Tag Archives: Wilene Smith

More About Marian Martin, Anne Adams, Alice Brooks, and Their Sisters

Butterick ad, The Delineator, July 1926.

Butterick ad, The Delineator, July 1926.

Last year I wrote about my suspicions that many mail order patterns — sold under different names — were really all produced by one company. (Click here for Vintage Mail Order Patterns:  One Big Family?)

Marian Martin wardrobe pattern # 9346. This is a half-size pattern. I think these patterns, which appeared in newspapers, appealed to older women.

Marian Martin wardrobe pattern # 9346. This is a half-size pattern. I think these mail order patterns, which were offered in newspapers, appealed to older women, like my stepmother. As a teenager, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about her using them for my clothes.

Today I received a comment on that post from quilt historian Wilene Smith, whose research was quoted in a source I mentioned, although I had not found her original article. Today,  she sent me a link. Her wonderfully thorough research on the company that created all these “competing” lines of quilt, needlework, and fashion patterns can be read at her blog,  Quilt History Tidbits. Click here. It’s well worth reading, even if you don’t collect vintage patterns. If you do, it’s a goldmine of information.

A Marian Martin pattern from the 1930s. The name, Marian Martin, appeared on the translucent waxed envelope.

A Marian Martin pattern from the 1930s. The name, Marian Martin, appeared on the translucent waxed envelope instead of on the printed instruction sheet. Courtesy of RememberedSummers at Ebay.

Wilene gives starting dates for Anne Adams patterns (June 1931), Marian Martin patterns (July 1931), Alice Brooks patterns (November 1933), Laura Wheeler needlework patterns (April 1933) and one I hadn’t heard of, Claire Tilden garment patterns (April 1934.) They were all generated by one company with several mailing addresses in New York city.

Alice Brooks pattern #7442 with mailing envelope dated 1968.

Alice Brooks pattern #7442 with mailing envelope dated 1968.

All of these pattern companies — Anne Adams, Marian Martin, et al — were featured in newspapers, which sometimes sold them under their own name (see Becky Stott’s Pattern, at American Age Fashion. The pattern that belonged to Becky Stott was sold under the name of the journal “The Progressive Farmer.” )  The remarkable thing about these patterns is that, by creating different names for its many pattern lines, the company that produced them all was able to sell them through competing newspapers in the same cities;  in the case of The Wisconsin State Journal, the same paper sold both Alice Brooks patterns and Marian Martin patterns. (See Wilene’s article, Laura Wheeler and Alice Brooks.)  The parent company was a major pattern producer, with hundreds of employees and two large buildings in New York. Wilene Smith located a 1976 interview which said a single newspaper ad could generate 58,000 orders!

Anne Adams pinafore dress pattern #4946. I had a high waisted jersey top like this in 1971 or 72. I wore it open, over jeans

Anne Adams pinafore dress pattern #4946. I had a high- waisted cotton knit top like this in 1971 or 72. I wore it open, over jeans

Anne Adams patterns had a long run, beginning in the 1930s. The style dates the one above to the late 60s or early 70s.  The 1940s Anne Adams pattern below might have suited Rosie the Riveter:

A Vintage 40s Anne Adams overall pattern.

A vintage 40s Anne Adams overall pattern. Courtesy of RememberedSummers at Ebay.

The Marian Martin brand began in the 1930s and was still selling patterns in 1963:

Marian Martin pattern 9495 mailed in 1963.

Marian Martin pattern #9495 mailed in 1963.

Now, thanks to painstaking research by Wilene Smith, we can trace all these pattern brands to their source, and follow them through the hands of the original Reader Mail company based in New York, to distribution by Hearst’s King Features Syndicate, Inc., to becoming a Hearst subsidiary as Hearst Patterns in 1980, and then becoming Reader Mail, Inc.  later that year. It was eventually bought by Simplicity, and sold again in 2000.

This Reader Mail pattern (#4120) was postmarked 1998.

This Reader Mail pattern (#4120) was postmarked 1998. In 2000, Ms. Smith traced Reader Mail to an address in Michigan which had a catalog of over 300 discontinued patterns.

“The Reader Mail name was first found on . . . mailer envelopes in 1984, around the time the company was sold to Simplicity Pattern Company and moved to Niles, Michigan,” writes Wilene Smith.  She then traces the company through other changes; in 2005 the owners were PatternCentral, which bought it for the quilt and needlework patterns. At that point, they were trying to find a buyer for the unused 1960s and 70s fashion patterns included in their purchase from Simplicity! As I said, Wilene Smith’s article is well worth reading.

Wilene Smith has identified a couple of designers’ names, but this question remains:  was there a difference in style between the various lines?

The Kestrel Makes blog has contacted a former Reader Mail editor and you can read her interviews and more about Reader Mail at kestrelmakes.com  Click here for the second part of the interview with Helene, who discusses the Reader Mail illustration style and other surprising things about their operation. [edited 1/6/15 to add link.]

Sew happy!

 

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Dating Vintage Patterns, Resources for Costumers, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage patterns

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