1970 was the 100th anniversary of McCall’s Patterns. To celebrate that milestone event, McCall’s put out a promo ad in its patterns, advertising color prints of Godey’s Lady/s Book illustrations from 1870.
For the unenlightened, Godey’s Lady’s Book was the Vogue of it’s day. It was not actually a book, but instead a monthly magazine published specifically for women. It was published from 1830 to 1878, after which it was sold, continuing to be published as Godey’s Magazine until 1896. It was significant for the scope of its contents, which included poetry, art, and articles, including those about political causes. Its significance cannot be denied, due to its huge readership.
Each issue contained a beautiful fashion illustration in the front, and these are what McCall’s reissued in 1970 for its anniversary. In addition, each issue also included a pattern and instructions for a dress, much like other women’s magazines did later, such as Beldon’s in the UK, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s in the US. Looking at these magazines gives a huge insight into the evolution of fashion.
As far as I can tell, there is no true connection between James McCall and Godey’s, but the flyer for the prints notes that Mr. McCall came over to the US from Scotland in 1870, when he started his pattern company. Perhaps they chose Godey’s prints because they were in the public domain, so the cost of doing the prints would be less than if they paid an artist to do a rendition. Perhaps they chose not to put out historical patterns of 1870 for the centennial because there wasn’t a big revivalist/reenactor movement at the time. They were probably anticipating the 1976 bicentennial revival, so perhaps they didn’t want to jump the gun. Regardless of the reason, they chose some of the most beautiful fashion illustrations of fashion history to print, so it was a nice choice, for those who love fashion and art.
The prints that McCall’s sold for their anniversary were “printed in Italy,” which I suppose made them fancy to women of the day. The printer was in Milan, and was Amicare Pizzi S.P.A. They were done in eight color prints, as opposed to the normal 4 color prints of the day. They were embossed as well and were said to be ready for framing without a mat. They were sold for $2, including postage, which converts to about $13.50 today — a bargain! As far as I know, McCall’s did not do a 150th anniversary promo in 2020. Perhaps they think that putting out their retro reprinted patterns is enough. What do you think?
Take a look at the Godey’s Book illustration examples on Amazon, eBay and Etsy.