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1886 cabinet card photograph of men in beaver hats
A beaver felt hat.
Shapes and styles of beaver hat 1776–1825
19th century Masonic Knights Templar Beaver Fur hat
Edward Arthur Walton – The Beaver Hat

A beaver hat is a hat made from felted beaver fur. They were fashionable across much of Europe during the period 1550–1850 because the soft yet resilient material could be easily combed to make a variety of hat shapes (including the familiar top hat).[1] Smaller hats made of beaver were sometimes called beaverkins,[2] as in Thomas Carlyle's description of his wife as a child.[3]

The demand for beaver pelts in Europe ultimately drove the animal to near-extinction. Its popularity contributed to the dwindling of the population of the animal in the New World and fuelled colonial expansion as more people sought the fortunes of the trade.

In 1624 (the year New York was first settled) Dutch settlers were recorded having shipped 1500 beaver and 500 otter skins to Europe.

Used winter coats worn by Native Americans were actually a prized commodity for hat making because their wear helped prepare the skins; separating out the coarser hairs from the pelts.

The busy trade in beaver pelts was a fundamental factor in the exploration and early settlement of Canada. The Hudson's Bay Company, which was founded in 1670 and is still in existence, made its fortune through this trade. For its role in Canada's early economic development, the beaver has been honoured with a depiction on the Nickel (Canadian coin).

To make felt, the underhairs were shaved from the beaver pelt and mixed with a vibrating hatter's bow. The matted fabric was pummeled and boiled repeatedly, resulting in a shrunken and thickened felt. Filled over a hat-form block, the felt was pressed and steamed into shape. The hat maker then brushed the outside surface to a sheen.[4] Beaver hats were made in various styles as a matter of civil status: the Wellington (1820–40), the Paris beau (1815), the D'Orsay (1820), the Regent (1825) and the clerical (18th century). In addition, beaver hats were made in various styles as a matter of military status: the continental cocked hat (1776), Navy cocked hat (19th century), and the Army shako (1837).[5]

The popularity of the beaver hat declined in the early/mid-19th century as silk hats became more fashionable.

References

  1. ^ Wallace-Wells, D. "Puritan Inc." The New Republic, 2010.
  2. ^ Picken, Mary Brooks (1999). A dictionary of costume and fashion : historic and modern : with over 950 illustrations. Courier Dover Publications. p. 160. ISBN 9780486141602. 
  3. ^ Carlyle, Thomas (2012) [1881]. Froude, James Anthony, ed. Reminscences. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108044790. ...dainty little cap, perhaps little beaverkin (with flap turned up)... 
  4. ^ Walter Brigham, Baltimore Hats, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/39780/39780-h/39780-h.htm#OLD_METHODS
  5. ^ Charlotte Gray, The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder, Random House, 2004

External links

6 Annotations

Phil  •  Link

L&M's glossary says "Beaver, fur hat."

Louis  •  Link

On the same page, 570, of the L&M Companion's Large Glossary, we have
BEVER: ii.127, beaver, fur hat
and
BEAVER: ii.203, hat made of beaver's fur or of an imitation of it: 1528
(apparently the earliest OED usage of it in that sense)

language hat  •  Link

Nope, there's a considerably older citation:

1528 ROY Sat., To exalte the thre folde crowne Of anti-christ hys bever.

JWB  •  Link

"The initial stage in the hat making process would be the plucking of the coarse guard hairs from the beaver pelt, which was then brushed, with a solution of nitrate of mercury.

This would raise the scales on the fur shafts so that they would become firmly locked together. This process became known as "carotting" and if carried out in a poorly ventilated room, the mercury fumes could damage the brain, hence the expression "mad as a hatter". The fibres would then be cut from the skin and placed on a bench in a workroom known as the "hurdle". Over the bench would be suspended a hatter's bow, very much like an oversized violin bow and the fibres responded to the vibrations of the bow which was controlled by the craftsmen, separating themselves and becoming evenly distributed until they had formed into a thick but loosely structured mat of material known as the "batt". Several batts would then be shaped into a cone and reduced in size by boiling and then rolled to create a firm dense felt. The hood would then be sent onto the hatter who would mould it to the required shape and then line and finish it."

http://www.thehatsite.com/felt.html

Carolyn  •  Link

Beaver hats were any hat made of felted beaver fur; they were quite expensive and began to be manufactured in England during the Elizabethan period. The demand for Beaver fur to make felted hats (which looked like a gentleman's silk top hat) was great enough to spur on the American Fur trade (roughly 1620-1850).

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References

Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.

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