Hats, hats. There is no end to the variety of hats, past and present. Hats are worn, for instance, to protect from rain or sun. In addition, on ceremonial occasions such as the ‘mortar board’ worn at graduation from university. They also have been an indicator of social status. In the military, hats may indicate nationality, rank or regiment. Police wear distinctive hats or caps. Not only, hard hats protect construction workers and miners; a fur hat is worn against the cold. Many indicate profession, such as those worn by cooks. Bishops wear mitres for religious reasons, turbans by Sikhs for the same reason.
Through the ages
Hats have been seen on Egyptian wall paintings. Roman gladiators wore a protective helmet in the arena. Hats can, indeed, be seen in a vast number of paintings from early times through the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. All manner of hats were worn in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Victorian times women wore bonnets, men all different kinds of models. Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, wore a particular kind of hat called a ‘stovepipe’ He was nearly 2 metres tall and when wearing this hat on towered over his contemporaries. Moreover, Lincoln was a vocal opponent of slavery and the main architect of the Victory of the Unionists in the American Civil War which led to the abolition of slavery. He was murdered by an opponent in 1865.
Three incredible finds
One of the earliest discoveries from ancient history was the discovery of a perfectly preserved Bronze Age man, probably a hunter around 40 years old, frozen solid in a glacier and found in 1991 as the ice began to melt. He was nicknamed Otzi. Not only did he have a bow and arrows and an axe, he was still dressed and wore a hat of bearskin with a chin strap. After exhaustive scientific analyses he can now be seen in a museum in Bolzano, Italy. He was definitely the first man from the remote past to be found with tatoos.
The Tollund man
Another incredible find some years ago was the body of a mummified man almost perfectly preserved under two meters of peat bog in Denmark. Known as the Tollund man, at first he was thought to be a murder victim. However, carbon dating showed him to date from the fourth century BC. Apart from his clothes, he was wearing a hat of sheepskin and wool. His body can be seen in Silkeborg Museum in Denmark.
The Capestrano Warrior
The limestone statue known as the Capestrano Warrior was found by chance by a farmer ploughing a field. He is over two meters tall and is a most imposing and mysterious figure, equipped with a short sword, knife and axe. He wears a hat with a large brim and on his floodlit pedestal towers over the awestruck visitors. Researchers estimate the statue dates from around the sixth century BC. He can be seen in a museum in Chieti, Italy.
More recent times
Up to the 1950s both men and women wore hats. The popularity of hats gradually declined and only now are becoming popular again. Collectors should however seek hats in second-hand or charity shops. Still to be found are cloche hats from the 1920s, small straw hats with veils from the 1930s and 1940s. Not to mention bonnets from the Victorian era and the famous ‘City gent’s’ bowler hat. It was once a must together with an umbrella for London weather. Hats can also be found in auctions. A famous Stetson hat worn by John Wayne in several films was sold in an auction in California in the US for the astronomical price of $37,500. A much more moderate buy would be a mid-twentieth century silk top hat from Austin Reed with its own hatbox. It has an estimated price of about $250.