Hatting History in Objects

These hatting objects represent hand tools and personal items used by hatters, milliners and hat wearers.

The hat block on the left is for forming trilby hats, the one in the centre, complete with a hat brim ring, is for forming bowler hats and the one on the right is for forming homburg hats.

William Plant & Co was one of the last traditional hat block manufacturers and it closed in 1976.

Hat steamers are used in the blocking and forming of hats. Their purpose is to dampen and soften felt without affecting the stiffener in the felt or saturating it. During steaming a felt hood becomes pliable and easy to form into the required shape on a hat block.

It is understood that sad-irons were so called because they were very heavy to use. Initially they were of all cast-iron construction (illustrated left) and the handles became very hot when the they were heated up for use.

The hat egg iron on the right is used to shape and smooth felt into hollow areas of a hat block such as one used to form trilby hats.

These boxwood tools are used to cut the hat brim to the required width measured from the crown of the hat. To use it a hat is placed over a hat block resting on a cutting mat. While holding the hat down the curved part of the tool is held against the crown and then pressed down so that the cutting blade below the tool cuts through the brim. The tool is then rotated around the crown and the blade cuts the brim to the required width. Typically, a brim can be cut from one inch up to five inches wide.

The hat stretcher on the left consists of two 'C' shaped wooden slides connected by a turnbuckle that opens the slides. The more simple stretcher on the right is also opened by a turnbuckle.

The boxwood and brass slide out hat sizing rule exends from 5 up to 9 inches and the reverse has a table of hat size, length and width measurements. The combined hat block and stretcher is constructed in two halves with an adjustable screw to open and close the two halves.

The McDonald's rotary hat iron was patented in the USA in 1892 by Alexander McDonald. It was designed to smooth top hats and it was heated by gas.

The metal hat box on the right dates from the 19th century.

The leather top hat box on the left dates from the 19th century and the cardboard hat box on the right dates from the 1920s.

Decorative hatpins were fashionable in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras as ladies used them as a means of attaching their large hats to their hair. Their popularity reached a peak during the Edwardian era when ladies wore exceptionally large hats displaying feathers and colourful replicas of flowers, fruits, birds and whatsoever else could be made-up. Hatpins were sometimes sold in identical pairs and most were long (6 to 8 inches or more) because they needed to be long enough to reach through the hair.