs mail order pattern, courtesy of rememberedsummers.

 

Needlecraft mail order pattern from Reader Mail, Inc. courtesy of rememberedsummers.

Needlecraft mail order pattern from Reader Mail, Inc. courtesy of rememberedsummers.

When I checked the locations of all these addresses (for Alice Brooks, Anne Adams, Marian Martin, Needlecraft, and the Progressive Farmer pattern) on a map of New York City, I found that 243 W. 17th Street (Anne Adams) and 232 West 18th Street (Marian Martin) were on the same block and may have been two entrances to the same building. The Old Chelsea Station Post Office (Needlecraft, Alice Brooks, & Progressive Farmer) was right across the street, at 217 West 18th.

I think Wilene Smith was right – all these addresses were mail drops for one company, Needlecraft Service, Inc. The separate mailing addresses just made it easier to sort the pattern orders received from all over the country. Of course, this is a theory; I would welcome comments, additions, and corrections from people with more expertise.

 

 

 

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11 Comments

Filed under 1930s, 1960s-1970s, Vintage patterns

11 responses to “Vintage Mail Order Patterns: One Big Family?

  1. Wonderful research! Keep us updated on what you discover.

  2. It sure looks like you are correct in your theory of them being the same company. There are still lots of modern companies that seem separate but are actually the same today. Just check out Wawak and Cleaner’s Supply – same address but different phone numbers! (I thought to check the addresses because the websites seemed so similar.)

    I read something recently that said there were actually only 8 companies in the world right now that own everything else.

  3. Fascinating! I bet I’ve seen hundreds of these patterns over the years and not one time thought about them all coming from the same company.

    • Gosh! You are one of my go-to sources for vintage pattern information. I was lucky to find that quotation that shows someone else thought of it first (but mostly in relation to quilt patterns.) I know there are collectors of Marian Martin and other named designers; it would be interesting to learn if they can see distinct stylistic differences between all those lines. They may be ‘made up names’ or they may be real women. It’s a big area for research.

  4. The company’s name was Reader Mail, Inc. and the other names were “subdivisions” each for a different pattern line. Have you seen my website with photos of the company’s building, front and back, and the post office across the street? George F. Goldsmith Jr. was the founder. Thanks for including me as a source.

  5. Pingback: More About Marian Martin, Anne Adams, Alice Brooks, and Their Sisters | witness2fashion

  6. Pingback: Unnamed and undated: a raglan long sleeve T – Sew It or Throw It

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