A House for 1,000 Vintage Hats, and the People Who Love to Wear Them

April 30th, 2010

Alyce Cornyn-Selby runs The Hat Museum out of a historic, 100-year-old house in Portland, Oregon. In this interview, she talks about collecting men’s hats and clears up some popular misconceptions about cowboy hats and other headwear. She can be reached via the museum’s website, www.thehatmuseum.com.

We have more than a thousand hats here at The Hat Museum. It’s the largest hat museum in the United States, and has twice as many hats as the Hat Works museum in England. Our collection comes from private collections, vintage clothing stores, estate sales, antique shows, hat shops, catalogs, other museums, and donations. We’ve given by-appointment tours of the house for 17 years.

This "Indiana Jones" style fedora was made by the Penman Hat Company.

We started with about 600 hats in 2005. It was a fairly complete collection when we opened. We have acquired more hats as we’ve filled in the little gaps here and there. We don’t ask people to donate, but we’ve had some amazing donations.

We’re located inside a historic house in the middle of the historic district known as Ladd’s Addition. Everybody who has ever owned this house has been a hat nut. Because of that curious coincidence, the house was chosen to be on the HGTV program “If Walls Could Talk.” The Reingolds, who ran a famous jewelry store in downtown Portland, owned it originally. It turns out that Mrs. Reingold was a trained milliner—she had apprenticed in Russia before moving here. I purchased the house in 1975.

I think I first became interested in men’s hats from old black-and-white movies—film noir, Humphrey Bogart. I also collect antique cars. Even if it’s a dumb plot and it’s a ridiculous movie, I still want to see it because I want to look at the vintage fashion. I want to look at the hats and the cars. The styling was so much better back then.

My favorite era for women’s hats, though, has to be the Edwardian period when hats were at their largest. For a while, hats just kept getting bigger and bigger. Today these hats are what people think of as the “Titanic”-style hats, or the hats in “My Fair Lady” in the Ascot horse-racing scene. The ’30s were also an excellent era for both men and women’s hats.

Anytime I leave home, I put on a hat. People have this idea that you have to be dressed up to wear a hat. They think only of what we call “church-lady” hats, fancy hats you’d wear to church. That’s completely wrong. I wear men’s style trilbies. The trilby is the most popular hat for young women today. It looks like a fedora, only the brim is shorter.

Wearing a hat gets to be a habit, as does not wearing a hat. I keep my hats by the back door. Before I get in my car, I grab a hat, pop it on, and I’m out the door.

Collectors Weekly: What’s the earliest men’s hat you have in the museum?

Cornyn-Selby: It’s a top hat from 1880, but we take visitors back 6,000 years in the men’s hat section of the museum. We explain the evolution of men’s hat styles, we describe felting, and we talk about the Mad Hatter, which is based in fact. Hatters did go mad because of the mercury they used in the process of making hats. They didn’t know it caused neurological damage. Many of them went insane and many others died.

In the new “Alice in Wonderland” movie with Johnny Depp, his fingers show signs of mercury poisoning. I know the film has gotten mixed reviews, but I thought it was terrific. His red hair also has basis in fact. When they put mercury on fur, it caused what was called carroting because it would temporarily turn the fur orange.

Collectors Weekly: Why did hatters use mercury?

Cornyn-Selby: They didn’t have electricity back then, which means they didn’t have electric clippers to shear off the fur. So, they would put mercury on the fur, which caused it to stand up and allowed the hatter to get more fur off of the pelt—you don’t use the skin to make felt, only the fur. Beaver fur was very expensive, and the animal was annihilated in Europe. One of the first economic reasons to come to the U.S. and Canada was to trap beaver for felt.

Stockport is where much of England’s hat industry was located. Evidently, the cemeteries around Stockport are contaminated with mercury from the rotting bones of dead hatters. Danbury, Connecticut, also had big hat factories. At one point they were cranking out a million hats a year. The widespread use of mercury caused an affliction called the Danbury shakes. They didn’t know what was causing it.

Mercury wasn’t banned from hat making until 1941 in the U.S., but they probably didn’t use as much of it by that time because hatters had better ways of getting fur off the pelts.

Collectors Weekly: When were felt hats first made?

Cornyn-Selby: Felting has been around for 5,000 or 6,000 years. The way felting started is interesting. There were no stores back then, so if you wanted something, you had to make it yourself. Shoes, for example, probably began as just a slab of leather tied to the feet with strings that wound up the legs. After a while that got a little uncomfortable, so they started pulling the wool off the sheep and putting it in their sandals as protection.

The best top hats of the 1880s were made out of beaver fur felt.

After you walk around like that on pulled wool, it gets compressed. The moisture, heat, and the pressure cause it to felt, which means the fibers cling to each other in a really tight-knit kind of a way. When you pull this mass out of your shoe, you’ve got a flat piece of felt. Then someone got the idea of wetting it and shaping it.

The first felt hats were made not too long after that. They were not so different from, say, a 1920s cloche-style hat. They’d drape this wool mess over a pot or over a large gourd. When it dried, you had a hat. It looks a little like a cloche or even a beanie.

Eventually people started felting outwards to create a brim. That dome shape with a flat brim was the hat for hundreds of years. Then the French started cocking the hat, which means you pull one side up. Stick a big plume in it, and you’ve got the Three Musketeers hat.

This is all covered at the museum. We’ve taken wool and put it over the pot. Visitors can put their hands on this wool hat and see how felt got started. If you pull two sides up, you get the Napoleon-style hat, the admiral-style hat or the Knights of Columbus. If you pull it up on three sides, it’s the Colonial-style hat or tricorne—the hat Benjamin Franklin wore. If you flatten it out, it’s still basically the same style hat.

People took hat wearing very seriously. In fact, when John Hetherington stepped out of his London hat shop in 1797 wearing the first top hat, it was such a big deal that that he was arrested for disturbing the peace.

Collectors Weekly: He was arrested for wearing a hat?

Cornyn-Selby: Yes. Some people liked the hat and cheered, but others didn’t and booed. It caused quite a commotion: Horses bolted; a kid was thrown into a wall and broke his arm. Hetherington was arrested and put in jail, but when he got out he had more hat orders than he could fill. The top hat has been with us ever since.

Collectors Weekly: How tall was that first top hat?

