Fashion & Sewing Pattern History, Part Three

As you may recall from part two, fashion sewing patterns were still rather complicated in the mid-1800s. However, some, like Ellen Louise Demorest and her husband William Jennings Demorest, began to assist those who were interested in sewing at home —  assisting at a profit, of course.

demorests emporium of fashion trade card sewing patterns antique

By 1860, Madame Demorest’s Emporium of Fashion began advertising her patterns in magazines. This was still by-hand work, with the patterns cut to shape in two options for the consumer: purchased “flat”, which was the cut patterns folded and mailed, or, for an additional charge, “made up” which had the pattern pieces tacked into position and mailed. At this time, Madame Demorest’s Emporium of Fashion used fashion shows held in homes, along with trade cards, to promote her patterns — as well Demorest publications. In 1860, the Demorests began publishing Madame Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions, a quarterly which not only featured plates of their own dress patterns but included a pattern stapled to the inside as well. However, patterns were still only available in one size at this time.

The beginning of sewing patterns as most of us know them has its roots in the winter of 1863. According to The Legend, Ellen Buttrick and her complaint were the mother of invention; but it was her husband, Ebenezer Butterick, an inventor and former tailor, who revolutionized sewing patterns and fashion history in the winter of 1863.

Snowflakes drifted silently past the windowpane covering the hamlet of Sterling, Massachusetts in a blanket of white. Ellen Butterick brought out her sewing basket and spread out the contents on the big, round dining room table. From a piece of sky blue gingham, she was fashioning a dress for her baby son Howard. Carefully, she laid out her fabric, and using wax chalk, began drawing her design.

Later that evening, Ellen remarked to her husband, a tailor, how much easier it would be if she had a pattern to go by that was the same size as her son. There were patterns that people could use as a guide, but they came in one size. The sewer had to grade (enlarge or reduce) the pattern to the size that was needed. Ebenezer considered her idea: graded patterns. The idea of patterns coming in sizes was revolutionary.

By spring of the following year, Butterick had produced and graded enough patterns to package them in boxes of 100, selling them to tailors and dressmakers. These early Butterick patterns were created from cardboard. However, as most early patterns were sold by mail, heavy cardboard was not ideal for folding and shipping. Butterick experimented with other papers, including lithographed posters (printed by Currier and Ives). While these were easier to fold and ship than cardboard, they were still not ideal. Ultimately the search lead to less expensive and light-weight tissue paper.

1899 Butterick Pattern - Ladies Double Breasted Coat

For the first three years, Butterick patterns were for clothing for men and boys; in 1866, Butterick began making women’s dress patterns. This is when the sewing pattern business really began to grow. In order to promote the mail order patterns, Butterick began publishing The Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions (1867) and the monthly Metropolitan (1868).

Madame Demorest’s Emporium of Fashion was still going strong, as was their publication. Although the magazine was expanded to include a lot more magazine content as Demorest’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine and Madame Demorests Mirror of Fashions in 1864. In 1865, the name was changed again, this time to Demorest’s Monthly Magazine and Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions — more commonly referred to as Demorest’s Monthly. This monthly was reaching over 100,000 readers.

demorests reliable patterns magazine trade card

The success of sewing patterns could not be ignored and the competition would really begin; by 1869, James McCall started his pattern business.

These early sewing patterns by Butterick, McCall’s, and Demorest were not printed, but rather outlined on the tissue paper by a series of perforated holes. They were typically sent in an envelope which had a sketch of the finished garment and brief instructions  printed on it. These instructions included suitable fabric suggestions, size information, and a description of how the pieces were to be cut from the tissue and pieced together to form the garment (assisted by a code of shapes, such as v-shaped notches, circles, and squares, which were cut into the paper).

perforated holes tissue paper patterns

In 1872, Butterick began publishing The Delineator. As with the earlier publications, The Delineator was originally intended simply to market Butterick patterns. However, it quickly expanded into a general interest magazine for women in the home, offering everything from fashion to fiction from housekeeping to social crusading (including lobbying for women’s suffrage in the early 1900s). As readership skyrocketed, the earlier publications were folded into The Delineator — and the magazine would go on to become one of the “Big Six” ladies magazines in the USA.

The Delineator August 1894

In 1873, McCall’s would start their own publication called The Queen. In 1896, the name was changed to The Queen of Fashion and it would be the first magazine to use photographs on its cover.

In 1875, the first in-store sewing pattern catalogs appeared. These were produced by Butterick.

Madame Demorest was still around. In addition to marketing paper patterns through the magazines, the patterns were sold through a nationwide network of shops called Madame Demorest’s Magasins des Modes. In addition to the paper patterns and drafting systems, the shops sold ready-made fashion items, Demorest’s line of cosmetics and perfumes, and custom dressmaking services to wealthy clients. It was the latter, along with fashion exhibitions in London and Paris, which really boosted the designer and therefore the company’s profile. By the mid-1870s, there were 300 Demorest shops, employing 1,500 sales agents. Her employees were mainly women, including African-American women who received the same treatment as the white women workers.

1870's MME Demorest Hilda Polonaise Pattern

In 1877, business was peaking. The Demorest’s Monthly began circulation in London and, along with the quarterly, the company began publishing Madame Demorest’s What to Wear and How to Make It. Just a few years later, however, Demorest business declined. This was unfortunately do to the Demorests’ failure to patent their patterns, allowing themselves to be bested by competition. In 1887, Demorest sold their pattern business, which went on to live on primarily in name only — including sewing machines.

To Be Continued…

Image of Mme. Demorest Hilda Polonaise Pattern via dakotanyankee; image of 1899 Butterick Pattern Ladies Double Breasted Coat via janyce_hill.

Fashion & Sewing Pattern History, Part One

While sewing itself dates back thousands of years, to the Paleolithic period, patterns for making clothing are a much more modern invention.

