Modern, Vintage & Antique Hat Pins
Designed to go through the crown of the hat and into the elegant hair twists worn by the ladies of the day, hatpins were less about fashion than they were about necessity.
Unlike some collectibles, hat pins have some rather unique historic milestones to their name. In the early 1900's, popular music hall actresses in America and Britain made popular the wearing of enormous, heavy hats that required a sturdy pin to keep in place. To hold these ornate confections, longer pins were introduced until around 1908, when a series of laws were introduced to limit the size of these "deadly weapons."
Fearing that suffragettes would use their pins as weapons, the legal length was limited to 9 inches from end to end and many women were forced to trim down their pins (and tone down their hats!) to stay within the law.
Today, the majority of pins are created for decorative use or stuck through the lapel of a blouse or suit. The youngest "functional" antique hat pins date back to the years around World War II, as this is when women stopped wearing as many hats and started cutting their hair shorter, a necessity when working in factories and shipyards. However, many people are still fascinated by these little pieces of history and collect them in increasing numbers.
Some of the most popular pieces are topped with intricately carved pieces of ivory or other types of bone. Contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly legal to buy and sell antique ivory if it can be proven that it was in trade before certain laws went into effect. Since almost all authentic hatpins were produced well before these laws were passed, there is little danger in buying them.
One of the most well-known makers of hatpins is Charles Horner, whose turn of the century jewelry company became a leader in the market by creating a series of mass-produced pins that were still of exceptional quality. As a result, thousands of Horner's pins are still on the market and on display in museums worldwide, making them fairly accessible to collectors.
Collectors of vintage pins often also collect hat pin holders, which are easily recognized by their dainty design and series of tiny holes for keeping a wide range of pins at hand on a lady's dressing table for every occasion. Often made of porcelain or metal, these holders can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars at auctions or estate sales.
In order to find authentic pins, it is necessary to do some research before you start collecting. Even pins found in an antique store or jewelry box found in the attic may not be what they seem, and the recent increase of interest in them has unfortunately prompted many to sell fakes or cheaply made reproductions as originals. Collectors are advised to purchase a book on hat pins and holders so that they may compare a prospective purchase before they buy, to make sure they aren't unwittingly buying an imposter.
There are a few simple ways to easily tell a reproduction or fake from a real hatpin, starting with checking for any evidence of soldering or glue on the underside of the head. It is possible that a true antique pin could have been repaired in this manner, but it is unlikely due to the sturdy construction of the true pins. Another is to carefully check jeweled pins to make sure the stones are seated properly and are the correct size for their settings. Keep in mind that the original makers of an authentic pin were skilled at creating these pieces and would not allow a sloppily made one to leave the shop, for in the days when there was no mass advertising, word of mouth and quality made all the difference.
One type of fake that often gives even seasoned collectors trouble is called a 'marriage.' This is where an authentic antique head is attached to a cheap, flimsy stem or a sturdy stem is topped with some fake or oversized modern jewelry. While some marriages are obvious, others may take a little closer inspection, especially if you are buying online or at an auction.
Established auction houses are some of the best places to find truly antique hat pins, as many times they will come with a certificate of authenticity to justify the price they are commanding. Estate sales are also excellent, but it's best to check the pin carefully before committing to buy it, especially if the price seems unusually high.
Buying hatpins from online auctions requires the most caution, as it is sometimes harder to verify their quality or authenticity. Good feedback and promises of antiquity can't always be trusted, so if you're planning on bidding make sure that the seller has a good return policy. Be careful of auctions that sell "as-is," have very few or blurry photos, or have many of the same type of pins.
Aside from buying a book and doing your research, a great way to learn about hat pins and where to get them is to join a club, either online or in your neighborhood. Both England and the United States have large societies that are focused on the collecting and appreciation of hat pins and hat pin holders, with information on smaller local clubs that you can join.
Collecting antique or vintage hat pins can be a fun and rewarding hobby, as long as you take the time to research and learn about them before you jump into anything. This will assure that you can relax, have fun, and build a quality collection over time without getting discouraged.