Saturday, 4 April 2015

Double Century

I have recently bought some vintage knitting needles, and I think they are the nicest straight knitting needles I have ever used.    The brand is Double Century and they have a plastic coating over a steel core.  They are very good to knit with.  The coating is smooth - but not too slippery, unlike metal needles. They don't bend, unlike plastic or wooden needles.  The steel core gives them a satisfying weight, although perhaps some people might find them too heavy.  And the points are just right  - not too blunt or too sharp.  

The name and other details are incised into the plastic, and I think that originally the lettering was filled in with some black substance.  A few of the Double Century needles in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection still have the inlay (see photos), but it has usually worn off.



Vintage knitting needles
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After "The Double Century" there is a patent number, and on the other side of the needle, "English Made" and "B.G." for "British Gauge", I think, and then the size.  The coating of the needles is always a cream colour, to imitate bone or ivory.  

The patent, for "Improvements in or relating to Knitting Needles, Crochet-hooks and the like" was applied for in 1913 by Emily Doubble, widow, of  "Knole", Harpenden, Herts.

The specification reads:
"This invention relates to knitting needles, crochet-hooks, and the like of the kind which are made of vulcanite, ebonite and such like pliable material, the object of the invention being to lend a stiffness to the hook or needle when in use.

It has been found the knitting needles, crochet-hooks, and such like appliances of domestic use when formed of ebonite, vulcanite or other material, though possessing a desirable smoothness and silence in working, are apt to become soft and to lose their stiffness when held in the hand for any length of time, owing to the heat of the hand softening them.

According, therefore, to this invention, I reinforce the needle, crochet-hook or the like by imbedding a core of stiffening material ... to increase its rigidity.

In one manner of carrying out the invention as applied to a knitting needle, a steel wire is imbedded in the centre of the needle when the same is in a liquid or semi-liquid state, the reinforcement being entirely covered at the pointed end of the needle..."
I have been trying to find out more about Emily Doubble, and how her patent led to my knitting needles.  She  seems an unlikely inventor.  In the 1911 census, she is recorded as living at the same address as on the patent application, aged 72, and already a widow.  She had had 14 children, and living with her were two daughters and a son, all unmarried.  The son, Theodore William Doubble, must surely be the T.W. Doubble, Chartered Patent Agent, who is also named on the patent application - his occupation in the 1911 census is engineer, so he seems a much more likely inventor than his mother.    

Then there is a gap after 1913 when the patent was granted, and 1945, which is the date of the next reference I have found to Double Century needles.    

Vintage knitting needles, 1940s

They were advertised in June 1945 in the magazine Home Chat as "The Knitting Pins with a history and a future."   Evidently the manufacture of Double Century needles had been suspended during the war, and in 1945 they were still not available. The ad says "The Steel for their unbreakable centres has been needed for essential war work.  Soon they will be back for those insist on the finest knitting pins in the world."  Many ads with a similar message appeared around that time, saying "our product has not been available during the war but it soon will be".  

The company making Double Century needles was James Smith & Son, in Redditch.  The town had a long history of needle-making, and the firms of Henry Milward and Abel Morrall (makers of Aero knitting needles) were also based there.

When I first saw this ad, with the date 1698, I thought that Double Century referred to the age of the company, i.e. more than 200 years, and thought that the name might have been introduced in 1898.  But surely it is not a coincidence that the brand name is Double Century and the patent was granted to Emily Doubble?  What is the link between a widow living in Harpenden, and a needle-making company in Redditch?   It's very mysterious.

Vintage knitting needles, 1950s

By 1950, steel shortages were past and you could buy Double Century needles without any problem. An ad in Needlework Illustrated claims that they are "Just like ivory" (because of the colour and feel, I suppose) and the "Best Knitting Pins in the World".  I might not go so far as to agree with that, but they are certainly my favourites just now.   If I find out more about their history, I'll let you know.

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for this! I wonder if anyone manufacturers them now? It's lovely that the patent number on the needles enabled you to find out about them. At some point the advertisements between 1917 and 1945 should be discovered, given that the 1945 adverts refer to the needles having been available before the war.

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    1. Yes, I'll look for some earlier ads to try to fill the gap. I'm sure they are not manufactured now, but I don't know when they stopped being made.

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    2. I just came back from NZ where I found/brought some of these needles in secondhand stores over there, I have never seen them here in Australia.
      I was wondering about there history, very interesting.
      Lacharna

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  2. I am in Australia and just found 14 pairs of these lovely needles at a charity shop.
    I was very interested to find this blog. I also found this info which might answer your question as to when they stopped making them – 1956.
    From http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-488200-double-century-works-worcestershire#.VUxSD3dh0xd

    < HISTORY: Needle- making was a long-established industrial specialism of the Reddich area, with small works and larger factories producing a range of needle products, both domestic and industrial. In the C19, works were of sufficient scale to warrant the introduction of steam power. Double Century Works was owned by the Butler family and their descendants, the Smiths until 1956, needle manufacture on the site having apparently commenced in the late C17.>

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    1. Thanks very much for that information - it's good to know a bit more of the history.

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  3. Hi, I have just come across your blog from 2015 on the Double Century - Emily Doubble was my gt-grandmother, and yes, she did invent a knitting needle which her son, Theodore, patented for her. My aunt told me that she was fed up on her fine needles breaking and had the idea of putting a metal wire in them. She was a great knitter, embroidery and wood carver! I hadn't seen the patent before so it was interesting reading. I don't think the family made any other needles, and probably not in 1945 and both Emily and her son had died by then.
    If you would like any information on her do let me know, many thanks, Belinda

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    1. Hi Belinda. Thanks for that fascinating information. I had never expected to hear from a descendant of the inventor - so nice to hear that the family remember her idea. I have subsequently found some earlier ads for Double Century needles - I'll dig them out and post them.

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    2. Belinda, I would love to know more about Emily Doubble, if you have more information. You can email me at barbaraknitsagain@gmail.com
      I have found an earlier ad for Double Century needles, from 1921, and will put it on this blog in a new post. I hope that your great-grandmother lived to see her idea put into production, and use the needles.

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