I Didn’t Buy… Two 1940s Sewing Pattern Counter Books

I spent Friday at the Liberty Antiques Festival, a show that always seems to produce some amazing things for my collection and “archive”. Fashion books are very high on my radar, and I was feeling especially lucky since finding a 1934 Butterick counter book the evening before at one of my favorite vintage stores, Design Archives. But something about this one looked off.

I moved it and when I did I saw there was another one below it, and I also realized the problem. These two books were much too fat. Realization set in, as I’d seen this unfortunate phenomenon before. These were used as scrapbooks.

Sure enough, these two books contained page after page of miscellaneous newspaper photos from the 1940s. Someone spent a lot of time with the scissors and the paste.

I have nothing at all against scrapbooks. So many of them are charming relics of a person’s life, or a stage in it. That type of scrapbook is an important historical document. But a good look through these revealed nothing about the person who collected all these clippings. It seems to be just a visual compilation of the news of the day, both local and national.

The question came up when I posted these photos on Instagram as to what happens to out of date counter books. I can remember when I was in high school in the 1970s that the local Belk’s store would save them for the home ec classes. I’ve also seen people’s names written across the cover , claiming them when a newer book replaced it. There was one such 1952 counter book in my husband’s grandmother’s stuff.

To a kid in the 1930s and 1940s when resources were tight, getting one of these books must have seemed like a real prize. Can you imagine how many of these books ended being cut up for paper dolls? And this is not the first time I’m seen them used as scrapbooks. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the Simplicity one is the exact same one I spotted in 2008! The scars and scratches all match up.

I did have a moment of insanity when it occurred to me that I might be able to somehow clean these up using a miracle glue remover. But then I thought about how many hours such a project would take. So I left them behind, as I had done nine years ago.



Filed under Curiosities, I Didn't Buy..., Viewpoint

12 responses to “I Didn’t Buy… Two 1940s Sewing Pattern Counter Books

  1. How interesting, and surprising to me as you “lifted the cover” to reveal the insides. I would have resisted them, too!


  2. mariacarruth

    A friend and I were discussing old pattern books yesterday along these same lines, we never see them.


  3. I worked in a fabric store in the late 70s and we threw old pattern books away or gave them away. I have a Simplicity book from 1968 and a McCalls from 1966 and LOVE them. I would have left those scrapbooks behind, too… but the covers are lovely.


  4. They are a treasure especially for what they were used for. As you say at the time -especially in rural areas . Sort of a “category” unto itself? I remember my grand mother’s WW2 Pattern books and was fascinated by them.


  5. I was one of the lucky little girls that received at least 4 pattern books during my childhood. They were not wasted – my friend and I spent hours and hours pouring through them selecting the dresses we liked best on each page and deciding which illustrations would make the “best” paper dolls. Some of the poor dolls we selected were then thinned down and often their arms were amputated as we selected clothes to fit them. Sometimes we just cut out the whole dolls if we could find enough that were the same size and then they had ready-made friends. Oh, the simple pleasures of growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s–free entertainment that lasted for weeks!!!!!


  6. Hello!
    I am willing to bet you will never forget those two pattern books that made your heart race a bit, to only find them used as scrapbooks😔
    Arlene C.


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