Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Pin a La Chapeau

Question: My grandmother had a great collection of ladies’ hatpins, you know, the kind worn during Victorian times when women always wore hats. I inherited her collection and would like to continue collecting them. I always admired her hatpins whenever I visited her. I guess that’s why she left them to me. What can you tell me about these large and sometimes very fancy hatpins?

Answer: Hatpins are a hot collectible now, so you should be able to find some great additions to your grandmother’s collection.

Many of today’s women don’t wear a hat regularly. And if they do, it’s most likely some sort of cap. Hats today aren’t an important fashion accessory, except perhaps in England.  But there was a time when going out in public without a hat was as much a fashion faux pas as wearing white shoes after Labor Day.  Women kept their hats on their heads by means of a hatpin.

Silversmiths began making the earliest hatpins around 1850. These hatpins had shanks  ranging from 6 to 13 inches long, with the most popular being about 7½ inches. Women used hatpins to not only keep their hats in place, but also to anchor the hair-pieces and highly-piled hairstyles of the Victorian Era.

Hats during Victorian times, especially in the 1890s, were very big and sat on top of a  ridiculously high hairstyle. So the hatpin became the mainstay of every woman's coiffure. Hats of the time sported everything from buckles, beads and flowers to actual stuffed birds. Sometimes a woman needed three to six hatpins to hold a large, heavy hat in place.

Hats and haptins go hand-in-hand. When hats were large, so were hatpins. So what caused the demise of the large hat? By the dawn of the 20th century, the automobile had come on the scene, so smaller hats were more suitable. These smaller hats therefore required smaller pins.

By the onset of World War II, ladies no longer had to wear hats in public. Though some still wore smaller hats, hatpins became nothing more than frivolous ornaments. From 1850 to 1901, hatpin makers used a variety of materials to make their pins. Many were hand-wrought, ornate and often custom-made. When the small bonnets of the 1840s gave way to the larger hats of the 1850s, hatpins became necessary.

The mid-19th century also brought with it die-stamping and the ability to mass-produce pins. The manufacturing of hatpins, took off. These mass produced hatpins were nowhere near the quality of those made by hand.

Besides being functional, hatpins were also ornamental. Only imagination limited the variety of hatpins made. When the Art Nouveau style gained popularity, hatpins incorporated flower and leaf motifs and anything that had to do with nature. Manufacturers used jewels, precious metals and jet to produce hatpins making the majority of the more elaborate creations quite expensive. Except for the wealthy, hatpins of precious stones and metals were priced out of reach for most women. However, there were imitations selling for as little as 29 cents.

Top U.S. hatpin producers included such famous names as Louis C. Tiffany of New York, William J. Codmand of Providence and the American `clique' comprised of James T. Wooley, Barton P. Jenks, and George C. Gebelein. While these makers worked primarily in metals, manufacturers of glassware in New Jersey, Ohio, and Massachusetts produced glass-headed pins..

Silver was the metal of choice during the Art Nouveau period. Major American manufacturers of these hatpins included Unger Bros. of New York and New Jersey; The Sterling Company and Alvin Manufacturing Company, both of Providence, Rhode Island, and R. Blackinton & Company of North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Man collectors consider the hatpins created during the Art Nouveau period as being the finest examples made, with those crafted by Renee Lalique of Paris to be second to none.

Settings of many hatpins incorporate shells, scrolls and leaves being almost rococo in design, while others are made with beaded heads, woven raffia, fine needlepoint or polished straw. Collectors seek hatpins that have carved ivory heads, as well as those made with abalone, pearls, and gemstones.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about the Victorians in the Winter 2018 Edition, "All Things Victorian," online now.  

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