Fake Hatpins and Holders
by Frankie Ramsden

How many fake hatpins are on the market today?

An incredible number, to be sure. The chance of buying a fake or married hatpin is great whether you are buying on eBay, or at an antique show/shop. We are presented with new models each day. The ratio on eBay is probably 10% authentic, 90% fake, among those claiming to be real.

Why are there so many fakes?

Hatpins are easier to make than most antique or collectible items. All things being equal, a hatpin is worth more than a button, ring, brooch, fob, charm, earring, locket, pendant, etc. Hatpin manufacturing is a lucrative pastime. A well-made fake can easily bring $300, and I have seen fakes sell for over $1000 on eBay. Even poorly made types sometimes bring $50.

Doesn't eBay care?

No. They make money when fakes sell, too. They don't want anyone to interfere with auctions even if fraud is involved, and have made it impossible for people to do so in any event. In addition, eBay's system allows sellers of fakes to come back under new identities, or recruit their friends to sell their items.

If a seller has good feedback, doesn't that prove he is not selling fakes?

Do not rely on feedback alone! High feedback proves only that merchandise gets delivered, not that it is authentic. We see many feedback comments that say, "wonderful hatpin" which should say, "wonderful fake hatpin."

My hatpin belonged to someone's great grandmother. What about provenance?

Provenance is useless in authenticating hatpins. It makes no difference where the piece was found, when or from whom it was bought. All that matters is the piece itself - the materials, design, weight, and especially the construction. Not only are warehouse stories worthless for the purpose of establishing age, they actually make a thinking collector more suspicious. Eventually every hatpin separates from its accompanying story and must stand on its own merits, provenance or no.

Your chances of buying the real thing increase if the seller is willing to give a no-questions-asked total refund. Sellers who have an All-Sales-Final policy do not stand behind their merchandise and should be avoided.

What kinds of fakes are there?

Fantasies - hatpins that don't resemble anything from the period, but are passed off as authentic period hatpins. Among these are the so-called House of Joy hatpins, the group from the Netherlands, the Czech glass hatpins, "flapper/Dolly Dingle" hatpins, and what some of us call Beads-on-a-Stick.

Reproductions - hatpins that resemble those from the period, using newly made parts. While the construction and design are fairly accurate, the materials and methods are of poorer quality than authentic hatpins. They will initially appear in large groups, and will be similar to one another in metals, type or design. One common group of reproductions found today is made of stamped metal.

Marriages - old stem plus old top; old stem plus new top; new stem plus old top; new stem plus new top. In all cases the head was not part of a hatpin in its former life. Marriages can cause confusion because one or more elements may actually be from the proper era. Some marriages are fantasies - there never were hatpins of their type. Others approximate authentic hatpins but are flawed in construction or design.

How can I figure out which hatpins are real?

The first step is to get a book on hatpins. The best hatpin book is unquestionably the first one written by Lillian Baker (The Collector's Encyclopedia of Hatpins and Hatpin Holders). The second Baker book (Hatpins and Holders, an Illustrated Value Guide) is easier to find and also very good, but does not have as many pictures to study. The third book (Baker's Encyclopedia of Hatpins and Hatpin Holders) was assembled after Lillian Baker's death and shows more than a few hatpins and holders that are not authentic. Unless you have enough experience to spot the mistakes in this book, it is not a good place to start.

After you have a book, study the hatpins, with a magnifying glass if necessary, especially the quality of the materials and construction. Study the findings (the small metal piece that covers the attachment of head to stem). Next, learn the designs of the era and of later decades of 20th century jewelry. Once you do, a 1950 brooch married to a 1910 stem will jump out at you before you pick it up.

Doesn't the finding tell me if a pin is authentic?

No. Authentic findings can be taken from a real pin and put on a marriage or a fantasy. The presence of a real finding is a good thing, but it is not the only thing. No one element authenticates a hatpin.

What are things to be aware of when evaluating authenticity?

Start by assuming that the hatpin is NOT real. Make it prove its authenticity to you.