The earliest known fashion patterns, dating to ancient Egypt, were relatively simple guide templates cut from slate. (Similar slate guides, presumed to the products of trade, have also been found in ancient Roman catacombs.) However, for the most part early human history, clothing was primarily constructed from rectangular shaped pieces of uncut woven fabric. The fabric, so labor intensive to produce and therefore costly to purchase, was primarily left intact to minimize waste. At this time, the wearer was almost always the maker of his own clothes. The cloth itself, not the shape or design of the garment, was the distinguishing feature.

13 century fashions

However, by the year 1297 the first reference to the word “tailor” is used in Europe. This would indicate that pattern making must have begun at some point prior, as tailoring involves the acts (or arts) of cutting and sewing cloth — the two basic aspects of constructing clothing from a pattern. Also in the 13th century, a French tailor attempted to make patterns from thin pieces of wood. However, this tailor’s invention was thwarted by the powerful Tailor’s Guild whose members feared such an invention would put them out of business.

early fashions

According to Principles of Flat Pattern Design by Nora MacDonald, the real art of pattern making wouldn’t begin until the 15th century. This is the result of two pivotal historical moments: the Renaissance, and the movement’s desire to dress to accentuate the human form, and Gutenberg’s printing press. The former meant that carefully engineered pieces of fabric were cut to form clothing which would contour to the body. The latter meant that images of clothing designs could be more widely disseminated. So, now when the wealthy had their new form-fitting frocks, the little people could all see images of them — even if they had never been to the big cities, let alone court. As countries grew in power (first Italy, then Spain and France), so they influenced others. And what they were wearing was a large part of that influence. Fashion was truly born.

The fashions of these times continued to be made by tailors. The process was elaborate, with tailors working with each client’s to take their individual measurements to customize and even create patterns. Such highly revered skills meant that the services of tailors were relegated only to the very rich. This continued to be the case through the Industrial Revolution.

Godey's Philadelphia Fashions July-1833

For those who could not afford a tailor of their own, staying fashionable was laborious. While the publications of the day (such as Godey’s Lady’s Book & Magazine, The Young Ladies Journal, and Peterson’s Ladies National Magazine), depicted the latest fashion designs, the accompanying text was more like a flowery description than a set of step-by-step instructions. Your average household, relying upon the lady of the house and her daughter(s) to make the clothing, struggled to make use of the fashion lithographs provided. Rarely were diagrams provided; and no measurements were given. Even when one was talented enough to make the required calculations, all the sewing was done by hand — and the sewing was typically done after more vital and immediate work was performed. By the time your dress was finished, it really could be out of fashion.

The Industrial Revolution brought along a host of advances which greatly increased the standard of living for “the masses”.  This included less expensive textiles and an even greater desire for fashions — naturally spurring advances in the fashion industry. As we reach the early 19th century, clothing pattern history closely parallels domestic sewing machine history.

To Be Continued

A Vintage Mae West Scrapbook

Today’s scrapbooks are filled with photographs of family & friends, complimented by decorative papers and supplies purchased for the sole act of creating fantastic looking photo albums. But once upon a time, scrapbooks bore more resemblance to their name: they were books full of “scraps” of paper.

Some of these vintage scrapbooks did chronicle personal events or lifetimes, of course; but many were just compilations of neat things people found in newspapers and magazines. Some people were quite dedicated, focusing their efforts on specific themes. At least each scrapbook had its own theme. And some of the most popular themes were scrapbooks dedicated to movie stars. Like this old Mae West scrapbook.

It’s filled with carefully clipped images of the film star from various newspapers and magazines of the time. Looks like there are a few publicity photos sent to fans as well.

I know some people will balk at the seller’s price tag of $450. But when you consider how much it would cost to find and purchase enough vintage publications and the like to attempt to recreate this nearly-antique scrapbook, it seems a pretty small price to pay in comparison. Plus, even if you could manage to locate all the same scraps, would it be the same as knowing someone dedicated themselves to the selection and organization of this old book? I don’t think so.

When you think about it, scrapbooking isn’t much different than blogging is today. But as ephemeral as old paper is, there’s something more lasting about it… Perhaps because none of us knows what will become of blogs and websites in the next 80 years. Even in that unknown future, I can’t imagine someone not enjoying holding an old book like this and carefully turning the pages to see what someone created.

Image Credits: All images from empressjadeoftheuniverse.

Children & Animal Stars Lost To Film Collectors

In the December 1972 issue of Films in Review, in the regular Films on 8 & 16 column, Samuel A. Peeples laments what is available on film.

I am struck by the current lack of public acceptance of certain kinds of screen entertainment, most notably short subjects, newsreels, and child and animal stars. Television is blamed for the decline in the first two, and the greater sophistication of today’s young people for the last two.

Very few of the old films featuring animal stars have survived. The private film collector can purchase a few 8mm prints starring Rin Tin Tin, and a couple of Westerns featuring his marvelous pony, Fritz, and even a complete print of Rex, King of Wild Horses; occasionally the collector can find prints of 16mm sound features starring various cowboys and “their” horse and/or dog co-stars. But that’s about all, and even the currently popular “retrospective” programs of films of the past have yet to bring back any of the fondly remembered great animal stars.

Like every other kid who was around during the last years of the silents, I loved animal pictures.

I think you can see where Peeples is going. Similar feeling film fans can click to read the larger scans.

Images sent in by Jaynie of Here’s Looking Like You, Kid. Jaynie has shared more from this issue; see The Lovely Nazimova.

Everedy For Vintage Kitchenalia

If I weren’t reading vintage magazines, I might have continued my ignorance of the Tater-Baker. I would have seen the (probably aluminum) dome and thought it was a cake saver, missing it’s platter.

Vintage Everedy ad, found in Good Housekeeping (May 1961).