Cornyn-Selby: I don’t think anybody recorded the measurements on that particular hat—this all happened more than 200 years ago—but top hats in general can be quite tall. Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat was like 7 inches tall. When he put it on, he was more than 7 feet tall.

There are 14 different styles of top hats. The stovepipe, for example, looks exactly like a stovepipe. It’s straight up and down with a flat brim. Lincoln had four of them. Then there’s the coachman’s hat, which is a shorter version. In many cultures, the person with the tallest headpiece has the most power. So if you were a coachman, you didn’t want your top hat to be taller than the people you picked up. So the coachman’s hat is kind of a short version of the top hat.

There’s also a collapsible top hat, which was originally called a gibus, named after Antoine Gibus, who created it in 1823. It was also called the opera hat because you could collapse it when you went to the opera and put it on a little shelf under your seat. Americans have always called it the collapsible top hat. It’s an ingenious little mechanism that makes the hat pop like that.

Collectors Weekly: When did the top hat become associated with magicians?

Cornyn-Selby: It was in 1814. A Frenchman named Louis Comte was the first person to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Magicians often wore tuxedos, usually tails. So a top hat wasn’t all that unusual but they were very expensive.

Not all top hats were made out of felt or silk, as this rare straw example from London shows.

When top hats were made out of beaver fur, they were so expensive that they’d actually be included in a person’s will. A silk top hat, on the other hand, cost 1/10th, sometimes 1/20th, of what a beaver-fur top hat cost.

After being hunted almost to extinction in Europe, the beaver was nearly wiped out in the U.S., too. This was between 1830 and 1840. The introduction of the silkworm basically saved the beaver from extinction in the U.S. and Canada. If it hadn’t been for the silkworm, the state of Oregon would’ve had to change its state animal from the beaver to something else.

An Englishman named Bota popularized the first silk top hats in the West. He had worn a beaver-fur felt top hat on a trip to China. He was there so long that the hat wore out. In order for him to have a hat to wear back home, a Chinese hat maker made a copy of his top hat out of silk. After Bota returned to England wearing this silk topper, English hatters started making them out of silk, but it didn’t really take off until Victoria’s husband, Albert, wore one. Back in those days, people followed what British royalty did and what they wore.

Collectors Weekly: What other types of hats came out of England?

Cornyn-Selby: The British Empire was the center of just about everything for a long time, and that meant fashion as well. Christie’s, a famous hat company in England, owned the patent on the cowboy hat. In fact, Stetson had to pay them a royalty. There was a big court case about it.

In 1850, William Coke went to Lock’s Hat Shop in downtown London—a 333-year-old family business today—and asked for a specially designed hat. The shop came up with the bowler. When they originally made the hat, it was very strong. You could almost stand on it—it was that stiff. The bowler was an immediate success, and it was much cheaper to make than a top hat.

The bowler is called the first democratic hat because a middle-class gentleman could afford to buy one of them new. The Earl of Derby, who was British royalty, wore a bowler hat on a trip to the U.S. The Americans looked at his nametag and said, “Derby.” That’s how the hat got its nickname. That’s where we get the name Kentucky Derby. The bowler hat and the derby are the same hat. For a while, it was a lot of people’s favorite hat. Even today, if you go to the financial district in England you’ll see bankers and financiers still wearing bowler hats.

Collectors Weekly: Did hats represent a wearer’s status?

Cornyn-Selby: Yes and no. Everybody wore hats: men, women, and children. It didn’t matter how rich or poor you were, people needed to protect their heads from dust and debris, especially Londoners. There was a lot of junk in the air. Hats weren’t just a fashion statement. It was considered bad hygiene to walk around outside without a hat. If you didn’t wear a hat, all that junk was going to get into your hair.

People in the Victorian Era washed their hair with either lye soap or a combination of borax and egg whites. Once you washed your hair, you wouldn’t be able to get a comb through it. Taking care of your hair a hundred years ago was a big chore.

Fedoras can be made out of felt or straw, and come in a range of styles and colors.

It’s reported that some Victorians washed their hair only once a year. Women took care of their hair by brushing it 100 strokes every night. You may have seen that scene in the old movies. Sometimes people would put cornmeal in their hair and on their scalps and brush it out. That would get rid of some of the oil in the hair and make it nicer.

Shampoo didn’t come around until the 1930s, and it didn’t get really good until the ’40s and ’50s. Shampoo is the single most important thing to affect hat wearing. The better the hair care products got, the more you could afford to leave your hat behind. By the 1950s, when a lot of women stayed home and did housework, they’d tie their hair up in a bandana to keep the dirt out of it. You may have seen that look in the old “I Love Lucy” show—she’s got her hair done up with what looks like a big handkerchief. The reason is that women wanted the washing to last as long as possible because they didn’t have hair dryers.

You can literally change your attitude by what you put on your head. In the ’40s ’50s, if a woman got sad, depressed, angry, or fed up, there was no Prozac or Valium; there was no psychotherapist on every corner. No. She marched downtown to the local department store and bought herself a new hat. When I’m wearing a baseball cap I feel differently than when I’m wearing a big, flowery Edwardian-style hat. My perspective is changed.

The goofiest hats are for men. Have you seen those crazy hats with a couple of cans of beer and the tubes that come down so you can drink them, or the cheese hats of the Green Bay Packers? Men will put anything on their heads. With the baseball cap, you see them wearing it sideways and backwards. Men do all kinds of goofy things with hats.

In the Victorian Era, though, they were better behaved. A plain dome hat with a flat brim was especially popular with young men. They weren’t allowed to cock it; they had to wear it flat. The top hat was the most popular hat if you had any kind of money at all, the bowler came out in 1850, and then the straw boater appeared in the 1880s. Men wore them all.

Collectors Weekly: Were Victorian Era hats worn universally?

Cornyn-Selby: Not really, except in certain Western cultures. Other cultures made their own styles of hats with their available materials. For example, there were a lot of different types of straw hats around the world. The Native Americans in Northern California made hats out of pine needles. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, indigenous people made hats out of cedar bark.

“Stetson was not a Wild West guy, he was a Philadelphia businessman, and the cowboy hat was not an American invention.”

If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you may have seen residents take those long, spear-like leaves and weave a Polynesian hat for themselves in under 10 minutes. The hats start out green, but gradually turn tan or brown. The shape is similar to a cowboy hat.

