sewing patterns

Fashion Wars

Spring, 1876 Butterick Pattern catalog

I added this 1876 Butterick catalog as a downloadable PDF in the shop. I found something interesting inside.

Butterick started selling sewing patterns in 1863. May Manton had already been selling patterns for three years, and other pattern companies developed soon afterward, but Butterick was generally at the top of the pile in the 1870s. There is a foreward written by Ebenezer Butterick in this catalog, stating unequivocally that they are not going out of business. From what he writes, the rumor mill had started spreading word that Butterick was “winding up our business and making arrangements to retire from trade.” He states emphatically that this is not the case by saying “these, with similar reports too numerous to mention, too contemptible to notice, have been spread with a persevering industry and an intense malignity that could only find their source in the hatred of interested parties or the envy of unsuccessful competitors.” Mr. Butterick is pissed.

He goes on to say “we have always endeavored to treat parties engaged in the same business as ours with all proper consideration and respect; we have encouraged, not thwarted, competition, and we have generally met with similar treatment at the hdns of others, but where the public prints have been made the medium of libelous slanders, and where agents have been specially instructed to spread them among business men, we feel it a duty both to the public and ourselves to expose their falsity and absurdity.”

I just love how people spoke back in the day. Our speech has gotten so lazy, and our vocabulary has shrunk so much from earlier years. But I digress, as usual.

Mr. Butterick gives a “most distinct, emphatic, unqualified denial” of the rumor, stating they never have considered retiring from business, are in a great position business-wise, and never expressed an intent to leave. He states they never spoke detrimentally about the competition and welcome them openly.

This must have been a whisper campaign, as I can find nothing in the archives to indicate that Butterick planned to retire, but it also must have been whispered loudly enough that he felt he needed to address it for posterity, and in writing. Corporate business was ugly, even before the turn of the century.

If you want to learn more about the history of sewing patterns, check out Blueprints of Fashion, by costume designer Wade Laboisseniere. He wrote two volumes, one about the 40s, and one about the 50s, and they are full of photos and text of the history of patterns of the eras. (This is an affiliate link, meaning I may make a tiny bit of money from your purchase.) They are two of the best books written on the subject of sewing patterns, and even include information in the back about what pattern numbers correlate with which years of printing. Just don’t reprint and sell that information. It’s copyrighted, and I’ve spoken with Mr Laboisseniere about people who profit from his research. He is not amused, and rightfully so.

If you want to purchase the downloadable 1876 catalog from the shop, click here.

Until next time.

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