Peerless Fashion Service, New York City, ca. 1900 -- ca. 1956

"Dress patterns and needlework features for newspapers and magazines."
See pages for Carol Aimes, Carol Curtis, Georgette, Grandmother's, Martha Madison, Mary Ann, Mayfair, Progressive Farmer, and the Spinning Wheel Company. (Also Nancy Cabot in the paragraphs below.)
The identity of Peerless Fashion Service as a source for syndicated quilt patterns from the 1930s to the 1950s was not discovered until early 1992 when the pages of Editor & Publisher, a weekly information magazine published for the newspaper industry, and its Annual Syndicate Directory were searched for clues relating to the needlework columns that have been published since the 1920s.
It was learned that Peerless was one of three major New York City newspaper pattern companies that designed, printed, and mailed a majority of the dress and needlework patterns sold through ads in newspapers and magazines during the first half of the 20th century. Reader Mail, Inc. (Laura Wheeler, Alice Brooks, and other bylines), and Famous Features Syndicate (Mrs. Anne Cabot among others) are the other pattern companies, and were the two survivors in 1993.
Peerless Fashion Service claimed in 1947 that it originated the newspaper pattern industry,(1) an industry separate and distinct from the retail pattern industry founded in the 19th century by Madame Ellen Louise Demorest, Ebenezer Butterick, and James McCall.(2) Originally known as the Independent Peerless Pattern Company, Peerless dress patterns can be traced to the first years of the 20th century,(3) and by 1947, Peerless had sold over 150 million patterns through newspapers and magazines.(4) The two industries came together about 1985-1986 when Reader Mail, Inc., was sold to the Simplicity Pattern Company.(5) Founded in 1927 by Joseph M. Shapiro, Simplicity led the retail pattern industry throughout much of the mid-20th century.(6)