In Ecuador they have the abaca plant, which is used today to make Panama hats. The name is actually a misnomer. When men were working on the Panama Canal in the early 1900s, they’d come back to the U.S. with these wonderful, lightweight straw hats. They’d been in Panama, so everybody called them Panama hats, but the hats had all been made in Ecuador.

With every tribe in Africa, you’re going to see a different-shaped hat. People tied seashells to their hats so that as they turned their heads, it would dissipate the flies. That’s actually where the idea of fringe came from—it was something to keep the flies away because it would move.

Collectors Weekly: What styles were popular for men during the Edwardian era?

Cornyn-Selby: The top hat, bowler, and boater remained popular. It was also the beginning of the fedora. The other style would be a homburg. King Edward—he was Queen Victoria’s son—liked to go to Germany for spa treatments. He came back from one visit wearing this wonderful hat. He’d been in Homburg, so everybody called it a homburg. It was FDR’s favorite hat and also Winston Churchill’s. It’s sometimes called the Godfather hat. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot always wears a homburg.

Diane Keaton wore a hat in “Annie Hall” that became pretty famous. It was just an oversized bowler hat. The actual hat was auctioned off about six or seven years ago.

Straw boaters had low crowns so they would stay more securely on the heads of Oxford rowers and Venetian gondoliers.

In fact, women are wearing men’s hats more than ever before. You see Britney Spears wearing the trilby, which is a small hat. They can be made out of just about anything, from fabric to straw. I’ve got a velvet one. The trilby is probably the most popular hat for both men and women today.

It’s an easy hat to wear. Frank Sinatra’s favorite hat was the trilby. It looks really good on both men and women, especially if it’s worn to the side at an angle. It was named after a short story, “Trilby,” that became a play. It’s a pretty versatile hat. You can wear it dressed up or dressed down. Most people wear it very casually.

I love wearing men’s vintage fedoras, about 50-year-old fedoras. The quality is wonderful. They come in blues, grays, tans, and black. The Indiana Jones hat is a fedora.

Collectors Weekly: When was the fedora invented?

Cornyn-Selby: Interestingly, the fedora was also named after a play. In the 1880s, Sarah Bernhardt played the lead in a play called “Fedora,” so the fedora started life on the head of a woman. She wore it with a big plume sticking out of it. Robert Downey Jr. wears a fedora in the new Sherlock Holmes movie—on his, the brim kind of curls up a little bit. That may not be totally historically accurate, but it’s close. From about 1910 on, everybody’s father and grandfather wore that style of hat.

Part of the fedora’s popularity came about because it wasn’t as stiff as the bowler, straw boater, or top hat. Shellac in the fur felt and straw made those types of hats stiff. Shellac comes from India. At one point there was a shortage of shellac, so hatters started making hats without shellac and called them soft hats. Cavanaugh, Dobbs, all the major hat companies made fedoras.

Collectors Weekly: Who were the major hat companies?

Cornyn-Selby: Cavanaugh, an American company, was considered the top of the line. Christie’s and Herbert Johnson in London were two others. Christie’s Hats has been around for generations. Lock’s Hat Shop can produce any kind of hat you want. They’re still in business and very popular. Borsalino, an Italian company, is probably the foremost maker of men’s hats today. They can provide you with any style and make your hat out of just about any material. Dobbs was another good one. They were on 5th Avenue in New York.

When it comes to hat designers, you’re pretty much talking about women’s hats. People who make women’s hats are called milliners. There’s a straw named for the city Milan, which was and is a major fashion center. So the term milliner came from Milaner.

Styles don’t change in men’s hats in the same way that they do in women’s. You don’t really have hat designers for men because a lot of the hats they wear would’ve been available a hundred years ago. That’s true with all men’s fashions. The suit really hasn’t changed very much. A guy could wear a suit from the 1940s and look well dressed today.

Collectors Weekly: What is America known for?

Cornyn-Selby: The only true American hat is the baseball cap. That’s the only one that actually got its start here. The original baseball cap was like a beanie with a little bill. It’s the one that you see Babe Ruth wearing.

When people say the word Stetson, almost everybody immediately thinks cowboy hats. But Stetson was not a Wild West guy at all; he was a Philadelphia businessman. He started his company in 1860. The cowboy hat was not even an American invention. Mongolian horsemen wore it first, they brought it to the Spanish, the Spanish brought it to Mexico, and then it made its way to the Wild West. Stetson wanted to make money so he sold cowboy hats to wealthy cattlemen.

We associate cowboy hats with the American West, but Mongolian horsemen wore them first.

Today Stetson does a lot more than make cowboy hats. They make bowler hats and all the English walking hats, which are essentially different types of trilbies. They’re made out of what looks like wool fabric, like a man’s suit. They even have a line of women’s hats called Lady Stetson. We have an Indiana Jones-style fedora that’s made by Stetson. So when you say Stetson, you can’t just mean the cowboy hat.

I think the foremost maker of cowboy hats today is probably Rand Custom Hatters in Billings, Montana. They make gorgeous cowboy hats, some of them costing thousands of dollars. They’ve made cowboy hats for Ronald Reagan and every country star you can imagine.

There is a wonderful book called “The Cowboy Hat.” It used to be that you could tell where a person was from by the shape of the hat. You knew if they were from Montana or from Arizona by the width of the brim and the shape of the hat. That isn’t true today, but there are different styles of cowboy hats.

There’s a wonderful story about a restaurant in Dallas that had received a reservation for 10. When the appointed time came, five guys came walking in the door. The maitre d’ was looking around thinking that maybe the wives were still out in the parking lot, but it was just these five guys. So they sat down at the table with a chair between each one of them, took off their cowboy hats, and put them in the chairs.

The 10-gallon hat actually has an interesting history. A 10-gallon hat doesn’t hold 10 gallons; the name is derived from the Spanish word galon, meaning braid. So a 10-gallon hat was just a name for a hat with braiding around the brim.

You’ve got to ask yourself why men don’t wear hats as much today as they did back in the ’30s and ’40s? I think one of the reasons was the hatcheck system. You’d have to tip the hatcheck person a dime or a quarter each time you checked your hat. In the 1940s, a nice men’s hat would cost $3.98. If you had lunch every day for a week and you tipped a dime every day, that’s 50 cents. Within a couple of months, you’ve bought your hat all over again. So men decided to start leaving their hats at home because it got kind of expensive.