Fashion Crimes: A Vintage Scrapbook

At first look, this vintage fashion catalog from the 1930s is just a cool piece for ephemera and fashion collectors… But as you know, you should never judge a book by it’s cover!

This is an incredible and unique vintage scrapbook as the 1931 Carlton Fashions catalog used as a scrapbook for crime clippings. According to the seller, Light Years Vintage, the vintage fashions catalog “was used for the purpose of collecting child abduction, murder, and violent crime clippings.”

The very juxtaposition of the graphic crime news against happy illustrated fashion models makes this a fascinating work of altered art! The fact that it’s a vintage voyeuristic preservation of crime news as well as a time capsule of fashions makes it even more rare and collectible.

Using Antique Images & Vintage Graphics To Make Things Without Ruining Your Collectibles

If you’re like me and enjoy collecting and have a creative streak, you’ve probably faced the issue of balancing your delight in making things with your collector’s desire to keep the integrity of your antiques and vintage items. While this clash of interests often presents a quandary for all artsy folk who collect, my primary problem persists in the area of vintage graphics.

Kindness Of Strangers Altered Art Piece By Deanna Dahlsad

I love to make collages, make special scrapbook pages, and in general practice the paper altered arts —  but I’m extremely uncomfortable destroying antique books, vintage magazines and other old piece of ephemera. If a book or magazine is so damaged that it’s of no real value; fine, I can render the rest of it useful and beautiful once again with a paper project. But if the work is sound, no matter how filled with lovely images it is, I just can’t do harm. …Yet another part of my soul aches to use what’s right there, in reach. However, this digital age now puts an end to the majority of our concerns via the gift of the scanner.

In most cases, even the most delicate antique books and papers can be safely scanned. Not only does this offer collectors a virtual copy of the works, but, when scanned at a proper size (300 dpi or larger), this gives you a printable file. In just a few minutes you’ve preserved a copy of the image and created one you can now print (as many copies as you’d like) for use in collages, altered art paper projects, scrapbooking, and other projects.

What other projects, you ask? Well, now, thanks to all sorts of printers, gadgets, programs, and papers, you can transform your digital image files into patterns for cross stitch, needlepoint, and other needlework patterns; iron-on transfer papers to images to use on t-shirts, quilt squares, pillows and other fabric projects; LCD projector or DLP projector, opaque projector, and even slide projectors (though the lights often burn out before your project is done, resulting in problems lining up the image again) allow the image to be projected onto walls, canvas, etc. for painting murals and other larger decorating or art pieces — really, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

Once you get started, it’s hard to stop! And that’s why you can even buy files with vintage and antique images to download online; Etsy is a great place to look (I’ve just started selling some of my own there). And right now, you can enter Marty’s contest to win 150 pages of antique images from a 1914 New York Department Store catalog too. (Contest ends July 15, 2011.)

If you’re unsure where to start, there’s an online course you can take. While it focuses on paper art collage principals, it will help you get used to a lot of the basics. And there are places like Zazzle which do all the work, placing your images onto everything from posters, apparel and mugs, to greeting cards, iPod cases, and skateboards. You can make stuff just for you and your friends and family (at discounted prices) as well as sell stuff with your images to others. (I do it! This is my Zazzle shops with friends.)

The only note of caution I have is that if you decide to sell anything, you should know your intellectual property or copyright laws; items created for personal use fine.

So start flipping through your antique books, your vintage magazines, your postcards and other paper collectibles, with a creative eye… Who knows what images you can now safely use? It’s like having your cake and eating it too!

Image Credits: My own altered art piece made from antique and vintage images, used in my art collaborative project, Kindness Of Strangers, at Etsy & Zazzle.

Collecting Cookbooks, Magazines & Ephemera While Losing Weight: An Interview With Retro Mimi

When I stumbled upon Mimi and her Retro Weight Watchers Experiment, I couldn’t take my eyes away…

I wanted to; but I couldn’t. *wink*

You know what they say, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” so I decided to join Mimi — in an interview.

When did you begin collecting Weight Watchers publications?

A couple years ago. It’s hard to say–it just sort of “happened.”

Did you set out to purposefully collect Weight Watchers items — or did you sort of realize that you were doing so over time?

It all started with one cookbook: a fellow WW member gave me a copy of The 1972 Weight Watchers Program Cookbook. I became so intrigued with it that I had to know everything about this crazy & wonderful program. Incidentally, my mom lost a great deal of weight on the 1972 WW program after I was born–so this added to my fascination with it. After I got my hands on that first retro cookbook… pretty soon, I started looking for more information, recipes, books, magazines, etc.

It became a hobby (read: obsession), and people started giving me their old WW stuff. The WW magazines are my favorite. They are hard to find, but they really contain some of the best “gems” and really represent the evolution of the WW program over the years.

What’s your criteria for collecting Weight Watchers publications? Are issues limited to a specific time period, condition rules, etc.

I am really only interested in the magazines from 1970-1976. These were the really wild and wacky years. Or as I like to call them: The Knox Gelatin years… The liver-once-a-week years…. The Fluffy Mackerel Pudding years. So the recipes are really horrifying and funny. But there is also something endearing to me about the program during these years. WW was so genuine and sincere about helping its members. It was like a family. Or a secret society or something. Really kitschy and cool.

How many do you think you have?

Maybe 50? But growing every day…

How do you organize them?

Since I reference and use them regularly–they are kept in a jelly cupboard in my kitchen alongside all of my other favorite cookbooks–both retro and otherwise.

How do people react to your collection?

Most people think my retro WW magazines are pretty odd. Most of the recipes are gag-inducing. Some of the recipes literally make you say “what were they thinking??” My husband tries not to look at them anymore. He had a bad experience with an aspic, and that scarred him for life.

You’ve been putting your collection to use; tell us about your blog and the Skinny Jeans Project.

