An unassuming yet tricked out artifact that every sewer owned from the late nineteenth century to the 1950s, needle books are now mostly works of art for collecting rather than using. Like a Picasso only much cheaper. Because most weren’t dated, identifying their exact age becomes an undertaking, and sometimes, the price tag is the only giveaway of when it was produced. Was it seven cents or 37 cents? What really knocks my socks off about these mini bouquets of sewing needles is their bewitching designs. After all these years, their colors are still delightful, aren’t they. Even a politically centered one has a magnetism and lure that is like a hook, line and sinker. “Yes, I’ll purchase that Harry Truman needle book” Do I know anything about Mr. Truman? That’s innocuous!
Lined with cloth, paper or embossed foil, these cardboard books opened up to display an assortment of needles. Some needle books were for sale, but most were given away as either presents or advertising gimmicks, which may explain why a lot of them have no or little mention of needles on the cover. A rare Treasure Sewing Chest Needle Book lobbies for money on its back cover, claiming it is from a guy who has been crippled with arthritis. Patterns, colors and shapes evolved over time. The initial ones were dainty, but as time rolled on, colors became more vibrant and themes became more whimsical with space ships and kittens. One of my favorite designs is the Sewing Susan needle book, pictured above. Who was she? She’s like Where’s Waldo? Obviously, she’s knows how to go incognito – changing up her hair every decade or so.
Just like women today, many cherished their needle books, taking good care of them and keeping them away from their children and/or animals. Maybe this is why in 2014, needle books can be found pretty easily. Their value is mostly in their charm with prices hovering in the single digits. Only rare ones go for above $15 or more. What you want to look for when purchasing is color retention (has it faded?) and creases and tears. In addition, are all the needles inside? Are they intact (no rusting)?
What happened to sewing needle books? Why are they a thing of the past? They lasted till 1970s and I believe that when sewing went out a fashion for a decade or two, so did they. But why no resurrect these little guys. Collect them on Ebay and Etsy, and be sure to upload them to instagram as part of my series, #thewaysewingusedtobe. Check out some of the images people have uploaded below!