In working on the Knitting and Crochet Guild's collections, I recently branched out from sorting magazines to sorting pattern leaflets, of which we have thousands. (Many thousands, we think - hard to tell, when they are mostly in unsorted boxes and haven't been separated into different spinners.)
We have been trying to make sense of the Patons and Baldwins numbering system (so far without a great deal of success). Patons and Baldwins were two separate long-established spinners when they merged in 1920, and the company still exists (as Patons) in the Coats group. There are a lot of pattern leaflets and booklets to sort that were issued by Patons & Baldwins from the 1920s onwards, and I have been working on some from the later 1940s and 1950s - 9 boxes of them.
Because they haven't been properly sorted before, there are many that are duplicated, and I think that the ones that we have multiple copies of are likely to be those that P&B sold a lot of. It's interesting to see which they are - we have catalogues of leaflets from various dates, but they don't give any idea of which were successful. So what kind of patterns turn up over and over again in the boxes of unsorted leaflets? The answer is, overwhelmingly, patterns for baby clothes.
One booklet in particular, The Quickerknit Baby Book, I found over and over again and it had clearly been reprinted several times, because there were copies with several different prices. In fact, it must have been Patons & Baldwins best-selling booklet ever. It was first published in 1956, and according to Michael Harvey in his book Patons: A Story of Handknitting, it was still selling strongly in 1985 and had by then sold 3 million copies - an astonishing number.
Why was this booklet so popular, over such a long period? By chance, I found in the collections a copy of the P&B list of new booklets for February 1956, when SC44 first appeared, and it says that it "is the first publication to feature Patons Quickerknit Baby Wool, Patonised". Quickerknit Baby Wool is described as "thicker than 4-ply and finer than double knitting" - evidently double knitting was not thought suitable for babies, but this would knit up more quickly than 4-ply. "Patonised" wool was treated to be shrink-resistant.
Quickerknit Baby Wool must have proved very popular, and that would explain why the first patterns published for it would have sold well. But why did SC44 continue to sell for 30 years? The patterns in it don't seem very unusual or especially attractive. There are two cardigans, a matinee coat, a pair of bootees and a pram set. The pram set consists of a bonnet, a coat, a pair of leggings and a pair of mitts, so
that the baby is clothed from head to toe, literally, in woolliness. Who was knitting pram sets in 1985? They were probably very necessary in the 1950s, when babies spent a lot of time in their prams. (There were far fewer cars than now, so prams were the main way of transporting a baby. There was also a theory that babies should be put outside in their prams for day-time naps, to get the benefit of fresh air - although before the Clean Air Act came into force, it's doubtful whether there was much fresh air in towns and cities.) But by 1985, in my experience, babies were no longer wearing clothes of this sort.
So I don't know why SC44 continued to be such a huge best-seller. The baby isn't even especially cute.