Collectors Weekly: Are there certain rare hats that collectors look for?

Cornyn-Selby: Like anything, the older the hat is, the more rare it is. Anything made of fabric tends to fall apart. They used a lot of silks 150 years ago, and those hats just turned to dust.

We have some very rare beaver-fur felt top hats that are about 130 years old. We also have hats that were worn in the movies. We have a gray homburg that was worn in the movie “Chicago.” The men’s hat section in the museum has the best history lessons.

Collectors Weekly: How do you preserve the older hats?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not dress his Sherlock Holmes character in a deerstalker hat, but Hollywood did.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not dress his Sherlock Holmes character in a deerstalker hat, but Hollywood did.

Cornyn-Selby: That’s a real challenge. You should never put plastic anywhere near vintage fabric, and that includes the hats. If you want to just collect a hat and not wear it, then your best bet is to wrap it in the old tissue paper and put it in a box. You want an environment that’s as moisture-free as possible—not too hot, not too cold. You don’t want to put it in a basement or an attic where it doesn’t get any heat.

Basically, your hat’s going to want the same environment that you want. It wants to be dry and at a normal temperature and covered up. We don’t allow photography at the museum because the light affects straw and fabric.

If you want to display your hat at home, the best bet is to put it in a Plexiglas case or under glass. A display cabinet or something like that would work. Keep the lights off it as much as possible—you can turn them on when you’re showing off your collection. That’s what we do. We keep the lights out until we have somebody here to see the hats, and then we click a button and all the lights fly on.

Collectors Weekly: What is your opinion about wearing vintage hats?

Cornyn-Selby: One of the reason I love men’s hats is because they are tough. The inside sweatband of those vintage ’50s fedoras might wear out, but if it’s made of really good leather, it’ll still be strong enough for use. I wear hats that are 50, 60 years old, no problem. I’ll even wear them in the rain. A good fur felt hat is going to be waterproof. I don’t have any trouble wearing men’s hats, I’ll wear them every day.

I’ve had a few of the big Edwardian women’s hats, but I’d probably wear a reproduction if I were going to wear it outside. The straw could crack. You have to be gentle with them.

If you ruin a vintage hat, you’ve really lost a piece of history. Nobody’s making these old hats anymore, so we have a tendency to keep our hands off of those things.

Collectors Weekly: What advice do you have for would-be hat collectors?

Cornyn-Selby: There are lots of really good books on men’s hats. Deb Henderson has written a few. Neil Steinberg wrote “Hatless Jack” and “The History of American Style,” which is an excellent book. It has a lot of information about all different kinds of hats, but especially about American men’s hats and the reasons why men don’t wear them so much anymore.

With hats, there’s always something new to learn. Even though I run a hat museum, there are hats I’ve never heard of before. There is a wonderful website, www.hatshapers.com, that lists all the different names for hat styles. For example, there’s apparently a hat called a vagabond. I’ve no idea what that looks like. There’s one called a volendam. I don’t know what that one is, either.

(All images courtesy Alyce Cornyn-Selby of The Hat Museum)

62 comments so far

  1. Jaye Dobreer-Yaruss Says:

    What a fabulous and meaningful article. I have taken the tour at The Hat Museum in Portland 3 times and I live in CA! I learn something new every time and feel as though I step back into a gentler Era each time I walk through those beautiful rooms filled with history and hats. The Gift Shoppe and the workrooms are really fun – there is nothing like trying on a Reproduction and taking one home, even if you think you won’t wear it. I have one on display. It is a hat I was challenged to make when I was there the second time and have worn it once in public. It is a large Edwardian-style with lots of ribbons and roses and a pink dove on the brim. Wearing a period hat in public is a step outside of your comfort zone where you will find confidence and success. Brava, Alyce! Thanks for the opportunity to bring bye-gone beauty and knowledge into my life.

  2. John Penman Says:

    I really enjoyed reading the interview and I’m so glad you have a place like this.

  3. Prof. A D Godbee Says:

    Hello Alyce: My questions concerns the cowboy hats such as the one Ken Maynard wares in his Westerfn series with Buster Crabb, Bob Steel and Hoot Gibson. It has a very tall crown in addition to the wide brim. I should like to get one like it but can’t find one on the internet. As I recall,Roy and Gene also wore a “Stetson” with this same tall (I’d venture to say over 7″ may 8″ high maybe possibly creased but even “dented”on each side. You may have to sit and watch one of the re-re-re-rerun to get the idea. Any suggestions on the details will be most apprecitve.

  4. Alyce Says:

    3 sources: Rand Hats in Billings, Montana, Miller Hats in Houston, and Baron Hats in Los Angeles. I am forwarding websites to you. That’s a great hat and it can be yours in a heartbeat!! Images of Ken Maynard and his hat, go to google, click on “images” and type in Ken’s name.

  5. Connie Says:

    I have what appears to be a child’s felt beanie hat that has baseball figures on the front brim. It is brown and orange triangles which come together at the top with a button on top. It is similar to the “archie style” beanie hat, but the brim is smooth, not pointy. Do you have any information about the age of the item or value ?
    Thanks for your help !

  6. Alyce Says:

    We would have to actually see the hat to give you a better idea. Typically there are 6 triangles sewn together and the gathering point is where the button goes. We have one in yellow and green and we thought it was a child’s hat–it wasn’t! It was worn at a private boys school in Wisconsin in 1965 and underclassmen (ages about 15 and 16)HAD to wear this beanie style hat. This little beanie was donated to our museum along with a photo of a group of teenage boys all wearing it. So you may not have a little kid’s hat there–you might have a school hat. With those colors, this might be likely. Where did the hat come from? Was there a high school with orange and brown as their colors? Any private schools in the area? Historical societies are GREAT SOURCES of information so if you know the general area, check with the historical society there. The VALUE of the hat will be with the person who would have some attachment to what the hat stands for. We have a collection of children’s hats and individually they aren’t worth all THAT much. But if there was an alum or someone who might have nostalgic feelings for it…they might pay for it. Without the background (like we have on our beanie), it’s just a beanie. If you do discover its origins then you might be able to donate the hat to school or historic display and then write it off your taxes (only if they can provide a tax number for you). I hope this helps you. We were VERY surprised that such a small beanie was worn by a large teenage boy!

