More North American Knitting Needle Gauges

by Susan Webster, Australia

Since publication of my three-part series on Early North American Knitting Needle Gauges in 2013, three  significant new gauges have been found.

The first is a red variation on the aluminium “J-curve” gauge used by Boye, Ezy-Knit, Sears and others, often unbranded in the 1950s / 1960s (date uncertain). It is a common shape on re-seller sites like EBay, usually coloured in gold (Sears), blue (Boye) or silver (Boye, Ezy-Knit, and unbranded).

This single example of the unusual red colour has the brand name Diana, which was the discount brand of the Boye Needle Co. As the blue or silver Boye J-curves are so common, it seems the firm must have ordered this gauge for their “poor relation” brand only once. Packaging for the Diana brand was quite distinct from that of Boye in the 1950s and ‘60s. But the firm never bothered to brand the needles themselves. All the examples I have of Diana packaging contain needles with the Boye name, or no brand name at all, on the needles.

In the 1950s and 1960s the rival firms Boye Needle Co and Susan Bates & Co used a similar strategy of diversification down market to try to capture more sales through discount retailers, without diluting the “premium” of their main brand names. Diana was the Boye discount brand, and Marcia Lynn was the main Bates discount brand. Both are no more, of course.

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Figure 1.  The “J-curve” gauge, a distinctive red colour and branded for Boye’s discount line of Diana.

A more fantastic find was the bell gauge inscribed “Wilkes Westwood” which popped up six months ago. In 15 years of collecting the many, many variations of the iconic British bell, I had never seen even a reference to this gauge. As always these days, the internet has information on the issuer, a Toronto firm with connections to an English manufacturer.

The UK business directory Graces Guide[1] states that Henry Wilkes & Co of Studley in Warwickshire, UK, made hooks and needles, and also had an office in Toronto. Henry’s brother, ‘William A. Wilkes had a business called the Wilkes-Westwood Co, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, starting in 1898 (with Charles Westwood). The company dissolved but was re-formed into the “C.H. Westwood and Co” with William as president. It was dissolved in 1910.’

Presumably, the gauge was manufactured around 1898 in England and shipped across the Atlantic for issue in Canada – making it the oldest North American gauge documented so far!

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Figure 2 – Wilkes Westwood bell gauge, the earliest gauge found for North America.

I thought it would be impossible to top the Wilkes Westwood bell, but my heart pounded even harder when I spotted a hitherto unseen wartime gauge. As I noted in Part 3 of Early North American Knitting Needle Gauges, only two US gauges had been found supporting the WW Two effort, both issued by the American Red Cross.

Now, a third US wartime gauge has been identified, issued by the British War Relief Society (BWRS), headquartered in New York City. Many small societies and groups sprang up early in WWII to provide support to combatant nations. In 1941, the British War Relief Society was incorporated as an umbrella organisation to manage the activities of various other, usually smaller, American groups which supplied humanitarian goods to Britain.

This gauge is in perfect condition, looking like it has been in a drawer for the last 70 years; it is very large, measuring about 7 inches by 3 inches. BWRS made many small household items. The current (2014) focus on the start of WW One means a lot more awareness of these collectables now.

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Figure 3.  British War Relief Society’s 7×3 inch gauge, a bit too big for convenience.