|W. H.Head & Son price list, 1918-19|
The shop sold everything you would need for your knitting, from yarn and pattern leaflets to tools and accessories of all kinds, including, of course, knitting needles. They were available in sizes 1 to 18 (7.5 mm. to 1.25 mm.), in different lengths, double pointed or with knobs, in sets of four or in pairs. They were made in different materials: steel, bone, wood, vulcanite and ivory. Vulcanite is vulcanised rubber, a hard material, usually black, that can be polished and was sometimes used for jewellery, in imitation of jet. Ivory (always 'Real Ivory', not just ivory) is the most expensive material by far. Not every size of needles is available in every size: steel is used for the finest needles, and lighter materials (bone, vulcanite, and wood) for the thickest. But the middle sizes were for sale in all of the materials, so prices can be compared. A pair of 12 inch needles in size 10 (3.25 mm) cost 4½d (under 2p) in wood, twice as much in bone or vulcanite, and a shilling (5p) in steel. Real Ivory needles cost 3 shillings (15p) - eight times the price of wood.
What's the present-day equivalent of Real Ivory for knitting needles? I guess it would be carbon fibre, but maybe there's some even more high-tech material that I'm not aware of. And the cheaper end of the market is plastic and steel. It might be interesting to see whether the price differential between luxury and basic needles is anything like it was in 1918. But of course the situation then was completely different - for many women, hand-knitting for their families was an economic necessity, whereas Real Ivory needles were probably bought by women who could afford to knit for recreation.
W. H.Head & Son also sold extra large or Leviathan knitting needles, in sizes A, B, C, D and E. I don't know what sizes they were, but possibly they corresponded to the sizes that are marked 0, 00, 000, etc. on some gauges. I don't know what knitters used them for in 1918, but evidently if you didn't know what they were for, you didn't need them, so you didn't need to be told.
To go with your knitting needles, you needed a needle gauge, because I think that needles were not marked with their sizes at that time. There are two in the catalogue, nicely illustrated.
The bell was a popular shape for needle gauges - I have a very small collection myself (three, apart from the one I actually use). Some friends gave me a Walker's gauge like the one illustrated, so it's nice to think that it might be nearly 100 years old. Another is a different make but also bell-shaped. And the Beehive gauge that I wrote about here is sort of a derivation of a bell shape, if you look at it cross-eyed.
I have not seen a "Wheel of Fortune" gauge, as far as I know. We may have one in the Guild collection, but that part of the store ("Knitting Needle Alley") awaits sorting.