  7. Steve D Says:

    I have a pine needle hat that folds up. It was purchased in the Bahamas in the mid 1960′s. It is barn red, vertical pine needles, held together w/decorative banding which is inter-woven @ top, bottom. There is a hole in top to allow it to collapes. The hat is in excellenent condition. I have had several collectors offer $$$$ to own it. Please give me some insight on this hat please.
    Sincerely, Steve D.

  8. Alyce Says:

    It is difficult to picture a hat from reading a description. We would have to see it–at least photographs. What specifically do you want to know about this hat? Construction? Origin? Value? If you are interested in keeping the hat or selling the hat to an interested buyer…we need to know what insight you would like to have. Please feel free to send photos and questions. We’d be happy to help any way we can. Thank you for contacting The Hat Museum

  9. Gladhatter Says:

    Hello and nice to find this website. Guess I would like to offer to help you clear up some misinformation on felting if I could and help you fill in any gaps you may have.

    Would you consider a donation of around 6000 hats and tons of ephemera and the help of a hat historian and 3rd generation hatter and Milliner if he is interested in supporting your cause? I know he has sought to donate the collection before.

    Thanks Charlie http://www.gladhatter.com a free public hat forum.

  10. Alyce Says:

    We always appreciate getting help and information on ALL aspects of hats! We receive questions from around the world, answer when we can or ask one of our experts. Any hat experts who would like to lend a hand in this effort we would gladly welcome their expertise! Your donation question will be answered directly. Please keep in mind that we are the National Hat Museum and NOT a collection. That is, you won’t find hundreds of any one style; we show the history, evolution and variety of hats rather than just collecting what we like. There are hats here that I personally wouldn’t wear to a dog fight but they are important to the era they depict (pill box hats, for instance).

  11. Vincent P. Allen Says:

    Hello there! I’m in England (that’s the original not New England by the way!). I must say, Ok, now what a very interesting and informative read this has been! I’ve learnt a lot and am indeed inspired to learn more about the history of, and skills involved in, hat history and manufacture. Well anyway, I’m a hat collector myself (I suppose we might use the term ‘Enthusiast’ over here!). So I’ve been collecting headwear for about 20 years now, sort of by accident really, but only ones I am prepared to wear, and nothing of any value or rarity or such. Nevertheless I enjoy wearing my hats and caps very much. I reckon I must have about one hundred and fifty, e.g. baseball caps, Western hats, military hats etc. Nothing exotic or very expensive, just hats I love to wear. When I go out, for a walk etc, I just don’t feel right unless I’ve got the right hat (and walking stick too if I’m in the country or on the sea shore) for the occasion. My favourite hat/cap would have to be one of my ‘Baker Boy’/'News Boy’ style caps and my Robert Duval L.t. Col. Kilgore U.S. Cavalry style type which he wore in the film; ‘Apocalypse Now’. I’d like to suggest Alyce, that another reason for the decline in men wearing hats after the Second World War was that men became more fussy about their (our!) hair styles. To put it simply, we men became more interested in showing off our hair styles to the ladies! I’d say this applied especially to the period from about the mid-1950′s to the late ’60′s. I’m not so sure myself that hat wearing by men has really quite recovered to what it had been in the 1940′s, though it seems to have picked up again somewhat from about sometime in the 1990′s perhaps? I am generalising of course, and speaking more of my perception of men’s (and women’s) hat wearing in Britain than anywhere else.

  12. Alyce Says:

    The wonderful book “Hatless Jack” gives fantastic accounts of men’s head gear and all the things that influences hatwearing. Love, love, love this book! After WWII several things influenced hat wearing for men–without a hat, a man appeared (so they thought) more cavalier, more “out there.” The effect of “hat check” put a dent too, because a man ended up “buying his hat” over and over again every time he had to check the hat. JFK was credited or blamed (depending on your opinion) with killing the hat but that isn’t exactly right. He didn’t like hats and the hat industry gave him hats he never wore. But he DID wear one to his inauguration (a top hat)–it’s a popular myth that he didn’t. You are right: both men and women wanted to show off their hair. That’s because hair care products had improved to the point that you could now control it! No hair spray or mousse or conditioners in the 30′s!!! (There was also a myth that hat wearing caused baldness and many believed it!)

    I strongly recommend a visit to Stockport, England to see the fabulous Hat Museum there!!! That’s where I learned that the ONLY thing in Britain that was NOT rationed during WWII was women’s hats!!!!!!! The museum took over a factory and you can see exactly how fur felt was made by hand and then how it was made in the factory. Stockport has MUCH to see, not just the museum!! It’s a bit southeast of Manchester. Also Luton was a center for hat making and has an exhibit going right now about felted hats!! The V&A in London and the Bath museums also have hats for your enjoyment.

  13. Gordon Roy Says:

    The town in Connecticut renowned for hatting is Danbury, not Danvers. I should know as I live there. More interesting is that I emigrated here 9 years ago from Stockport, England. I must be one of the very few people who have lived in both great hatting cities. [albeit Stockport is classified as a town].

  14. Alyce Says:

    Yes, I know it is Danbury, that was a mistake that didn’t get corrected. It’s important! So thank you. And you are the only person I know who has such a great connection to both of those very “hatted” communities. There’s a lot to see in Stockport (more than hats!) and I plan on going back and finishing my list of things to see there. The air raid shelter from WWII was fascinating and made a big impression on me.

  15. Ben Says:

    Danbury has been corrected, thanks for flagging!
    -Ben

  16. Gordon Roy Says:

    Thanks Alice

    I’m glad I could help.

    My mother would never visit the Air Raid shelters with me, as she says she had enough of them in her youth. She actually had to stay in them a large number of nights during the war, so had first hand experience of it.

    Next time you are in Stockport visit the Staircase House. It is very interresting too. Also the viaduct is the biggest single brick structure in Europe I believe – over 11,000,000 bricks

    Best wishes

    Gordon

  17. Gordon Roy Says:

    Sorry I meant Alyce – not the Wonderland variety!