My blog www.theskinnyjeansproject.blogspot.com is both a tribute and an adventure. As a Weight Watchers lifetime member who has lost over 40 pounds on the modern day WW program, I wanted to pay tribute to the history of WW and all of the brave women (including my mom) who followed this program in the early days. I also pay tribute to Jean Nidetch–the founder of WW and author of all of the publications I reference on my blog.

But most of all–my blog is a crazy adventure that I decided to embark upon as I turned 40. I figured it was time to do something BIG. I wanted to get back into my “skinny jeans”, so I thought I would incorporate the rules and recipes from the 1970’s WW program into my current weight loss plan and write about it. I re-create some scary retro WW recipes and yes–I even eat them. At times it is horrifying. At times it is delicious. You never know what dietetic disaster will end up on the platter… Maybe a giant Mackerel and Cantaloupe Salad? Maybe a Crown Roast of Frankfurters? Maybe a Chicken Buttermilk Loaf? Stop by and check it out! I dare you…

Because you use the books and magazines as intended, do you consider them collectibles?

I guess so. To me they are both collector’s items and cherished resources. Not all of my Retro WW magazines and cookbooks are in mint condition, but I love them all just the same!

Do you think you will begin collecting other cookbooks, health & diet publications, etc. from that period — or will you remain a Weight Watchers purist?

I admit that I am drawn to any cookbooks or magazines with a good selection of gelatin mold recipes. Better Homes and Gardens Circa 1955-1970 are my current fave. I also cherish my Knox On Camera cookbook from 1962. It’s a bit creepy, but I have a slight obsession with Knox Gelatin and anything that can be gelatinized. There’s something wonderful to me about “gel cookery” and the women who took that much time and effort to prepare something so disgustingly weird.

I also love any cookbooks or magazines focusing on the topic of retro dieting. I recently picked up a cookbook from 1961 called “Glorious Eating for Weight Watchers” for .50 at a flea market. It was published by Wesson Oil, had nothing to do with Weight Watchers and mostly contained pictures of fried food. I found this to be quite strange. I had to have it.

Anything you’d like to add or mention about your collection that I didn’t mention?

Aside from the recipes, which is what I love most about my Retro WW Magazines–each issue features a fashion section, a “success stories” section, and many valuable articles about health and fitness. But the best part of WW Magazine HANDS DOWN is “Ask Jean…” where readers get to write in with their questions, comments and complaints and have them answered by Jean Nidetch–the founder of WW. These letters and responses are never dull, because, well…let’s just say: Jean has chutzpah and tons of charm. To say the least.

So do you, Mimi; so do you.

I’d like to thank Mimi for sharing more information about her collection — even more than she shares at her blog. For quick retro WW bites, follow Mimi on Twitter @RetroMimi — “Sometimes its easier to swallow in small doses!”

Early Postmarks Of Haiti

Some of the early postmarks from the feature article on the postal history and stamps of Haiti, by Clarence W. Hennan, found in The American Philatelist, Vol 66 No 8, Whole No 627, May 1953.

The scan is from the vintage copy I have listed for sale at eBay.

Life Magazine Photo Hunt Contest

Life announces a contest:

Guess what? We are featuring another installment of FotoHunt this Thursday at 3 p.m. EST

Not familiar with the game?

FotoHunt is a photographic scavenger hunt through our galleries on LIFE.com. We will post a description of an image we are looking for; then, your mission is to find that photograph on our site and send it our way. What’s in it for you? A prize, of course… We don’t want to say too much just yet. You’ll have to play Thursday afternoon to find out. Can’t wait for the games to begin!

Have a question about FotoHunt? Send us an email at life.fotohunt@gmail.com.

Not sure what the prize will be, but lovers of vintage photography, fashion, celebs, and/or magazines might just enjoy playing without a prize anyway. *wink*

The Value In Collecting & Reading Antique & Vintage Publications

It’s funny how your perspective changes…

I first wrote/posted about this November 1953 issue of Silhouette Magazine in July of 2008 — but when preparing to list it for sale on eBay, I found myself thumbing through the vintage publication with completely different eyes. For you see, when I first posted those images and silly thoughts, it would be another four months before Things Your Grandmother Knew would be born. Now I’m spotting tips on cleaning corduroy in a very different light!

Funny how perspective changes… Not just the out-of-sight-out-of-mind of putting the vintage booklet away, but the way we look at things, what we take from them, what our intentions are in terms of use — and the blinders we put on ourselves even when our intentions are “good” and purposeful. Yes, adding another blog opened my eyes to see old information in a new light. But what else might I see with another blog (oh, no, I have enough!) or in another few years, as life shifts my purpose, my interests, my needs? How does the old stuff maintain the same yet live on with new purpose?

In theory, and practice, this is the heart of recycling. But had I recycled this vintage booklet (either in the practical paper way or in an artistic one, using it for an altered art product or something), the content itself likely would have been lost.

As a collector and a reader, I’m often amazed at the power old periodicals and books have. Good fiction remains good fiction. And the non-fiction still teaches us things. Sure, some of it’s frightfully funny — or just plain frightful. Old medical and science texts, obviously spring to mind. So do the works which expose the woefully ignorant in terms of cultural issues, such as gender, race, etc.

But even when the information is hopelessly outdated or just plain hopeless, reading old works gives us great insights into how things really were at that time. And let me tell you, not a whole lot has changed. Humans still desire the same things, buy and sell with the same motivation, and whatever styles have faded to black have zoomed back into fashion too. More or less. The cultural or political pendulum swings back and forth. What’s gone around, comes around. Especially history we are doomed to repeat for having overlooked the earlier lessons.

