A Brief History of Hatpins

Prized by antique collectors today, hatpins were commonplace and controversial. They ranged in size between 6 and 12 inches long depending on the size of the hat they needed to secure to a woman’s head. They were fancy or practical, made from every available material ranging from precious metals to gemstones to plastics and paste. Hatpin makers marketed their products to the various levels of society, ranging from the extremely ornate and expensive to the simple and functional. The heyday of the hatpin was between the 1880's and 1920’s, after which hair styles became short and the hats became smaller making the pins unnecessary.
1400 As far back as the Middle Ages in Britain and Europe, pins were used as a device to securely hold the wimples and veils that proper ladies used to cover their hair in place. These small pins and wires were used for hundreds of years.
1800 The making of decorative and functional pins was a cottage industry that frequently employed an entire family. They were time consuming to make which resulted in small amounts of pins being available for the demanding public.
1820 Importing from France was one way of keeping up with demand. Alarmed at the effect the imports had on the balance of trade, Parliament passed an Act restricting the sale of pins to two days a year - January 1st and 2nd. Ladies saved their money all year to be able to spend it on pins in an early example of the "January Sales"! This is thought to be a source of the term "pin money." However, as Queen Victoria taxed her subjects at the beginning of each year to pay for her pins, this could also be the source of the term.
1832 The pin making machine was patented in the United States and production of pins with long tapering points began, usurping the hand made pins. Within the next two years England and France also began producing the machine made pins.
1848 Head coverings were simply another piece of clothing which evolved and changed with fashion. As women’s bonnets evolved, they employed ribbons and strings tied under the chin to hold them on. As a result of the suffrage movement women were eager to free themselves of bonnet strings and declare their right for equality with men.
1900 The rise in the popularity of hatpins as a result of changing fashions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the Charles Horner jewelry business becoming one of the British market leaders in good quality but mass produced hatpins. Some of the the high quality makers in the United States were the Unger Bros., the William Link Co., the Paye & Baker Mfg. Co. and Tiffany & Co.
1903 American Lillian Russell and English-woman Lillian Langtry, otherwise known as “Diamond Lil” and “Jersey Lil” were popular music hall actresses that fueled the popularity of large elaborate hats and the hatpins that were needed to hold them in place.
1908 An English judge, fearing that their pins could be used as weapons in his court, ordered a group of suffragettes on trial to remove their hatpins and hats, an insulting request. In 1909 a bill was introduced in the Arkansas legislature which copied an Illinois law limiting the length of pins to 9 inches or making ladies take out permits to possess longer ones. The pins were considered deadly weapons. As a result ladies had to cut their pins to the shorter length if they wanted to wear them in public.
1913 The Audubon Society was formed to prevent the wholesale slaughter of native birds for use in the millinery trade. Hunters had devastated more than 60 species of birds to supply feathers for hats. Popular fowl were the Egret, Peacock, Heron, Spoonbill and Ostrich. The Spoonbill feathers alone were worth $80 an ounce - three times their weight in gold.
1923 The opening of the tomb of King Tutankhamen started a craze for all things Egyptian. Hatpin designers were inspired by the newly found art and treasures.

1942 At the start of World War II women took over the jobs vacated by the men who had gone away to war. As they reported to work in the factories, shipyards and aircraft plants the wearing of hats fell out of fashion.

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