    If I may digress again about the Stockport area, another couple of interesting spots to visit are: Quarry Bank Mill – about 15 minutes from Stockport [expect to spend at least 4-5 hours there] where the old textile machines are demonstrated and the old apprentices dormitories ares open to view [I recall that the girls received more space than the boys!]. Also in Stockport itself is the old outdoor market [which while delightful is sadly is not a patch on what it was 10 years ago] which is open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It just had its 750th anniversary of the original market charter being awarded; and it still is at the original site – which is most unusual.

    Coincidentally Danbury just celebrated its 325th anniversary too this last weekend and there were references to its hatting heritage in the local newspaper. What they did not mention is that Christy travelled from Stockport to Danbury to assist them with the development of their hatting industry. Who knows what the outcome would have been if he had not done so? This visit is actually not mentioned anywhere else on the web that I can find, but I believe is in the booklet produced by Hat Works in Stockport.

    I get to Stockport/Manchester area about 3 times a year, so please let me know if I can help you in any way.

    Best wishes

    Gordon

  18. Alyce Says:

    You and I could be a 2-person PR team for “Visit Stockport”!!! (The place might be the best kept secret in Britain!) I bought a hat at the wonderful old market when I was there!

  19. Maureen Caunitz Says:

    Thank you, I enjoyed your interview. I have a top hat from G.A. Dunn & Co. with the address Bristish Manufactured with the initials F.E.B. and a label sewed in reads: Mr. Whitehead. Can you or anyone tell me anything about it. Thanks, Maureen

  20. Alyce Says:

    What specifically would you like to know?

  21. Carolyn Unverferth Says:

    I have a mens’ dark olive- headband black with green feather & a fawn silver pin on it -Wormser hat- a fawn finish xxxbeaver, code of arms, under plastic in the inside top of the hat. Regency Series size 7 1/8 in pristine condition placed in a Wromser black box with leather strap gold buckle- also pristine condition.– Bought in early 1960s’ maybe ’61 –Can you tell me the worth- Thinking about selling it. would appreciate your opion.—Carolyn Unverferth

  22. Alyce Says:

    Sounds like a perfectly wonderful hat. It really depends where you are. Vintage clothing stores in NYC would probably be interested. If you’re in Slapout, Oklahoma, however, you probably won’t find a buyer. As to value, your best bet is to go to eBay and look for their summary sales of similar hats. You don’t have to take my word or anyone else’s–get the stats for yourself. Your top price will probably come from eBay. We don’t appraise hats unless we can visually see them and there are too many factors that we take into account to go over them here. If you can’t/don’t sell the hat, you may find a place to donate it in your area–historical society or theatre group–for a tax deduction. I hope this helps you. Of course, we think the best thing for this hat would be for someone to be wearing it–man or woman! I wore a vintage man’s fedora just this morning to go to the Post Office.

  23. Tammi Says:

    I recently received several vintage hats from my grandparents and have a Wormser fedora with a long string and button attached. What was the purpose of this, did it attach to a shirt or coat possibly? My 9 and 10 year old love them!

  24. Alyce Says:

    “Wind-button”–that’s what that string is called by some hatters. Usually on fedoras, it used to be that finer quality hats had them. Today, last I checked, only certain Borsalino hats have them. And yes, they were extra security, in case the wind blew the hat off your head. And yes, you put the button in a coat/jacket/shirt button hole. In the 1880′s top hats had a detachable security strap that clipped to the back of the hat and then to the coat collar (top hats catch the wind EASILY). Nowadays you can find something similar for hats used for fishing or river running, white water rafting. Bowler hats worn in certain horse riding events can have the string permanently anchored to the hat and then a clip or securer at the other end.

  25. lorenzo watson III Says:

    I have recently bought a hat from a flea market,the hat inside says Adams Premier “the first name in hats” on what seems to be silk under plastic,it also has a sheild or crest with white letters A H on red backrounds. approx. what year hat is this.

  26. lorenzo watson III Says:

    in reference to my comment/question; It looks like the god father hat

  27. Alyce Says:

    Well, it is impossible to tell you much about this hat without seeing at least photographs. In the “Godfather” franchise of movies there were a lot of different styles worn by different actors so saying that this is a Godfather hat doesn’t help us. On the internet we notice that the Homburg hat is sometimes called a “Godfather” hat. Since you mention there was plastic inside the crown that flags it as a fairly modern hat. We call modern anything made after 1950. “Adams the first name in hats” is an advertising slogan that Adams would be first on the list alphabetically, not necessarily quality-wise. I am assuming this is a felt hat.

  28. Jay Says:

    I recently bought a fine felt cowboy hat, single center crease 6″ crown and 3″ brim with silk band and the markings “Disney, registered New York” on the leather head band. I’m having trouble finding much info on the company and the approximate age of this hat. Any thoughts? Thanks, Jay

  29. Alyce Says:

    We would have to see the hat or photos of the hat. I don’t like to assume anything but “Disney” would probably mean Disney ala Walt. Disney has made all kinds of hats from Davey Crockett hats to Edwardian hats. I personally don’t know of any other Disney hat companies.

  30. Jay Says:

    I did find a reference to a “Disney Hatmakers, since 1885″ and a old address
    of Disney, Inc. at 358 Fifth Ave. New York, NY. Don’t know if this helps. I
    bought the hat at a Old West Symposium of Western Artifacts in Ruidoso, New
    Mexico in 2009.
    Thanks again. Jay

  31. Alyce Says:

    Jay, you’ve really done your homework–exxcellent! We have had good luck finding information about various hat shops and hat makers by going to the historical societies of the CITY where the business called home. Most historical societies have information on old businesses. A hat fancier just this past Saturday, however, told us about a feature on google…you click on books and type in the name of the company and you can research almost the same records. Either way, there’s 2 things you can try. As a museum, we like the personal contact of getting in touch with other museums. BYW, what more did you want to know about the hat? Again you can send us photos and we can possibly help further…as well as this web site and, if it is a fedora, the Fedora Lounge website.

  32. Julianna Says:

    My mom recently was given a hat from her mother inlaw that had belonged to her father inlaw. It is a 1882 Bernnard Feiler mans top hat and is in excellent condtion. The hat is in a hat box hat had some really neat stamps including one from the Queen Mary. I have been trying to do some research but come up with nothing. I am in the Washington DC area.

  33. Alyce Says:

    What specific information are you looking for?

