QUILT HISTORY STORIES

                        

 ELGIN, ILLINOIS

RIVER FOREST, ILLINOIS

 

Boag Ribboncraft, Boag, Inc., and Boag Studios Story

Book 5

Susan Wildemuth, Atkinson, IL

Collection of Xenia Cord, Legacy Quilts.

The Boag Studios Quilt Line

Meet George Roak Boag

George Roak Boag (pronounced Bowguh (long o) – not Baaguh) was born on June 2, 1899 to James Thomas and Ellen B. (Roak) Boag, Sr. in River Forest, Illinois. (1) Named after his mother’s father George M., George R. became an only child after the death of his baby brother James Jr. from scarlet fever on May 22, 1904. (2) Spending most of his childhood in River Forest and Oak Park, Illinois, he attended the local schools and later attended a private school in North Carolina. (3) Tragedy struck the Boag family a second time when George was a teenager, his father, 37 year old James, Sr. passed away at the family’s River Forest home on February 13, 1913 from pulmonary tuberculosis. (4)

Single and 19 in 1918, George was working in Shawnee, Kansas as an assistant store manager for F.W. Woolworth Company. (5) About 1920, George moved back to Illinois and was a manager of the F.W. Woolworth Co. store in Litchfield, Illinois.  Sometime between 1918 and 1920, he met and married Florence Force in Litchfield. (6) The couple would have three children: George Roak Boag, Jr., Bett Ellen Boag, and James Thomas Boag. (7)  In 1922, Mr. Boag returned to River Forest, Illinois with his family where he joined the staff of his mother’s firm Boag Ribboncraft Company, where he remained for ten years and through the company’s name change to Boag, Inc.. (8)

The early 1930s would bring two major changes to his mother’s ribboncraft company. With Ellen (Boag) Porter and his step-father Henry W. Porter’s blessing and support, George Roak Boag split from Boag, Inc. in about 1932 to pursue a business venture of his own.  Ellen Roak Boag Porter shut the doors to her business in 1933 and the corporation known as Boag, Incorporated was dissolved in the Spring/Summer of 1933. (9) Ellen and Henry Porter moved from Illinois to Florida where they built a home and established a citrus grove at Howey-in-the-Hills, near Orlando. (10)

Boag Studios Quilt Line

George Roak Boag split from his mother’s company Boag, Inc. in about 1932 to pursue his dreams of creating a line of quilt and pillow kits which would appeal to women of all incomes. (11)  Having inherited some of his mother’s business savvy, he followed the path of so many of his contemporaries and created a female persona to front his business.  The notion at the time, flawed as it may be by today’s thinking, was this: women liked buying needlework items from women with consumer friendly names, and art needlework companies adapted their marketing strategies to give their customers exactly what they wanted. Collingbourne Mills had Virginia Snow, W.L.M. Clark, Inc. had Grandmother Clark, Mountain Mist had Phoebe Edwards, all fictional, female personas, and market friendly names.  According to “oral” history, George Boag did the same with a twist, choosing the name of an actual person, his wife’s sister-in-law, and marketed his quilt line under the name Julia Fischer Force. 

Julia Fischer Force (a.k.a. George Roak Boag) initially started by selling quilt patterns through ads in newspapers like this one: 

“Notice Boys and Girls send 25 cents in silver for 10 quilt patterns. 6 different styles to sell at 10 cents each. You make 75 cents for yourself. Julia Fischer Force – River Forest, Illinois.”  Edwardsville Intelligencer Friday, June 3, 1932. (12)

Late 1932, George R. Boag changed his focus from selling individual quilt patterns to quilt (and pillow) kits called ready cut quilts.    He was not the first person to use this technique, but he was one of the pioneers in the Illinois die-cut quilt industry.  According to his granddaughter Cathy Beyer, “He utilized a machine to cut multiple layers of fabric into identical shapes or die-cuts.” (13) Why were die-cut quilt kits so popular with quilt makers?    Pat L. Nickols, the author of “Mary A. McElwain: Quilter and Quilt Businesswomen” elaborates, “a ready cut quilt top was ideal for quilt makers who didn’t want to make templates, purchase fabric, and mark and cut fabric before they could start stitching their quilts.” (14)

