This week found me researching the Suffragette movement, a term coined – according to Wikipedia – by the Daily Mail as a derogatory way of describing members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst.
Interestingly, the same newspaper carried a report of how a judge ordered a group of Suffragettes on trial to remove their hatpins in court, fearing they could be used as weapons.
See a slideshow of Charles Horner hatpins Images courtesy of Charles Horner of Halifax by Tom J. Lawson, published by GML Publishing and distributed by the Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd., which supplied them.
By now off on a completely wrong tangent, I learned from another report, dated December 17, 1908, how a woman lost her sight in one eye after an accident in the rush on the first day of a shop
sale, while in April, 1913, the New York Times published a letter from a man who had contracted blood poisoning from a wound inflicted by a hatpin.
At one point the authorities in Berlin banned over long hatpins and other cities in Europe and America followed suit.
Byelaws were introduced prohibiting the wearing of hatpins not fitted with safety guards to cover the sharp end and police forces were mobilised to enforce the law.
Not surprisingly, hatpins also came to be recognised as a useful aid to self-defence. Nowadays, they are quirky, often beautiful, collectors’ items that recall the days when big hair and equally big hats were de rigueur.
Up until the Regency period, ladies secured their hats – usually sensible affairs with tasteful
frills – with ribbons, those imported from France being considered the most fetching.
In the 1820s and 30s, hats were still of a manageable size and small decorative hatpins were used unobtrusively to keep them in place.
But by the late Victorian period, hats began to grow, eventually to gargantuan proportions.
Two things quickly became vital additions to a woman’s wardrobe: one was sufficient hair – either her own or someone else’s in the form of a wig – with which to support the hat, the other, long hatpins with which to secure it.
The hatpin’s heyday was the Edwardian era, though. Lillie Langtry and other musical hall stars prompted ludicrously large creations and the bigger the hat, the longer the pin – sometimes as long as 14 inches.
The hatpin’s heyday was a brief affair. By 1920, most modern women had bobbed their hair and the need for pins in cloche hats was minimal.
Ordinary black glass-topped pins which were bought in packets could still be found, though their use was confined to the matriarchy.
However, in the intervening years, designers and manufacturers of hatpins allowed their imagination to run riot.
Thus, today’s collectors have much to pursue, providing their pockets are deep enough.
Time was when pretty Art Nouveau silver hat pins could be picked up for the proverbial fiver. Not any more.
You’d be doing extremely well if you found one for under £50, while top quality examples, perhaps set with a semi-precious stone can be twice, three or even four times the price.
There are cheaper, of course, with some late, glass and plastic-headed types to be had for under £1. But generally speaking, hatpins and the collecting of same is big business with its own international collectors’ club and dealers who specialise in nothing but the pins and the stands – novelty and serious – in which to stand and display them.
The period from 1900-1910 produced some of the most decorative silver hatpins, made at a time when Britain was enjoying the tail end of the Art Nouveau movement and the emergence of the Arts and Crafts school of design.
One of the most prolific manufacturers of the day was Charles Horner.
Horner was a native of Halifax in Yorkshire who, in the mid-1850s, ran a retail watchmaking and jewellery business.
He died in 1896, leaving a large family including six sons, two of whom, James Dobson Horner and C. Harry Horner, built a new factory in the town to produce large quantities of relatively inexpensive gold and silver jewellery, and fancy goods. Thimbles and hatpins were the mainstay.
Hallmark of Horner’s products was elegance, combined with fluid and sensuous shape and line which was so indicative of the period.
Always highly ornamental, hatpins come in a wide variety of shapes and in many other mediums other than silver.
One favourite among today’s collectors is Whitby jet, so loved by Queen Victoria who made mourning a national pastime.
Look also for so-called French jet, the posh name for black glass cut in Whitby styles.
Sporty types had hatpins that represented their particular game: tiny tennis rackets, fox’s head, roller skates, or golf clubs, for example.
Favourite dogs were another choice, while one of my favourites are those sent home to mothers, wives and sweethearts by soldiers during the First World War: a button from a tunic mounted on to a pin.
At the other end of the price range are Liberty and Co., examples and those in Japanese Satsuma earthenware.
And if you’re very rich, seek out the fabulous glass hatpins produced by French master craftsman Rene Lalique.
Examples the size of a milk bottle top moulded with emerald and jade green designs of flying moths or interlocking locusts fetch £1,500-2,000 in the saleroom.
The amazing thing about them is the way their iridescent colours flash as they catch the light. Imagine for a moment the magnificence of the hat that would have done them justice!
Pictures show, from top:
A particularly attractive Charles Horner hatpin modelled as a thistle with sensuous, art nouveau stem. The amethyst-coloured glass "flower" would have been moulded and then polished by hand
An advertisement from a trade catalogue showing some of the styles of hatpins available at the turn of the century. Note the golf club shaped examples on the bottom row
A group of silver hatpins by Charles Horner, decorated with paste thistles