  34. Mary Bernard Says:

    Am rather ancient and remember the Adams Hat radio commercial from the early 1940s, which you and your readers might find amusing. In the commercial, a woman sings, “I go for a man who wears an Adams Hat. I go for a man who wears an Adams Hat”. Then a male voice sings, “Well, if you feel like that, I’ll buy and Adams Hat”. Then, the female voice sings, “I go for a man who wears an Adams Hat”.

  35. Mary Bernard Says:

    In the 1940s, my mother wore what were called “Milan” hats. They all had very wide brims. Some of the crowns were short and flat, others were higher and domed. I checked a number of Internet sources, but find nothing on them except that exceptionally well made hats (straw, if I remember correctly) were made in Milan. Can you direct me to an Internet site where I could see some of the hats to compare? Thank you.

  36. Alyce Says:

    Milan is a famous fashion city and it used to be that the finest straw came thru Milan. I do not know of any particular STYLE that is associated with the city of Milan. In face, now that I think of it, the Homburg hat is named after a city but few hat styles are named after places. If anyone else has info on this, would love to hear it!

  37. William M Deneen sr Says:

    I have a ” smokey and the bandit ” suede leather stetson some where around the middle 70′s and i wondered if this hat has any collector value it has never been worn outside of buildings or around any smokers! Could you give me some insight on this, thank you.

  38. Alyce Says:

    It appears (according to our research) that all the hats used in the “Smokey and The Bandit” were of felt (B. Reynolds and J. Gleason) or straw (J. Reed). You use the term “stetson” as a description and Stetson is a company, so we’re not sure if you mean “It is in the style of a cowboy hat” or “It is a product of the Stetson Company.” People frequently say Stetson when they mean cowboy hat–and the Stetson Company makes bowlers, fedoras, wool fabric walking hats and even women’s hats. If you mean what you have is a suede leather hat, it wouldn’t have much value to a collector since we’ve seen dozens in thrift stores and vintage clothing stores for $5 to $20. As always, to give a definite answer, we would have to see photos of the hat. Hope this helps!

  39. Jay groom Says:

    I just bought my first vintage hat from an antique dealer because my wife loves the way it looks on me (I’ve loved the Indiana Jones style fedora for years). The hat I bought was in a hat box with the name Ranleigh Hats on the lid, and the hat is a black bowler hat. A sticker on the inside center of the hat says John B. Stetson Compant, Philidelphia and a “R” is imprinted on the hat. The inside brim has the Stetson logo imprinted on one side and New York Clothing House, Baltimore, MD. imprinted on the opposite side. Then on the brim and on a tag of the hat is the numbers B33907, Lot 4812. Is there anything you can tell me about this hat,how old it is, etc. from this information? We paid $110 for it. Don’t know if that was a good price or not. My wife is happy, so I am happy.

  40. alyce Says:

    Jay, congrats on finding a hat that you can love and have it be in your life forever. It’s amazing that a hat can become like a pet (been to a pet store lately? this hat you found cost a lot less than a puppy! it won’t require house training and it will sit quietly waiting for your company). There is an elegant Stetson bowler here at The Hat Museum, lined with white satin, embossed in gold! We consulted our expert, Garrett, and he gave us a pretty thorough answer:

    When dealing with John B Stetson tag numbers are useless as a date reference. A union tag would help but Stetson didn’t use the union so the traditional union tag found on other brands will be absent here. The serial number should be on the red/white size tag and the lot number will usually refer to the sweatband and be stamped in black ink on the back of it. As stated above these items don’t really help us date the hat. What we can do is use the logo itself as a dating tool. I’ll need to see photographs of the crest on the crown as well as the sweatband to make a decent guess on this one. Another factor will be crown height and brim width in addition to how thin the ribbon on the bound edge is. The Bowler/Derby evolved over time since its inception in 1849 and higher crowns with short brims were a common trait of this hat in the 19th century. The early 20th century saw the proportions change a bit with lower crowns and wider brims being the norm.

    As far as value is concerned size and condition are the biggest factors. Larger hats from yesteryear are somewhat rare to find as people were generally smaller back then and so were their noggins. Common sizes were 6 7/8 – 7 1/8. Nowadays, you’ll see the common sizes at 7 1/8 – 7 3/8. The market for vintage hats in larger sizes is vast and when in good condition these can fetch a premium but if it were a fedora, which is what most vintage hunters look for, it would be worth even more. Many hat hunters turn down the formal hats (Bowler/Derby,Homburg and Top Hat) in favor of the stylish Golden Era fedora. The most important thing is that you’re happy with it.

    Cheers,

    Garrett

  41. Duane Says:

    I found a vintage Derby made by Disney hat company of New York. It has the original box. The hat is in wonderful condition, but I can’t find any information on the Disney hat company. When were they in business and what quality were their hats?

  42. alyce Says:

    “Disney Hatmakers, since 1885″ and a old address
    of Disney, Inc. at 358 Fifth Ave. New York, NY.
    We would have to actually see the hat to give you an opinion of quality.

  43. Alison Says:

    Hello Alyce,
    I have been interested in Christy hats and our Christy family for many years, so was pleased to find some information on this website. I am now the proud owner of a vintage velvet embroidered smoker’s cap made by Christys’ of London. Would like to find some history of these tyoe of hats and an approximate age if there was a book or website with details, if anyone knows of one, would be great.

  44. alyce Says:

    We can only imagine what an embroidered smoker’s cap might look like and we just can’t tell you much without photographs. Christy Hats has been around since 1773 and we have several very high quality Christy hats here at the museum along with the coveted red and gold hat box. Send photos along with specific questions and we’ll be very happy to give you any information that we have!

  45. judy mathies Says:

    A friend of mine has a beaver top hat made in the 1800′s. My question is, since the hat is very old, it is starting to deteriorate. Is there anything (chemical or otherwise) that he can put on it to keep it in it’s present condition?