During the 1920s-1950s period, Peerless claimed among its major clients the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, and Woman's World, Country Gentleman, and Progressive Farmer magazines. Peerless patterns have also been found in the Wichita (KS) Beacon, Kansas City Star, Weekly Kansas City Star, Kansas City Journal-Post, Knoxville (TN) Journal, Capper's Farmer (Topeka, KS), Farmer's Wife (St. Paul, MN), Holland's (Dallas, TX), and many others.
Peerless was also responsible for the Nancy Cabot / Chicago Tribune quilt patterns, the least understood of all the commercial patterns created during the 1930s because the same engravings with the same pattern names are found in different ad formats in other periodicals during that decade and throughout the following three decades either without a byline or with a new byline. The missing links to understanding the evolution of this collection have been the identity of the pattern company that distributed the patterns outside the area served by the Chicago Tribune and the newspaper syndicates involved. The story began to unravel through clues found in Frank Luther Mott's History of American Magazines in which he occasionally refers to an annual syndicate directory published by Editor & Publisher, a weekly journal for the periodical industry. This directory was issued as a supplement on varying dates during the summer each year and searching through its pages revealed new information about many of the commercial needlework and dress patterns so familiar to collectors and historians today. Peerless also produced and distributed the 50 Grandmother's booklets containing original Nancy Cabot / Chicago Tribune quilt patterns.
Another missing link has been an understanding of and the purpose behind syndicated pattern ads and reader service features published by newspapers and magazines, many of which were (and still are in some cases) cloaked in anonymity. While it's difficult to understand why a company would choose to remain anonymous, the reason becomes clear when one learns that the pattern companies designed their product advertising to imply that their customers--the periodicals that subscribed to their services--could lead their readers to believe that the periodical was somehow the actual creators of the patterns.
Peerless was apparently both pattern company and syndicate until about 1947 when General Features Corporation, one of five major syndicates that represented patterns during that period, became its syndicate representative. About 1956, Peerless either went out of business or was sold to the Spinning Wheel Company in Morris Plains, New Jersey.
Known mailing addresses for Peerless Fashion Service as listed in Woman's World magazine, February 1919; Editor & Publisher's Annual Syndicate Directory, 1924-1956;(7) and N. W. Ayer's American Newspaper Annual and Directory, 1929-1957:
1907: 107 West 25th Street, New York City (Ft. Wayne (IN) Sentinel, June 8, 1907)
1919: 68 Thirty-fifth Street, Brooklyn, New York, and 228 South Wells Street, Chicago, Illinois
1931: 261 Fifth Avenue, New York City [between 28th & 29th Streets]
1932: 200 Fifth Avenue, New York City [between 25th & 26th Streets]
1935: 160 Fifth Avenue, New York City [at 21st Street]
1937: 119 West 19th Street, New York City
220 Fifth Avenue, New York City [mailing address 1938 to 19--]
1940: 121 West 19th Street, New York City [Zone 11 after 1943]
1950, Dec. 3, first appearance of "Spinning Wheel Needlework, Morris Plains, N. J." in the Chicago Tribune
1953: 220 West 19th Street, New York City
1955: last listed in Editor & Publisher's Annual Syndicate Directory
1956: last listed in N. W. Ayer's American Newspaper Annual and Directory
Pattern mailer envelopes, ca. 1935-1950, are postmarked "New York, N.Y." and display a distinctive square postmark that states "Permit 12561." Peerless was associated with the Spinning Wheel Company by the early 1940s, but Spinning Wheel's history has not been documented so it's not yet known exactly how the two companies were related. The Spinning Wheel company's logo was prominently displayed on their pattern mailer envelopes.
The earliest Peerless needlework patterns presently known are illustrated in a December 8, 1923, Kansas Farmer and Mail & Breeze (Arthur Capper, Topeka, KS), December 8, 1923, ads with pattern numbers in the 600 series and an EMB- prefix, the predecessor of the shorter E- prefix seen in later ads. The ad carries the Mrs. Helen Lee Craig byline but it's not known if she was a Peerless editor or a Kansas Farmer editor, or a pseudonym. A month later, another ad in the same farm paper illustrated "The Story Telling Quilt," January 12, 1924, with the same byline and pattern numbers in the 600 series but without a prefix. Her byline appears in numerous clothing pattern ads in several midwestern farm papers related to Arthur Capper in Topeka, Kansas.
Peerless quilt patterns, usually with an E- prefix attached to the pattern number, became more pervasive in the 1930s beginning with the July 1930 issue of Country Gentleman magazine. Patterns were also sold under the Georgette byline in the Weekly Kansas City Star, as Clarice Patterns in the Oakland (CA) Tribune, and under the "What New York Is Wearing" byline in numerous newspapers, some as Helen Williams patterns and others as Annabelle Worthington patterns.
The Helen Williams signature accompanies a needlework ad in the Wichita (KS) Beacon, October 12, 1923. A decade later, the Peerless Fashion Service listing in Editor & Publisher's Annual Syndicate Directory includes the Helen Williams name and the 1933 Directory lists the "Helen Williams Fashion & Pattern Feature."
above; Peerless Fashion Service pattern ads with an E- prefix, usually with a border around the quilt.
below; An assortment of 1930s pattern envelopes from Peerless.
(1) General Features Corporation ad, Editor & Publisher, September 6, 1947, the inaugural announcement to the newspaper industry that General Features was representing Peerless patterns.
(2) Margaret Walsh, "The Democratization of Fashion: The Emergence of the Women's Dress Pattern Industry," Journal of American History 66, no. 2 (September 1979): 299-313.
(3) Peerless dress pattern envelopes in my collection, ranging ca. 1905-1925.
(4) General Features ad, Editor & Publisher, September 6, 1947.
(5) Initially a privately owned company, Reader Mail's only appearance in business directories (including Corporate Affiliations and Ward's Business Directory of Largest U. S. Companies) is 1983 to 1986 while it was a subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation before its sale to the Simplicity Pattern Company and relocated to Simplicity's headquarters in Niles, Michigan. Its relationship to Simplicity was confirmed in a February 22, 1992, communication from Leona Ramsay, Supervisor of Mails, United States Postal Service, Niles, Michigan, in which she states: "Reader Mail, P. O. Box 4000, Niles, Michigan 49120-4000, is owned and operated by Simplicity Pattern Co., 901 Wayne St., Niles, MI 49121. They print & sell patterns." By the year 2000, Reader Mail's address was Box 520, Ludington, MI 49431. According to one website (, Reader Mail now specializes in discontinued clothing patterns for children, misses, and women.
(6) "Joseph M. Shapiro of Simplicity, 79," Obituary, New York Times, July 31, 1968; "Joseph M. Shapiro," Who Was Who in America 5 (Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1973).
(7) The Annual Syndicate Directory published by Editor & Publisher was included as a supplement with a summer issue of the paper; dates will vary, and are located within the bound volumes of the paper in most major libraries.

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