Hatpins Were Functional Fashion
Antique hatpins became popular as bonnet ribbons went out of style in the 1820s. Women needed some way to secure their hats to their hair, and the hatpin was born.
Often about six to eight inches long, hatpins are designed to pierce the hat, go under the wearer's hair, and emerge through the hat again. People usually wore them on the band of the hat, often in the back.
Identifying hatpins involves looking at the shape of the pin and examining it for any markings. Sometimes, it can be a challenge to tell a hatpin from a stick pin, since they both have a decorative element and a long pin. However, a stick pin has a shorter pin than a hatpin, usually only about two or three inches in length.
The style of a hatpin can offer some clues about its age. This elaborate hatpin clearly shows the graceful Art Nouveau lines popular during the earliest years of the 20th century.
In the Edwardian era (1901-1910), hats got quite large, and very long hatpins were needed. As the women's suffrage movement became bigger and more volatile, laws were passed to limit the length of a hatpin, since it was feared that angry mobs of suffragettes would use the sharp pins as weapons.
Violet, white, and green were the colors chosen to represent the Women's Suffrage Movement and all kinds of jewelry, including hatpins, were created in these colors.
Many hatpins feature intricate details. For example, hand painting and gold accents were especially popular.
Satsuma hatpins were created in Japan purely for export, since Japanese women did not wear hats. These were painstakingly hand painted on porcelain in a variety of motifs. Gold leaf was a popular addition to the design. Pictured are three examples of Japanese Satsuma hatpins.
Egyptian Revival Antique Hatpin
Hatpins can show the trends and popular interests of the eras in which they were made. Antique hatpins like this one with the Sphinx on it exemplify the Egyptian Revival style, which became popular in the early 20th century. This renewed interest in Egyptian antiquities began as a result of the opening of King Tut's Tomb in 1922.
You can see not only the Egyptian motif, but the trend toward simplicity of design as styles moved toward the sleekness and simplicity of Art Deco.
Carved Ivory Hatpin
Ivory was a popular material for fashioning all kinds of jewelry, hatpins, and decor. It was legal to import until 1988 and was a popular addition to jewelry throughout most of the 20th century. Today, selling or buying ivory antiques can be very complicated, and it's important to have the piece professionally appraised to document its provenance.
Many hatpins feature incredible work by artisans. Micromosaics, which are made of many tiny pieces of stone, glass, ceramic, or other materials, require great precision and artistic skill. These can be valuable hatpins.
During Victorian times, ladies of means were often sent on a European tour in preparation for settling down into married life with the proper husband. Micromosaic hatpins, like this Italian-made example, were bought as mementos of this special time.
This tiny barrel is a Stanhope or Stanho-scope . The technique was developed by Rene Dagron in 1857 and allowed tiny images to be viewed inside objects.The viewer was introduced to the general public at the 1859 International Fair in Paris
Inside the barrel on this hatpin is a tiny picture of Niagara Falls. It would have been bought as a souvenir. Other items made with this technique included men's stick pins and smoking-related items that had pornographic images inside.
Snake Designed Hatpin
Figural designs were especially popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and these elements can help you establish a date for a hatpin. You'll see motifs of animals, birds, flowers, ladies, and other figures, many of which are incredibly detailed and beautiful.
A snake was thought to be a symbol of enduring love and was a popular motif on Victorian hatpins like this one.
Another Snake Motif
Here is another hatpin with a snake motif. You can see the finding at the base of the pin head, which attached the head to the actual pin stem. Some of these pins could be as much as a foot long.
Detailed Antique Hatpins
The level of detail in a hatpin can offer some clues about the type of woman who may have owned it.
Elaborately detailed hatpins were favored by the affluent ladies of Victorian times. While a shop girl might wear a plain pin with a black bead or similar design, wealthy ladies wore highly detailed pins with their hats.
Hand-Painted Portrait Hatpins
If you peruse collections, you'll even see hand-painted portraits on hatpins. These delightful miniatures are wonderful to collect and rare to find.
Popularity of Hatpins
Antique hatpins were popular from about 1850 to about 1920, when the style changed and hats were worn close to the head, flapper style. Even throughout the first part of the 20th century, women wore smaller hatpins to secure their hats.
Today, they make a wonderful collectible. Rare, unusual, and unique hatpins can command thousands of dollars at auction; even the simpler designs are not cheap. Be careful when you come upon an inexpensive hatpin because there are a lot of fakes and reproductions on the market.
Using Antique Hatpins Today
Today, antique hatpins can still make a functional collectible. Use them for their intended purpose - to add decoration to your hat and keep it on your head. They are a fun touch on a beret or stocking cap in the winter. You can also show off a few on a coat or scarf; just use care to put something on the pointed end so you don't accidentally poke yourself.
LoveToKnow would like to thank the members of the American Hat Pin Society for providing the images and some of the information in this slideshow.