I’ve purchased hundreds, maybe even thousands, of antique crochet pattern books and needlework magazines. Most of my purchases have gone smoothly, but some have not. I’ve found that important information is often omitted from book descriptions, so I thought it might be helpful for you to have this handy list of questions that I usually ask before purchasing. This will hopefully help you when you are deciding whether or not to purchase a specific book or magazine.
Question #1: Does this book smell moldy, musty, smoky or unpleasant in any way?
You’d be surprised at how many people will describe a book as being in “good” or “very good” condition, yet omit this information. If this is important to you, don’t take it for granted- ask! For those who are extremely allergy prone, it might be wise to consider buying reprints rather than genuine antiques. Even the books that don’t smell musty or moldy or yucky often do have a distinctive “old paper” odor.
Question #2 Is this book complete?
You’d be surprised at how many sellers don’t go through and check to see if illustrations are cut or torn out, or if the book has any missing pages. If any part of a pattern in a used pattern book is missing, the best time to find that out is before you buy it. Plenty of antique pattern books do turn out to be missing pages.
Usually, if a book is missing pages it will be easy enough to tell just by making sure all the numbered pages are present and accounted for. However, missing pages can occasionally be hard to discern, for various reasons. Often, antique magazines do not start at page one. It is a common mistake for someone to look at the last numbered page, and then declare “This magazine has 500 pages”, when the pagination began at 425 or so.
You should also be aware that color illustrations often appear on pages that are not numbered, so it can be difficult to detect a missing page if a seller didn’t know that a page was there to start with. So, that leads me to my next question:
Question #3: How many color illustrations does this book have? (Keep in mind that an answer of “none” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since many old needlework books don’t have any color illustrations at all.)
If you know for a fact that the book had 5 color illustrations to start with, and the seller responds that it doesn’t have any, you’ll know that pages have been removed, even if it isn’t evident to the seller from the page count. I’ve tried to carefully document how many pages and how many color illustrations are in the books and magazines that I post about here on this web site. So, hopefully this site will be a good reference for you when you research antique crochet and needlework books and magazines that you plan to buy.
The three questions above are the questions that I always ask, unless the answer is already present in the book description. I also like to keep a seller’s return policy in mind when I decide whether to purchase or not. This is especially true if I’m going to be spending more than $20 or so on a book. If I’m going to be spending a lot of money on the book, I sometimes ask even more nitpicky questions about condition- like does it have any water damage, any insect damage, any writing, any torn pages, etc. If I’m spending less than $10 on an antique crochet book, I generally expect that it may have some condition issues along the lines of spine splits, torn pages, dogearing, writing, etc. I’m generally not all that picky about condition (as you can probably tell from viewing the pages on this site; many of my antique crochet pattern books have considerable damage.) However, in general, price and condition are related; the better the condition the book is in, the more it will be worth.
Update: All the above questions assume that the book is, indeed, an original antique. However, it just occurred to me that it is important to add one more major question to this list. That is, “Is this book an original or a reproduction?” There are many books that have been republished and reproduced. Obviously, if the book is being offered for sale in CD rom format, then it is a reproduction. There are some reproductions that aren’t necessarily that obvious, though.
For example, I have seen reproductions of Emma Post Barbour’s New Bead Book that aren’t obviously reproductions; it would be easy enough to mistake these reproductions for originals if you do not know the difference. In one instance, I purchased a copy of this book that was a reproduction, and the seller had listed it for sale as an original. I think it was probably an honest mistake on the seller’s part, as she did not realize that the book wasn’t original. However this is something to be on guard against when you buy these antique pattern books. Reproductions of that particular title typically sell for under $30, while originals can sell for well over $100 (sometimes even more, depending on condition). It was obvious to me that it wasn’t an original as soon as I handled it, because I’ve owned several copies of the original and I know what the original looks and feels like. It would be difficult to explain the difference in feel to you, so I won’t try, but one thing I can say is that once you’ve handled enough old paper the difference will be obvious to you too. One thing you can easily check for, though, is signs of copying. If you look at the pages through a magnifying glass, sometimes you can pick up clues. If you are looking at a reproduction, the printing may not be as crisp as an original would be. Also, condition is a pretty good indicator. If the pages of the book are very clean and pristine, with not even a hint of a nick or dogear anywhere, it could indicate that the book is a reproduction. Now, keep in mind that it is possible, in theory, to find a true antique in pristine condition. A mint condition book still doesn’t necessarily indicate that the book is a reproduction, but do keep in mind that it is very rare to find antique pattern books that don’t show any wear at all. If the pages look worn but don’t feel worn, inspect them closely because you might find that a true antique pattern book was scanned and reproduced, damage and all. I have also seen reproductions like that come up for sale periodically.
I hope you find this guide helpful! Happy hunting!