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Collecting Antique Hatpins
If you wish to start an antique hatpin collection it is important to learn as much as possible about these popular collectibles before you begin to buy them. Authentic hat pins are often hard to find – the pins in many antique stores and antique malls are either reproductions or created from a mixture of vintage pins and newer beads.
History of the Hatpin
Hatpins have been in use for centuries. During the Middle Ages they were used to keep the elaborate headpieces on the heads of noblewomen but they did not come into common use until the middle of the 19th century when Victorian women vied to have the most elaborate hatpin in the social circle. The golden age of hatpins is considered to be from 1895 until 1920 by most collectors. This was when the pins were the most elaborate and most plentiful.
Hatpin Laws and Permits
The long pins were not only utilitarian, keeping the hat on a lady's head, but also used as a fashion statement. The larger the hats got, the larger the pins got until some of these fashionable decorations were as much as a foot long. In fact, during the suffragette movement many men became concerned with the size of the pins; what if the long, sharp objects were used as weapons by angry mobs of radical suffragette women?
By 1909 laws were being passed in many states requiring that women limit the length of their hatpins to nine inches or take out a permit allowing them to possess the longer pins. Women had to cut their pins down to the regulation size or forgo wearing them in public.
During the very proper Victorian era it was not considered in good taste to give one's sweetheart jewelry but completely appropriate to gift her with a set of elaborate hat pins. Sometimes these sets included other items such as brooches, buttons and buckles. The boxes were often velvet or satin lined with the name of the jewelry company on the top or inside the lid. These were called presentation sets and were a completely acceptable gift, no matter how elaborate.
The basic hatpin worn by shop girls and other women of the lower classes was a simple pin with a black or white bead on the end. As a woman's social and economic standing got higher her hatpins became more elaborate and costly.
The End of the Hatpin Era
Hatpins began to fall out of favor about the time of World War I. Metals and other resources became scarce and elaborate styles were considered a bit tasteless. Hats got smaller out of necessity and the long pins were no longer needed. Many women would have one of the buttons from their sweetheart's uniform made into a hatpin as a sentimental remembrance.
The flapper style came into vogue during the early 1920s and with them the cloche hat. The cloche was a close to the head style that required only a short haircut to keep it in place. By 1925 hatpins were no longer being manufactured.
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Popular Hatpin Materials
Brass, silver, and even gold were popular metals for the hatpins. These pins were crafted by well known artisans and jewelry stores and made with as much quality as any piece of jewelry.
Materials for the pinhead ran the gamut from the simple bead of the lower classes to mother of pearl and semi-precious stones for the wealthy ingénue.
- Carnival glass
- Hand painted porcelain
- Mother of Pearl
- Satsuma porcelain
- Tortoise shell
Although these materials made up the majority of hatpins there were other materials in use as well.
Some designers were more sought after than others.
- William Codman
- George Gebelein
- Charles Horner
- Barton Jenks
- Louis Tiffany
- James Wooley
- William Kerr
- Unger Brothers
Some of the pins were stamped or marked with a maker's mark which makes them easy to identify. Others were not marked at all and one can only guess at the manufacturer by the style or material of the pin.
Hatpin Collection on Antiques Roadshow
The era of the hatpin is generally divided into three parts.
The Victorian era had many different factors influencing hatpin design. Like the furniture of the time, hatpins reflected the changing world. Styles favored ancient civilizations.
- Egyptian revival
- Etruscan revival
- Greek revival
The Art Nouveau influence brought brighter colors and more graceful lines to hatpins. Items from nature like leaves and flowers were created with swirling lines and carvings. Although hatpins had fallen out of style by the Art Deco period you can also see some Art Deco influence in hatpins made after 1910.
Arts and Crafts
The Arts and Crafts movement brought handmade items into style. Hammered copper and brass, silver and lighter colors were the hallmark of this style.
Collecting and Evaluating Vintage Hatpins
The collector must beware of hatpins which may have antique decorations but are made by the seller. Some sellers create hatpins from old buttons, vintage jewelry and beads that make the pins look authentic but they aren't.
Always buy from a seller that you trust; one that has excellent feedback or recommendations from people you know. Always ask questions and make sure you are satisfied with the answers before you write your check or swipe your credit card.
The most valuable hatpins are those with lots of intricate detail, are unusual in some way, or have gemstones set in them.
Check for soldering and areas that looks as if they have been repaired. This may indicate that they are not authentic. Even if they are authentic, repairs can decrease the value of hatpins.
To be sure of what you are getting you should invest in a good price guide to hatpins like, The Collectors Encyclopedia of Hatpins and Hatpin Holders by Lillian Baker
Displaying Your Hatpin Collection
Hatpins can be displayed on a vanity in antique hatpin holders or stuck into satin pillows on a table. The long hatpins can be displayed like a floral arrangement in a beautiful vintage vase or simply stuck into an antique hat.
Some collectors wear the smaller hatpins as lapel pins, or find other decorative ways to use them. No matter how you display them, hatpins are a unique collectible with an interesting history.