THE KING OF ENGLAND'S HAT
The most prized piece in my personal #VintageLifestyle collection.
It's not every day you come face to face with a piece that could have come right off the set of Downton Abbey, but a hat made for the King of England? Now, you're probably wondering did the King actually wear this? And if so, where on earth and how on earth did I get a hold of it? Let's start there.
Last week I was looking for an antique spyglass for my dad's birthday. He's an accomplished sailor and loves antiques, so what could be better than an old navy telescope right? Unfortunately I didn't find one, but I figured my best bet was going to be the aptly named antique shop Where on Earth Did You Get That? Now, I typically try to avoid antique shops in general, because there's often either a lot of junky antiques that no one wants, or insanely awesome stuff that I could never afford. Either way, it's depressing. But on this particular day, I figured if I was gonna find an antique telescope somewhere, it was in this 1,000,000 square foot antique mall. And boy am I glad we decided to go there!
As it turned out, there was one old Royal Navy telescope on hand, but it was broken, and overpriced. After spending an hour in this shop with my two friends however, I happened onto another section of the store that I hadn't yet seen. And sitting on a hat stand, was what I instantly recognised as a Homburg hat in pristine condition. Naturally, I tried it on (I already have a modern repro Homburg so I wasn't looking for a new one), and surprisingly, it fit. What I really didn't expect however was how it felt (no pun intended). It was soft, so unlike a lot of modern reproductions, it was made of real felt, not just a hardened shell covered in synthetic material. This pleasantly surprised me, and when I turned the hat over to look inside, that's when I made my shocking discovery.
I honestly couldn't believe my eyes. I already knew I was looking at an authentic period hat, but when I saw this, I knew I was looking at the best of period hats! Turning the hat over and over again in my hands, I couldn't find a price anywhere, and that made me even more excited. Although the inscriptions were rather obvious, I was banking on the people selling this piece knowing very little about hats in general, in hopes I could score this thing on a deal. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind--sure, I mean, I have a homburg already, but this one is authentic, in mint condition, and crafted by a hat company who at some point before QEII had a royal appointment!!--I was buying it.
I asked the nearest associate (who clearly had no idea about hats) if he could tell me what the price was, or if he could find out for me, when, to my utter dismay, he ran off with the hat to some upstairs office. Now, this worried me because:
1) After about 15 minutes I really wasn't sure if they were bringing it back.
2) I was pretty sure whoever was camped in that upstairs office was furiously googling to find out as much as possible about the hat in order to inflate the price like everything else in this shop was.
Now, just because something has a royal appointment, does not mean that it's made exclusively for the Royal Family, but it does mean the Royal Family gets their (hats in this case, but whatever it is) exclusively from that company. Some current examples would be Hunter boots or Twining's tea. So was this hat worn by the King? Almost certainly not. In fact, it was worn by someone with the initials M.E., as there is some discreet personalised stitching in the lining. BUT when these not-so-hat-savvy employees noticed the words "King" on the hat, I was afraid it was going to end up very much outside my price range.
In fact, one of the workers (who was later unable to conceal his frustration toward me for buying the hat when he felt they hadn't enough time to research it's origins--you work at an antique shop! You should know something about everything in your store?!) made a casual statement inferring that this actually belonged to someone in the Royal Family.
The fellow who really didn't seem to keen on making the sale told me he could take my number and call me. Yeah right! I thought, I live an hour away from this place to start with, but I didn't want to risk them spending a week on figuring out the value of this thing and have them stick on an exorbitant price tag. Two things gave me hope as I waited for the verdict from the hidden upstairs office:
1) The hat isn't actually that old, and judging from what I'd already seen in the shop, these folks were the sort to price things higher based on age (i.e. a bowler hat from the 1880s was listed at nearly $200).
2) There were other, newer, fedora hats in the shop (some unbranded, some branded) listed for just $30.
I knew my hat should have sat somewhere in between.
Luckily, the store wasn't that busy, and when I finally impressed on the employees that I wasn't interested in buying anything else, and would wait until they found a price for the hat before I left, it seems like I had convinced worker #2 to make a sale rather than no sale, research or no research. Worker #1 was still unsure, and actually went upstairs to confer with the hidden office worker as soon as worker #2 brought the hat back down. Worker 2, who'd actually been friendly throughout the process, named the price that had come down from on high, and I tapped my MasterCard as fast as I could and high-tailed it out of there before worker #1 could come back!
So what did I pay for it exactly? Well, let's just say that when the right piece comes along to add to my collection, I'm willing to part with a bit of cash, especially if I feel it's a good deal. Until one day when maybe I'm rich, I will not be caught overpaying for collectibles. Of course, after I made the purchase, there was the long drive home for a little cognitive dissonance to settle in, and so the question remained: how much is the hat really worth?
While I'm still not 100% sure, here's what I do know:
Scott & Co. were London based hat makers that serviced an international market. I found this one in Canada, but I've seen hats of theirs that were delivered to America, and even Greece. A c. 1905 Scott top hat in the Met Museum's collection confirms the company's royal appointment as early as that date. And another hat, made for the army in WWI and housed in the Canadian War Museum's collection also carries the distinction "Hatters to H.M. the King". Now, if you do a Google search for Scott & Co., you won't find them, and it turns out, they were actually acquired by another London hat company in 1969: Lock & Co. Before they were acquired however, I did find online what looked to be a late 20th century fedora by Scott & Co. that, unlike its predecessors I'd encountered, no longer bore the royal distinction. Meaning, I'm assuming, that Lock & Co., rather than Scott & Co., became the favoured hat makers of the Royal Family sometime in the latter half of the 20th century.
As for my hat, made of real rabbit felt with a grosgrain ribbon, I'd say it's material value, though not as high as some turn of the century Scott & Co. headgear, is probably more than what I paid for it. As an historic piece of men's fashion however, I think it's intrinsic value is far higher. I don't think I'll be getting rid of it anytime soon, but one thing for certain is, by the time I do, I think it will be well suited to join its cousins as part of a museum collection.
A piece of advice for you vintage lifestylers, if you see a piece that fits with your vintage lifestyle, and is going to be huge for your personal collection, buy it. Don't hesitate. I always recommend haggling of course, within reason, but there are wins and losses in the collection of antiques, and some days you need to walk away, while others, you can't be afraid to pull the trigger. What's your latest big antique purchase? What piece in your collection is your favourite, and why? Drop us a line! We'd love to write about it, or have you write for us! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!