Antique and vintage publications are too often overlooked themselves. Even by collectors. At appraisal fairs and on the television shows, experts continue to tell us “Old books, newspapers, and magazines have no value,” except in very rare cases. Perhaps that’s true in terms of the market price evaluation — but that’s merely a reflection of a lack of buyer interest. And the few who are buying old magazines and books often do so not for the written content, but for the cover art, the illustrations inside. (I personally feel they should just buy poster reprints and stop cutting up my precious bound babies!) Even those who buy firsts and other rare works seem to value the objects, but not the contents themselves.

It seems rather messed-up to me. You should buy an old book, magazine or newspaper for the same reasons you’d buy a new one: because of the story it tells, the information it provides — because you want to read it. And maybe even reread a few of them because your opinion may change over time.

If you really don’t want it, pass it along to one who does. We’re out there, really we are!

Vintage Indianapolis 500 Ephemera

Inside the February 1961 issue of Magic Circle, a publication of Perfect Circle Corporation, a contest to win tickets to the Indy 500 and/or a 1961 Thunderbird.

I’m guessing the original owner of this vintage magazine never entered — because the official entry form was still inside the magazine, unused!

PS Here’s another clipping from this issue.

Why WWII Homefront Photos Are So Scarce

Magazines, like newspapers, provide context for periods of time — and that information provides great tips for collectors. In a wartime issue of Modern Woman Magazine, A Magazine Published By The Ice Industry (George M. Wessells, Publisher) a look why World War II home-front photographs are so scarce:

Antique Dutch Dollhouses Fit For A Czar?

Below is a scan from the December 1923 issue of The Mentor; the page is an article by Vincent Starrett entitled A Doll’s House Built For The Czar Of Russia:

As usual, the discovery of this article about an exquisite eight-foot tall, six feet wide dollhouse leads to something even more fascinating than supposed!

The article tells the story of Peter The Great who “was living in Holland as a young man of twenty-four, working at various jobs to acquaint himself with the arts, commerce, and industry of the Dutch” and “chanced to see one day a tiny model of a seventeenth-century dwelling, and promptly fell in love with it.”

“No matter what the cost,” he declared, “I must have one like it.” But the miniature house and its lovely furnishings were not for sale, and the creator would make none for pay. The artisan’s name was Brandt. He was a successful merchant of Utrecht, who, having amassed a fortune, had retired from business and in his leisure made diminutive houses, furniture, toys, and ornaments for his amusement.

The article continues to say that Brandt’s creations “became the rage.” His hobby of making “exquisite toys” and “houses of Lilliputian dimensions” quickly provided him with a market, and possessing one of his creations “became a passion, and fashion, with collectors.”

The Antiquarium Museum at Utrecht, the old Dutch university town, still treasures one of Brandt’s sumptuously furnished little dwellings, with thumb-nail paintings on the wall by Dutch celebrities. It was probably this very model that so enchanted Czar Peter and stirred his desire to own one like it.

So, the article goes, Brandt graciously offers to make one of the dollhouses for Peter, “a little palace excelling all others in delicacy an ingenuity of workmanship, furnish it appropriately, and equip it with all the necessaries of life in a patrician Dutch household of the times.”

With his own hands he constructed a three-story house of about six feet wide. All of the furniture it contained was made by him. He made the molds, which afterward he destroyed, for the articles of plate and for silver and copper utensils. Regardless of expense, he had suitable carpets manufactured, and ordered chests of table and house linen woven in Flanders. The books that filled the miniature library shelves came from Mayence; each volume had golden clasps and was of a size to be enclosed in a walnut. The hanging chandeliers and services of glass were of Dutch manufacture; in the picture gallery paintings two inches square adorned the walls.

For twenty-five years Brandt labored to create this royal gift. At last he sent word to the Czar that the task was completed. His townsmen protested against such a masterpiece being lost to the country, but the model had been promised to the monarch, and Brandt had expended effort, time, and a small fortune to redeem that promise.

When Peter received Brandt’s message he had just concluded an advantageous peace with Sweden and was turning his attention to conquests in the East. But he had not forgotten the desire he had expressed a quarter of a century before, and he directed that a reply be sent asking what he would have to pay for the possession of the masterpiece. Deeply offended at Peter’s gross tactlessness and disposition to bargain, Brandt replied that even a czar had not money enough to pay for twenty-five years of a man’s life. Forthwith he presented the house to the nation. It is now in Amsterdam in the Royal Museum, none of whose treasures better exemplifies Dutch patience, industry, and love of decoration than the little house that Brandt build for Peter the Great.

That’s where the article ends — but my work begins.

If I thought I could just post this scan from a vintage magazine and, should I be so lucky as to find it, include a link to the czar’s dollhouse at the Royal Museum, I was to discover differently.

Yes, there’s an antique dollhouse at the Rijksmuseum — and it looks to be the same one shown in this articles photo (minus the glass doors on the cabinet — but the furnishings are too specific to be another dollhouse, and the dimensions are about the same), but from there it gets weird…

The museum doesn’t credit the maker of the dollhouse, but it does specify the owner as Petronella Oortman. Oorman was married to a silk merchant named Johannes Brandt — is that were the name Brandt comes from? If so, that might be explained away easily enough, I suppose… But given the strong relationship between Holland and Peter the Great, certainly if this dollhouse — or any dollhouse — had any connections to the czar, the museum would mention it.  …At least I think so.

There’s another fabulous antique dollhouse, this one was owned Petronella de la Court, that sits on display at Utrecht’s Centraal Museum.

I don’t know if this is the other “Brandt” Dutch dollhouse from the “Antiquarium Museum” at Utrecht that Starrett, in The Mentor article, suggests “enchanted Czar Peter” or not, but it certainly is enchanting.

In The Speaker (Volume 11, 1905, Mather & Crowther), Edward Verrall Lucas writes of an antique dollhouse from the same Dutch craft period.  I feel compelled to share a snippet not only because it might just be the de la Court dollhouse and the “Antiquarium,” but for the author’s descriptions.