There are normally three parts to a hatpin: the head, the finding, and the stem (sometimes there is no finding). Each of these should be right.

The head design should be of the period, with period stones in period cuts. The head should not have been damaged in order to make it a hatpin! If an ornament was meant to be attached to a pin stem, that would have been taken into consideration during its design and manufacture. No part of the design artistry of the hatpin head would need to be damaged or hidden in order to insert a stem. It would not be punched through or glued over.

The stones, cameo, porcelain or other featured object should fit the setting correctly. They should not be too large or too small. Prongs will not cover the artistic portion of the head or be stretched to the limit, barely holding the piece in place. Remember, the setting size was MEANT for the stone/cameo/porcelain it holds. It was not an afterthought.

The stem should be the right weight and material. It should not be extremely flexible. It will generally show some signs of age or use (caution: this can be faked, too). It will not be so thick as to leave large holes in a hat, or so thin that it would not stand up to repeated use.

You can tell more about a pin from the bottom than from the top. I spend more time looking at the underside than I do at the rest. If you can't clearly see the back of a hatpin on eBay, don't bid. If the pictures are from a distance or fuzzy, there may be a reason. Insist upon seeing the construction.

Look for evidence of tampering: solder; glue; strange marks on the underside suggesting something has been removed; rough or damaged areas; non-fitting parts; and anything used for camouflage, including extra pieces used to cover problem areas.

Note: Be wary of anyone who has many hatpins that appear similar in construction.

Use some logic. How would the hatpin look when worn? Is it finished on both sides if it is visible on both sides when worn? You may not think that important, but the manufacturers would have.

What about the balance of the hatpin? Would the object fall over after several minutes because the weight would pull the top of the ornament down? Would an Edwardian lady want to wear an upside down cat, dog, skull, whatever? Would a manufacturer/designer/jeweler consider this? Of course he would.

Is the construction very busy, using unnecessary pieces, for example, two findings? Do the pieces fit properly? Does the whole thing look as if it is matched in metals and patina? Victorian jewelry manufacturers had large supplies of parts that fit one another. Construction was straightforward, not a patchwork quilt. A bridge was used when there was no other reasonable way to attach a finding, not to hide brooch pin scars. A disk and finding were not used together if the finding alone would suffice. Ask yourself why each piece is there.

Is the object two pieces glued together. Perhaps two earrings?

Does the finding look as if it has been chewed upon? Is it split open? It should not be.

Anything else?

Yes. Join a hatpin club. They are incredible sources of information. Is everything featured in the club newsletters authentic? I wish I could say yes, but the truth is no. On some occasions fakes have been shown in club publications. If you recognize one of these, more power to you! In the end, you must be the authenticator. Jewelers, antique dealers, appraisers and other collectors are not infallible, but if I had to choose from among those four, the opinion of an experienced collector is the one I would trust most. And if several other experienced collectors agree, the consensus carries even more weight. A club offers you the collected wisdom of many others collectors.

That being said, the golden rule of collecting is always: WHEN IN DOUBT, DO WITHOUT.

You forgot to talk about Hatpin Holders

Actually they are not as great a problem for collectors. Most fantasies are easily recognized because no one ever saw those shapes before, the material they are made from is heavier, and they soon flood the market. If you see it everywhere, it's surely a reproduction or fantasy.

If something can hold hatpins, it is not necessarily a hatpin holder. There are many objects currently sold as hatpin holders that originally held other items. Vases, flower frogs, incense burners, salt shakers, powder shakers, dining room utensil holders, sewing items, and novelty ashtrays are but a few in this group. If the shape or design is different from most others, consider every other possibility before you decide to call it a hatpin holder. Ask yourself where the pins would go. Would they be able to be inserted into all the holes, or are some of the holes useless, in a location that does not make sense, or which does not provide a reasonable path for the hatpins to take when inserted? Where do the pins' points rest? How stable is the item with hatpins inserted?

Finally, ask yourself if this object was something a lady would have wanted to put on her dressing table.


Unger Brothers Hatpins | Enamel

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