  46. alyce Says:

    Judy, congrats on having this hat! Quick answer, as I suspected is, NO. I consulted 4 other experts just in case there was some product I didn’t know about. There really isn’t. Garrett Wonder, mens’ hat expert writes: “I would definitely advise AGAINST putting anything on a hat of that age.” The author of the book on Top Hats (D. Henderson) writes: “Probably what they have is a silk plush hat (called a beaver) and the silk is coming apart. You can tell if you can see woven fabric at the crown top edge. If it is a fur left hat, the deterioration is a breakdown (molding, insects, etc.) in the felt itself. A gentle dusting of either could remove deteriorating elements. Sadly, there is nothing to put on the hat itself that would not mat or ruin what is there.” The curator of a hat museum in England wrote a long answer which I’ll condense: “There really isn’t anything that can be done to reverse the deterioration, but safe storage will slow it down. Assuming the hat does not have its own box, store in an acid free box and wrap the hat in acid free tissue. Temperature should be lower rather than higher around 40 – 50 degrees, humidity kept at 50 – 60%, and all light natural or electric will not only cause fading but will cause the fibres to deteriorate.” My answer (and experience) is the same as the experts: Keep dust off of it. Keep light away from it. Keep it coolish. Our beaver fur felt hats sit in the dark and have light given to them only when there is a tour. And, of course, a nice glass case keeps the dust away. There really is nothing to put on the hat to restore it. Now, having said all this…we are all assuming you mean the outside of the hat. If the deterioration you mentioned is on the inside of the hat, there may be a little you can do but not much. Photos of the problem would certainly help. And, of course, we like to actually see the patient…

  47. Ron Riggle Says:

    What a great find this website is. Would like to learn more of the history of the Disney Hat Co., New York. Have three of their hats and wonder when they went out of business and how. Were they bought out or did they just fold?

  48. alyce Says:

    Our expert says that he believes the company folded in the late 50′s or early 60′s. If anyone else knows differently, perhaps they will also post. Thanks for compliment!

  49. Donnastassel Says:

    Purchased atop hat with Benetts of London marked inside. It has the original leather box with a lock and initials from Baltimore Maryland. Could you please tell me the date? thank you

  50. alyce Says:

    Please send photos of the INSIDE as well as the outside of the hat and the leather box and we will do our best to give you an approximate date.

  51. Marti Reed Says:

    I have a “Mr Disney New York” long oval Lot #F30, that is stamped “Mosks Stores for Men Houston. It is in the original hat box. I’d like to know something of it’s history and date. Thank you so much!

  52. alyce Says:

    We would have to see the hat…or at least photos of the hat inside and out to help you date the hat. Disney Hatmakers since 1885, 358 5th Avenue, New York City. The Houston information is the name of the hat shop where the hat was sold, the MAKER of the hat is Disney (no relation to the mouse outfit). Frequently men’s hats have both the maker and the store imprinted in the sweatband. Certainly sounds like you may have yourself a wonderful vintage hat and I hope it fits you! Send photos to The Hat Museum if you want to: justalyce@usa.net

    We have had good luck finding information about various hat shops and hat makers by going to the historical societies of the CITY where the business called home. Most historical societies have information on old businesses. A hat fancier just this past Saturday, however, told us about a feature on google…you click on books and type in the name of the company and you can research almost the same records. Either way, there’s 2 things you can try.

  53. JT Thompson Says:

    Hi Alyce,
    I just wanted to let you know that famed hatmaker and philanthropist John B Stetson’s winter mansion was purchased several years back ago and has been magnificantly restored. We are located in Deland, Fl and welcome thousands of visitors a year from around the world to experience the grand architecture and craftmanship of Florida’s first luxury estate. You can visit us at http://www.stetsonmansion.com to see some of the spectacular woodworking and design elements. Great article!

  54. Alyce Says:

    Thanks for the heads up about this! If I wasn’t buying a Royal Stewart trilby here in Scotland at the moment, I’d pop right on over. At The Hat Museum we have many, MANY Stetsons including an elegant bowler, tweed walking hats, an Indy Jones repro and even a Lady Stetson. There’s also a miniature hat box with tiny sample inside–a homburg. We have even donated 2 Stetsons to the hat museum in England (Luton). Appreciate your letting us know about the Stetson home.

  55. Dear Helen Hartman Says:

    Hats off to you for a fabulous article. I love the pic and the history and to know there are other avid collectors out there.
    http://dearhelenhartman.blogspot.com/

  56. Alyce Says:

    I really appreciate the compliment. Thank you.

  57. JAY HODSHON Says:

    LOOKING FOR INFORMATION THE HODSHON HAT CO FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK LATER HODSHON-BERG. THEY MFG. IN DANBURY CONN, 1900 HAD STORES NEWARK, PASSAIC, PATERSON, N.J. OHIO, WEST VA. MARYLAND ETC. MY DAD RALPH JAMES HODSHON MANAGED THE NEWARK STORE 1917. I HAVE PHOTOS OF THIS STORE. ALSO HAVE A HAT BOX WITH FIFTH AVE, N.Y.C. MUST HAVE HAD AN OFFICE IN THE CITY. THANKS JAY

  58. Jay Says:

    I recently purchased a Stetson Derby on ebay, and I was looking for information to date the hat. The labels in the hat are, Stetson Co Block 522 depth 5. To Duplicate Mention E309283, this I assume is the original order number. Made to Hat Industry Code Authority 347129. There is another label that I believe is the Serial Number which reads 7902, but I read in a previous post that the Serial Number does not necessarily date the hat.

  59. Angela Says:

    This article was SUPER informative! Thank you! I came across it while researching my hat collection. I am starting a costume rental and photography store and so far I have bought out 3 small costume stores in my area and I have aquired approx 450 hats of numerous eras and styles. I am keeping many of them because they will be useful or because they are unique…but there are over 150 that I am not sure what to do with. Do you have any suggestions on how to find out if there is any value to them or what I should do? I am situated near Vancouver B.C. in Canada. Thanks in advance!

  60. james barron Says:

    I have found a Royal Stetson ” Whippit” Derby style hat that has never beed shaped or formed. It is in great shape and it came in a octogan box from Dobbs Fifth Ave. What year did the Whippit Stetson come available? I have kept this hat for the past 30 years plus. Just don’t know much about it.
    Please help………James in Texas

  61. Kevin Says:

    Can anyone tell me what type of leather hat is Jack Bruce wearing on the back of the “Best of” Cream album from 1969?

  62. carol Says:

    Do you have any information on Adele Claire , New York hats?
    I have one and have searched for more information. Everyone online says they can’t find a thing on her. She may have been a small shop in New York.
    Any information is appreciated.


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