At the north end of the Maliebaan is the Hoogeland Park, with a fringe of spacious villas that might be in Kensington ; and here is the Antiquarian Museum, notable among its very miscellaneous riches, which resemble the bankrupt stock of a curiosity dealer, for a very elaborate dolls’ house. Its date is 1680, and it represents accurately the home of a wealthy aristocratic doll of that day. Nothing was forgotten by the designer of this miniature palace ; special paintings, very nude, were made for its salon, and the humblest kitchen utensils are not missing. I thought the most interesting rooms the office where the Major Domo sits at his intricate labours, and the store closet The museum has many very valuable treasures, but so many poor pictures and articles—all presents or legacies—that one feels that it must be the rule to accept whatever is offered, without any scrutiny of the horse’s teeth.

(This piece by Lucas, with a stated copyright of 1904, appears to be what he published as a book in 1906, A Wanderer in Holland (Macmillan) — just in case you’d like to read more.)

Starrett never mentioned nudes paintings in the old Dutch dollhouse — but maybe he was less flappable in the Roaring Twenties than Lucas was at the turn of the century. And the commentary on the museum itself is rich — Lucas could be describing a lot of my collection and collection practices! *wink*

But still, the whole point of Starrett’s little story was right there in the article’s title, that the dollhouse shown had been made in Holland for Peter The Great; yet I could find no connection between Peter and Dutch dollhouses whatsoever.

So, I continued to research, like any obsessive would do.

I then found this bit in Dutch And Flemish Furniture, by Esther Singleton (The McClure Company, 1907):

In the Rijks Museum are several models in miniature of old Amsterdam houses. The finest one is of tortoise-shell ornamented with white metal inlay. According to tradition, Christoffel Brandt, Peter the Great’s agent in Amsterdam, had this house made by order of the Czar, and it is said to have cost 20,000 guilders (£2,500), and to have required five years to produce.

There’s that name, “Brandt,” again.

Or maybe not.

Seems the name of the czar’s Netherlands associate was actually Christoffel Brants, aka Christoffel van Brants after Brants was knighted by the czar. And while it seems Peter received actual houses from Brants, there’s still, no mention of houses specifically for dolls.

So, without further documentation, I’m left to conclude that Starrett’s story is just that, a story. (The man did love his stories! Among other things, Starrett collected books and was a Sherlock Holmes scholar.)

Or maybe you’d prefer the terms Singleton uses, “tradition.”

Either way, that would explain a number of things, such as the name Brandt being recalled, even if inaccurately, and the number of years it took to create the dollhouse changing by five-fold.

However, by the 1950s this traditional story of Peter The Great’s Dutch dollhouse has changed a bit with the telling… As most legends do.

In 1958, many American newspapers ran what appears to be a wire story; the uncredited story is exactly the same in each vintage publication. Here’s a copy from Kansas’ Great Bend Daily Tribune (June 22, 1958) — which reads pretty much like copyright infringement case for dear old Starrett (unless he was the one paid by the wire service), except for the first two lines:

Once there was a dollhouse so lovely that the czar of Russia, Peter the Great, wanted it very much. He hadn’t money enough to buy it however, believe it or not!

Cold war press copy conveying the anti-Russian sentiments, perhaps?

Then, in South Dakota’s The Daily Republic, February 19, 1977, the legend of Peter the Great’s Dollhouse gets tweaked again:

Those dollhouses were so expensive that only a few people could afford them. Peter the Great of Russia once ordered a dollhouse but when it was delivered, he refused it. The price was just too much.

The czar may have ordered and owned at least one fine Dutch dollhouse; but I can’t find any proof.

(See, I’m not just obsessive with my research as some sort of personality quirk; it’s necessitated!)

The Mentor Magazine

The Mentor magazine is an obscure vintage magazine for several reasons: The creator’s intentions, its various incarnations, and rather shoddy historical record (it is not listed in the National Union Catalogue of Periodicals).

The publication begins with William David Moffat. Moffat attended Princeton; while in school he has several works published, mostly sports stories for boys under the name William D. Moffat. Upon his graduation in 1884, he went to work for Scribner’s where he’d stay for two decades, working his way up from sales, to the education department and finally the business manager for The Book Buyer and Scribner’s Magazine. In 1905 he leaves Scribner to form his own publishing house, Moffat, Yard & Company, with fellow Princeton alum Robert S. Yard. By June of 1912, Yard was no longer active in the company, and Moffat, Yard & Co. announced it was moving in to share the offices of another publishing house, John Lane Company. While this was said not to be a true merger, but rather a shared management and expenses sort of a thing, it is at this time that Moffat begins The Mentor Association.

The Mentor Association is rather like Moffat’s attempt at a think tank. He gathers men who were specialists in their area and, with himself as editor, they proceed to share their information in a publication so that persons might “learn one thing every day.” This publication was The Mentor. Here’s how the association and publication were described (taken from The Mentor, Volume I, Number 38, November 3, 1913):

The purpose of The Mentor Association is to give people, in an interesting and attractive way, the information in various fields of knowledge that they all want and ought to have. The information is imparted by interesting reading matter, prepared under the direction of leading authors, and by beautiful pictures, produced by the most highly perfected modern processes.

The object of The Mentor Association is to enable people to acquire useful knowledge without effort, so that they may come easily and agreeably to know the world s great men and women, the great achievements, and the permanently interesting things in art, literature, science, history, nature and travel.

…We want The Mentor to be regarded as a companion. It has often been said that books are friends. We give you in The Mentor the good things out of many books, and in a form that is easy to read and that taxes you little for time. A library is a valuable thing to have if you know how to use it. But there are not many people who know how to use a library. If you are one of those who don t know, it would certainly be worth your while to have a friend who could take from a large library just what you want to know and give it to you in a pleasant way. The Mentor can be such a friend to you.

