Sunday, February 17, 2013



Although prized by antique collectors today, hatpins were once both commonplace and controversial. Ranging 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. Every available material was used in their manufacture; precious metals, gemstones, 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 lasted from the 1880's to 1920’s, after which hair styles became short and hats became smaller, making pins unnecessary.

As far back as the Middle Ages in Britain and Europe, pins were used as a device to securely hold wimples and veils that proper ladies used to cover their hair. These wire pins were used for hundreds of years. In 1800 the making of decorative and functional pins became a cottage industry, frequently employing an entire family. Each pin was time-consuming to make, limiting the numbers of pins available to the demanding public.

One way to keep up with demand was to import from France. Parliament became alarmed at the effect the imports had on the balance of trade and, in 1820, passed an Act restricting the sale of pins to two days per year, January first and second. Ladies saved their money all year to be able to purchase pins, which may explain the term “pin money.” Queen Victoria, however, taxed her subjects at the beginning of each year to pay for her own pins, which may also have originated the term.

In 1832 a pin making machine was patented in the U. S. and the production of pins with long tapering points began, usurping the hand-made ones. Within the next two years, England and France as well as Japan began production machine-made pins. Any woman wearing a hat undoubtedly had a hat pin holding it in place. These pins could be up to thirteen inches long with a quite sharp tip, providing Victorian women with a handy weapon. They were so threatening that one judge ordered suffragettes to remove their hats and hatpins, for fear they’d use them as weapons in his court. Arkansas and Illinois passed bills limiting the length of hatpins to 9 inches. If a lengthier pin were desired, a permit had to be applied for. Of course women needed holders for their pins as well, so manufacturers began producing them.

By 1848, head coverings were merely another piece of clothing which changed with fashion. Bonnets came into being, employing ribbons and strings tied under the chin to hold them on. This coincided with the suffrage movement, as women were as eager to be free of bonnet strings as they were to declare their right of equality with men.

The rise in 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 high quality makers in the U. S. were the Unger Bros., the William Link Co., the Paye & Baker Mfg. Co. and Tiffany & Co. At the start of World War II women took over the jobs vacated by 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, along with hat pins, which is too bad because a lot of us today could use a good weapon as handy as our hats, now and then.

If Tempest Whitney, in my book To Have And To Hold had been wearing a hat held in place with a long, sharp pin the day Jonas Creedy attacked her, he'd have gotten what was coming to him a lot sooner.

Here's a sample of what happened:

               Tempest’s heart tumbled. How much had Jonas learned? He obviously thought he knew something incriminating or he wouldn’t be taking such pleasure baiting her. Panic vibrated through every nerve. Buck and Skeet looked nothing alike. Could Jonas have gotten hold of descriptions of the two men that proved who was who? If so, nothing would save her from Jonas. Beneath her shirt-tail, her hand went to the slight bulge of the derringer in her pocket.
                “Is that where your husband’s been the last two years, puss? Prison?” Jonas edged closer. “Did he came back for you . . . or the money he musta stashed after the robbery?”
                Tempest expelled the breath she had been holding. He didn’t know Buck wasn’t Skeet. She was safe. Or would be if she got out of this alley in one piece. She eyed the hotel entrance a dozen steps away. Maybe she could distract him long enough to make it inside. “All right, Jonas. It’s true, Skeet was in the State Penitentiary,” she said, walking again. “But when he went to get the money, it was gone. He thinks one of the soldiers found it and didn’t report it.”
                “And you believe that?”
                The hotel entrance was close, so close. Eight feet. Six. Three.
                Two feet from the door his hand clamped on her arm, spinning her about. “Hold on, you little witch, I’m not done with you yet.” 
             Off-balance, she fell against him, losing her hat. Chuckling, he clutched her tightly to his stocky body. The fear she’d felt before was nothing to what coursed through her now.

Resource Materials and Books on hat pins:

The Collectors Encyclopedia of Hatpin and Hatpin Holders by Lillian Baker
Baker's Encyclopedia of Hatpins and Hatpin Holders, Schiffer Books
Hatpins and Hatpin Holders an Illustrated Value Guide by Lillian Baker, Collector books
Art Nouveau and Art Deco Jewelry by Lillian Baker, Collector books
Hat Pins and Tie Pins by Alexandra M. Rhodes, Mackays of Chatham Ltd.
A Celebration of his Life and Work by Tom Lawson, GML Publishing.  

Charlene Raddon is the award-winning author of several historical romance novels set in her beloved American West. One of her books, Tender Touch, was a Golden Heart Finalist. Another, Forever Mine, received a Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award Nomination. To Have And To Hold was a finalist in the Affaire De Coeur Magazine Reader/Writer Poll for Best Historical in 1997. All Charlene's books were published in paperback by Zebra Books. Now they are being released as e-books, one by one, by Tirgearr Publishing. Visit her at her website, Facebook, or Twitter.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Charlene, an interesting post. My daughter gave me a beautiful antique hatpin holder but I've only been able to find two hatpins that are of the period that I could buy with my "pin" money.

Anonymous said...

I buy them on e-Bay but it is hard to find them affordable, especially the old ones. Too often they're listed as hat pins when they're really stick pins too, so you have to check the length of the pin in the description. Hat pin holders are also hard to find at a decent price, and so many are reproductions.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed your post Charlene. I didn't realize there were so many beautiful hat pins back then.

Anonymous said...

The selection of hat pins is absolutely amazing, really. I could have added a hundred more photos. Thanks for stopping by, L.B.

Unknown said...

Your post looks awesome and I love the info. Your debut was magnificent. I'm sure you'll draw lots of attention to our site, and we appreciate having you join the group.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ginger.

Meg said...

Love love love this post on hatpins. My characters use them all the time. :-) What great info! I had no idea where the term "pin money" came from - how interesting!! Thanks, Charlene.

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Meg. Glad you enjoyed it.

Kemberlee said...

I saw a bunch of hat pins in an antique place back home in September. Wish you would have been with me. I'm betting you would have found a few for your collection. And an antique bullwhip ;-)

Anonymous said...

I wish I'd been with you, too, Kem. Wouldn't we have had a blast?

Alison E. Bruce said...

Someone is going to be stuck with a hat pin very soon... I just need the right story for it.

Anonymous said...

You'll come up with it, I have no doubt, Alison