By 1933 George Boag had produced a catalog known by quilt ephemera collectors as the Mary A. McElwain Quilt Shop catalog or Quilts. Julia Fischer Force which features the Julia Fischer Force quilt line. (15)  The M.A.M. catalog is undated, but the NRA Eagle on the front cover in the lower right corner helps narrow the date of this publication to between 1933 and 1935.  There is also a quote borrowed from Indiana quilt designer Marie Webster on the front cover, which reads “A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever.” (16) The most interesting thing about this catalog cover is the Mary A. McElwain Quilt Shop – Walworth, Wisconsin label itself.  If you open this author’s vintage catalog, turn to the interior of the cover page, and hold the catalog up to the light you will see the name Julia Fischer Force printed directly on this George R. Boag catalog.  (17)

George had a good working relationship with the Mary A. McElwain Quilt Shop in Walworth, Wisconsin, and putting Mary A. McElwain’s label on the Julia Fischer Force catalog was a good business decision for both parties.  Mary would sell the quilt and pillow kits through mail-order or her in-store customer base and George R. Boag would furnish the product “wholesale.”  It was a win-win situation for both of them.

 

Catalog Description of Dresden Plate - Design No. 423

Collection of Xenia Cord, Legacy Quilts.

    

Who created the actual designs for the Boag quilt kits?  There is no primary or secondary source data available which states the name of the person responsible for “all” the designs in the Julia Fischer Force Line.  Family stories give George R. Boag the credit; others say it was his mother Ellen Boag Porter’s work, and some say it was the efforts of his step-father Henry W. Porter.  There is one clue as to who designed the May Basket No. 420 ready stamped quilt top in the Quilts. Julia Fischer Force. Look for the May Basket quilt in the unpaged Mary A. McElwain/Force catalog; right underneath the quilt illustration, you will find the “description,” a feature partnered with many, but not all of the pattern illustrations found in Boag quilt catalogs, which reads,   “The basket is one sketched by H.W.P. (Henry W. Porter) in the E.B.P. (Ellen Boag Porter) Suggestion Book. The flower is a “steal” on 6149, recognize it Nonnie? Boag 1933.” (18)  

The description, or as Xenia Cord refers to them in her American Quilt Study Group research paper “Marketing Quilt Kits of the 1920s and 1930s,”  “sentimental histories” underneath the quilt illustrations were followed by the name of the quilt, the size of the quilt, and in the case of Boag’s May Basket, the contents of the Box the consumer would be receiving. (19)  The May Basket box contained : 1. Blocks (stamped) cut to size and borders cut to width. 2. Baskets, Basket Handles and Flowers stamped to be cut out. 3. Leaves and Flower Centers die cut. 3/16 seam allowed.  (20)

Boag - Acquistion by Collingbourne Mills, Inc.

Hoping to increase revenues and add some new products to his collection, Albert Collingbourne entered into talks with George Roak Boag of River Forest, Illinois in the fall of 1935. By February of 1936, the papers were signed and Collingbourne Mills, Inc. purchased Boag Company of River Forest, Illinois, manufacturers of ribbon, needlework novelties, quilt kits, and pillow tops. (21)  

George Boag, the son of Ellen Boag Porter of Boag Ribboncraft fame, was asked to join the Collingbourne staff as a salesman and the director of the needlework department. (22) Like his mother’s River Forest, Illinois company Boag Ribboncraft, the name Boag Company was retired and the new Collingbourne line would be known as Boag Studios, with quilts and pillow tops the mainstay of this collection. Collingbourne would produce two of the four known Boag catalogs Quilts by Boag: The Most Authentic Quilt Line in America and From Boag Studio: Quilts Book 46. Unfortunately, neither catalog is dated.

Even with the addition of the prestigious Boag quilt line, Albert Collingbourne could not save his company from the hard economic times of 1937 and 1938.  Like many other firms, the Great Depression had taken its toll on Collingbourne Mills, leaving the company no other choice but to close its doors or sell to another company. There is no exact date listed on any corporation paperwork filed with the State of Illinois, but Albert Collingbourne retired, stepping away from his company some time in 1938-39.

On February 7, 1940, George left his Parkside Drive home in Elgin and took his family to Litchfield, Illinois to visit his mother-in-law, Carrie E. Force. (23) While visiting there his severe cold turned into pneumonia, and he was taken to the St. Frances Hospital where he passed away on Saturday, February 10, 1940.   (24)

At the time of his death he was survived by his wife, three kids, his wife’s family, his mother Ellen Roak Boag Porter, and his step-father Henry W. Potter who still resided in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida at the time of their son’s death.  “Services took place Monday afternoon, February 12, 1940 in Elmwood Cemetery, in Litchfield,” Illinois.  (25)

Special Note:

If anyone has a photograph of George Roak Boag or Ellen Roak Boag Porter or any additonal information please contact the author Susan Wildemuth at quiltingbee73@yahoo.com  I would be happy to hear from you. 

 

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