And since the word “library” has been used, let us follow that just a bit further. The Mentor may well become yourself in library form. Does that statement seem odd? Then let us put it this way: The Mentor is a cumulative library for you, each day, each week a library that grows and develops as you grow and develop a library that has in it just the things that you want to know and ought to know and nothing else. Day by day and week by week you add with each number of The Mentor something to your mental growth. You add it as you add to your stature by healthy development; and the knowledge that you acquire in this natural, agreeable way becomes a permanent possession. You gather weekly what you want to know, and you have it in an attractive, convenient form. It be comes thus, in every sense, your library, containing the varied things that you know. And you have its information and its beautiful pictures always ready to hand to refer to and to refresh your mind.

So in time your assembled numbers of The Mentor will represent in printed and pictorial form the fullness of your own knowledge.

It is also in this issue, that The Mentor gets a new look:

We have chosen this cover after a number of experiments. It has not been an easy matter to settle. The Mentor, as we have stated more than once, is not simply a magazine. It does not call for the usual magazine cover treatment. What we have always wanted and have always sought for from the beginning has been a cover that would express, in the features of its design, the quality of the publication. In the endeavor to make clear by dignified design the educational value and importance of The Mentor, the tendency would be to lead on to academic severity and that we desire least of all. On the other hand, it would be manifestly inappropriate to wear a coat of many colors. The position of The Mentor in the field of publication is peculiar its interest unique. How best could its character be expressed in decorative design?

We believe that Mr. Edwards has given us in the present cover a fitting expression of the character of The Mentor. It is unusual in its lines that is, for a periodical. It has the quality of a fine book cover design at least so we think. It will, we believe, invite readers of taste and intelligence to look inside The Mentor, and as experience has taught us, an introduction
to The Mentor usually leads on to continued acquaintance.

Originally The Mentor was a weekly, published by the Associated Newspaper School, Inc. (New York City) and hardly more than a pamphlet or folio; a dozen or so pages with “exquisite intaglio gravures” loose inside. (The fact that these images were not bound in the publication means issues are often found incomplete.) Each slim issue was on a specific theme and there were tie-ins with newspapers, adding to The Mentor‘s educational publication feel.

From a practical standpoint, the narrow focus of each theme likely complicated or limited the periodical’s circulation numbers. It’s one thing to say your publication is “an institution of learning established for the development of a popular interest in art, literature, science, history, nature, and travel,” but with such issue-specific themes, readers may have done what collectors who spot copies do today: Pending the theme, either fell in love or turned up their noses and eschewed the entire publication.

(Most collectors seem to covet The Mentor on an issue by issue basis; seeking out the single issue the theme of which suits their collecting interest, or coveting the January 1929 issue on Famous Collectors & Collecting.)

Perhaps this is why in its second year, The Mentor ceases weekly publication and lowers costs by being published only twice a month.(Subscription fees change from $5 to $3 a year.) It still retains the single theme per issue, but perhaps the frequency of publication change is also seen as a better way to market itself. It is also at this time that the publisher is changed from Associated Newspaper School to The Mentor Association.

By mid-1919 wartime inflation would forced the price of subscriptions to The Mentor to increase to $4 per year — but bigger changes were coming.

It was during this time that The Mentor becomes a monthly and introduces more color on the covers.

In the October 1920 issue, the magazine increased the number of pages to 40 and, finally, the six gravure pictures were bound into the center of the magazine, becoming numbered pages in each issue. It is also at this time that The Mentor softens its strict each-issue-devoted-to-a-theme stance, allowing the last five pages of each issue to free of the main topic.

In 1921, The Mentor is purchased by Crowell Publishing Co. with W. D. Moffat remaining on as editor. There are no noted changes until the August 1922 issue’s page size increase. (By the April 1927 issue, the page size of The Mentor would grow to the same size as that time’s Atlantic Monthly.)

In 1929, the 63 year old Moffat is ready to retire as editor of The Mentor. It is in this news bit from Time magazine (August 19, 1929) announcing the change, that we get more insight into the Moffat’s intentions and legacy:

Editor Moffat never aimed at mass-circulation. Even when mass-circularizing Crowell Publishing Co. (American Magazine, Colliers, Woman’s Home Companion) bought The Mentor in 1920, it did not commercialize original Mentor ideals, but retained Editor Moffat, continued to please the 50,000, the 70,000, finally the 100,000 who liked The Mentor for what it was.

And now is when the magazine changes significantly; as reported in that same Time article:

Starting with the next (September) issue, The Mentor will no longer have a theme-subject. Instead there will be articles on many a different topic, by such authors as Walter Davenport, W. E. Woodward, Margaret Widdemer, Will Durant. There will be seven four-color pages in place of rotogravure; a cover in the “modern manner”; a history of tennis by William Tatem Tilden, 2nd; a history of dog fashions by Albert Payson Terhune.

To make The Mentor youthful, Crowell Publishing Co. has put a youthful man in the editorship, Hugh Anthony Leamy, just past 30, round-faced, amiable, onetime New York Sun reporter, for the last three years an associate editor of Collier’s. About The Mentor, what its plans are, he will talk with hopeful enthusiasm. About new Editor Leamy he is reticent. “I’m still an untried man at this job,” he explains. “But The Mentor? Well, you know, we thought it best to go through with a big change all at once to keep it up with the changing times. . . . You might call the new Mentor a nonfiction, up-to-date magazine for people who want to learn about various matters, but who want to be amused at the same time—not bored.”

Now The Mentor is printed in the style of that period’s Vanity Fair; from the slick paper and illustrative appearance to the “modern” and “amusing” content, including fiction.

