Sunday, 19 May 2013

eBay Tragic for Ella Allan - Melbourne Knitting Pattern Pioneer

This week I had a most disappointing experience on eBay. This very old knitting book of baby patterns first published in the 1920s or earlier came up for auction on eBay.

 Yes, you know what's coming, don't you. There had been 5 bids on the item with 2 days to go, and it was sitting on $6.50. I set the alarm on my phone to put in a bid at the last minute, as there were obviously at least two other people interested in the item. I always try to be disciplined on eBay, and I set my reserve price beforehand, with the intention of not exceeding it. I set the reserve for this item at $18.11.
With one minute to go, I put in my bid. The item immediately went to $20.00. I increased my bid and for about 5 seconds I was winning the bid at $25.00. Outbid again,  I threw caution to the wind and upped my reserve to $34.00 and was immediately outbid again at $38.00, at which stage I thought hang it, and retired with 5 seconds to go. Boy, was I sad. I even missed the meeting I was supposed to be at. (That part made me happy!) That woman! I may have called her some impolite names. (I assume it was a "her") Who would have believed that there were at least two other people besides myself who would bid ludicrous sums of money to get this book?

This book is by Ella Allan. Here she is, from the fly leaf of the book.

This looks to me like a much older photo than 1930, the date given for the book by the vendor. I suspect that 1930 may have been a republication date for a popular book that had been around for quite a few years. Here are some of the illustrations, with baby garments modelled on china dolls.

This looks to me like the layout used in the 1920s and World War 1 era. Books from the 30s looked much more modern.
It also reminds me of a book I have. I do not know what this book is because the cover is missing, along with the first couple of pages. But check it out. No china dolls, but of a similar era, I think.

Well, at least the patterns are similar, but the layout more modern. I suspect once again, a reprint to update some classic patterns. Here are some of my favourite patterns from this book:

Baby's first gaiter.

Baby's Mocassin

Baby's Second Set of Stays

Cotton Hat

Crochet Bib

And wasn't I delighted to find this ad in the book:

Is my mystery book an Ella Allan book after all? I would have thought that the books most likely to carry ads for her books would be her own books.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography does not mention Ella Allan. (Nor does Wikipedia, by the way, just being thorough).
However, the State Library of Victoria, bless it's little heart, holds 22 items by Ella Allan, many of which have been digitised and are available online. Trove, at the National Library of Australia, lists several other of her books at other Australian libraries, though unfortunately not yet available online. Amongst the many Ella Allan books, dating from 1917 to the early 30s, I found the auctioned book. The State Library does indeed give its publication date as 193-.

My mystery book appears to be "What to Make For Baby", part 1. (the auctioned book was part 4.) I can't find the same edition in the library, the ads are different in the library's book, and I suspect mine is not quite so old.

But best of all, this is the missing cover:

We don't get naked cherubs adorning farm machinery these days.

Her books of patterns for toddlers are even more adorable than the baby books. "Dainty Adornments for Tiny Tots", which I viewed online,  includes the following patterns:

 Silk Filet Crochet Jumper
Child's Hat
Toddler's Dress

So, I haven't got the book that was on eBay, but now I know I have another book of Ella Allan's, albeit one with a missing cover and 2 pages. But, now that I have shared this with you, I hope I don't end up bidding against you on eBay another day!

P.S. One week later...
Yesterday I bought Ella Allan's What To Make For Baby, Part 2, on eBay. I got it by bidding in the last 7 seconds of the auction, and not before. And I had to pay a lot, almost $36.00!  I'm sorry if you are the person I outbid at the last minute, but did it to me last week. So now we have one each. But I know there's a third person out there...

Update - June 2017.
Ella Grace Jane Allan lived in Melbourne from at least 1903, when she appears on the Australian Electoral Roll. She died in 1938, and this is when her books ceased to be reprinted. I now know that the first book  mentioned, with the designs modeled on dolls, is a 1930 something reprint "In New Form" of the book first published in the 1920s, or shortly before. The second book, my mystery book without a cover, is actually an older version from the 1920s. The 1930s books are dated, the earlier books are not.


  1. Hi Joanne, I wonder if you might be able to help me with a query. I've got a copy of a paragon knitting book number 70 4 layettes a shawl and a reversible pram cover. I'm just wondering what age that book might be. there is no year in the booklet. It belonged to my grandmother. Many tx and sorry to be a bother. Claire

  2. Hi Claire,
    As far as I can determine, Paragon books were really popular in the 50s and 60s. I don't have book 70, but I have 69 and 71, and they are definitely 50s books. No.71 is women's fashion, much easier to date than babies' fashion. It's annoying that most knitting books don't have a date of publication printed on them. My mother tells me that Paragon books were very popular because they were practical designs which were easy to knit. These books were reprinted right up to the late 70s or early 80s. You can tell the age to a certain extent from the price - pre-decimal is clearly pre 1966, price in cents is between 1966 and the late 70s, thereafter it is Price Code.
    Thanks for asking!

  3. Ann Beautiful Baby Vintage19 July 2013 at 02:58

    How wonderful to discover who I was bidding against for the What to Make for Baby book!! Sadly I missed out too, and was surprised when I saw that it went for over $40 or thereabouts. My Eve Lyn babies and toddlers book arrived today with a little invitation card to your blog. Here I am... a pleasure to read it, Ann

  4. Ann Beautiful Baby Vintage19 July 2013 at 03:03

    I should add that a while ago I bought Ella Alan's part 4, only to discover that the black and white photos of the garments were missing from the centre :( If a library has them somewhere that would be great!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. How disappointing, Ann. However, you should be able to go to the State Library of Victoria site and print the missing illustrations.

    This is a fantastic resource for lovers of old knitting books. I have downloaded quite a few. It's not the same as having the original book, but it helps to get an understanding of the history, and what was around then, and then when you see it pop up on ebay, you know what it is. This week I was excited to buy three books of a similar vintage by Dora and Amy Smith. Maybe that will be another blog story.

  7. Ann Beautiful Baby Vintage20 July 2013 at 02:33

    Thankyou for the link! I will have a lovely time browsing through the old knitting. My interest area on ebay is vintage sewing for babies and little girls, but I wanted to have some vintage knitting for my store too. Since I started collecting a few I am really hooked....some of the old knitting designs were simply exquisite.

  8. I was interested to come across this post, I have a copy of one of these books and there is information on the various editions at the National Library of Australia online. The cover you show appears to be from 1917 but I would say mine, with the same cover illustration but with extra text on the cover and a 1/6 price printed on it would be the 1930 reprint.
    For those who would like to look at the full text of the book it can be seen online at the State Library of Victoria and the link to this is also given on the NLA page as 75 pages Book, illustrated 1 & online.. meaning Part 1 of the series of books.
    I suspect that my mother used this book to knit for me as a baby !!!
    One book shop comments that the 1917 edition is a scarce book as it was published towards the end of the First World War when babies were a
    scarce commodity and books for them now even scarcer. That makes sense.
    I also find it interesting as it is a home-grown Melbourne book and Ella Allan lived at Elwood.

    1. That is interesting about the reason for the 1917 edition being scarce. I have looked at a few editions online and I haven't yet found one the same as my old one without a cover. I suspect it is from the '20s, but it's possible that it's older.

  9. Hi Joanne
    I just like to let you know, that I have a part one for sale on eBay. This is a very interesting blog.