But the dumbing-down and dressing-up didn’t help circulation any; as Time reported in April 21, 1930:

Crowell Publishing Co. employes found an announcement on their bulletin board one morning last week, which read: “The Company has sold The Mentor to the World Traveler Magazine Corp. — George R. Martin, publisher.† They will assume the publishing of The Mentor, beginning with the June 1930 issue. We have become convinced that The Mentor will have a much better opportunity if handled by a publisher equipped to take care of the smaller units. Here we are fully and thoroughly geared up to handle large units and it has become difficult to give The Mentor the necessary small unit attention. We feel that Mr. Martin and his organization are equipped to continue The Mentor successfully.”

…Although the magazine’s circulation reached 85,000, it became apparent that it would never pull in harness with its whopping big Crowell team-mates—Woman’s Home Companion, Collier’s, The Country Home (onetime Farm & Fireside), The American Magazine — whose combined circulation is over 8,500,000.

To World Traveler, the Mentor went lock, stock & barrel—with the exception of Editor Leamy.

…Publisher Martin contemplates fusing his old magazine with his new, placing the amalgam under the direction of World Traveler’s Editor Charles P. Norcross, now junketing in the Orient. Because World Traveler has about one-fourth of its stablemate’s distribution, and because when two magazines combine one inevitably swallows the other, publishers guessed that the ever-mutating Mentor would be the one to endure.

† Not to be confused with George Martin, one-time (1918—29) editor of Crowell’s Farm & Fireside.

The publications were combined as The Mentor — World Traveller and given a new look, the pages enlarged to slightly larger than the size of Life magazine. But contrary to what the publishers in that 1930 Time magazine article said, The Mentor doesn’t seem to be the one to have endured. Nor did the The Mentor — World Traveller.

According to Paul W. Healy in The Ecphorizer:

As an indication that the end was not far off, the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature stopped indexing the magazine in December 1930. My last issue is January 1931; I have reason to believe it was the last published.

If you have anything to add to The Mentor story, please let us know!

Image Credits:

First issue of The Mentor magazine (Volume 1, Number 1, February 17, 1913) with six gravures via 2010lilbolharsky.

Photo of set of three vintage Mentor issues and April 1930 cover via mom-and-me-1971.

Celebrating The Wishbone (In Old Illustration)

‘Tis the season for fabulous holiday meals featuring turkey, and this antique illustration shows the longevity of breaking the wishbone.

This illustration, captioned “If Their Wishes Came True,” was scanned from my copy of Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation in Picture, Song & Story (Illustrated by America’s Greatest Artists).

I’ve only a partial cover of my copy of Caricature; but at a mere $6, I’m not disheartened, for it’s full of fabulous art, quips, and stories. It’s like a time capsule, really. And it’s not just me being sentimental.

Near as I can tell (for there’s no copyright or publication date), this antique book contains “the best of” Leslie-Judge Company publications, such as Leslie’s Weekly and Judge Magazine.

This specific illustration showing a couple breaking the wishbone is credited; copyright, Judge, New York, 1915. However as the corner is torn, I cannot make out the artist’s name.  I’m hoping a more experienced illustration collector can tell us more about who the artist was or may have been… Please post a comment if you’ve any information!

Vintage Watches Of The Future

For you watch collectors out there, another scan from that 1954 issue of People Today:

What Time Is It?

Revolutionary Watches of the Future Indicate It’s Later Than You Think

Watch at left shows time, date — and radioactivity level. Elgin watches (l. below) are experiments in plastic. “Capsule watch (r.) switches from finger to pin, pendant or bracelet. Another not-yet-purchasable marvel at Manhattan jewelry show: watch to tell time every 5 seconds — thanks to a tiny built-in FM radio gives weather report too.

While I want to giggle at the old-fashioned notion of a wrist watch to alert you to the dangers or radiation levels, such things are back in fashion again — like this cell phone app which alerts you to the radiation levels from cell phones. Ironic? Hey, some old watches emit radiation too.

And how annoying would anything that talks every five minutes be?

Anyone have any of these now-vintage wrist watches?

A Tip On Dating Your Vintage Television Set

In the September 22, 1954 issue of People Today magazine (which has some additionally fascinating television history), a clue for those who collect vintage TV sets. According to this snippet from the vintage magazine’s “The Goldmine”,” this bit of news on TV set changes:

Many manufacturers are locating control knobs at the top or high on the side of new models. They found that viewers don’t like bending over to reach low-level knobs.

This may not only help you date your vintage television set, but is also proof of the laziness of Americans — and the need for the ultimate invention of the remote control. *wink*

Learning From Vintage Ephemera About The Condition Of Collectibles

I know folks like to think I rationalize my compulsion for vintage booklets and magazines, but I think there’s gold in them-there old pages!

Today’s example comes from 367 Prize Winning Household Hints From The Armour Radio Show Hint Hunt, circa 1940s, a booklet from the daily CBS radio show. Included in this vintage booklet are some tips on books, magazines and phonograph records which might just be of use to the collector.

The advice regarding magazines is “to have each member of the family initial the cover of a magazine as they finish reading it so you will know when the magazine may be discarded.”

This, my fellow ephemera collectors, might explain the seemingly random multiple initials on vintage magazine covers.

Now for you book collectors; the tip for preventing “library mold” is to sprinkle oil of lavender, sparingly, throughout the book case.

While I doubt the scent would last very long, if persons practiced such things, it might account for oil spots on vintage book covers and pages.

The last tip is regarding records: “Warped phonograph records can be straightened for playing by placing the records on any flat surface in a warm room and weighing them down with heavy books.”

Given the temperature it takes to melt vinyl records — and that this advice was given in the 40s, when records certainly weren’t made of that flimsy vinyl of the 70′ or 80s, I imagine that everyone in the house sat around in their undies sweating while mom or dad un-warped the family’s records.  But that’s just me romanticizing the past *wink*