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1886 cabinet card photograph of men in beaver hats

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]

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.[citation needed]

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]

Evidence of felted beaver hats in western Europe can be found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in the late 14th century: "A Merchant was there with a forked beard / In motley, and high on his horse he sat, / Upon his head a Flandrish [Flemish] beaver hat."[5] Demand for beaver fur led to the near-extinction of the Eurasian beaver and the American beaver in succession. It seems likely that only a sudden change in style saved the beaver.[6]

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)
  • 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)
  • the Army shako (1837).[7]

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

ReferencesEdit

  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. ^ Brigham, Walter. "Baltimore Hats".
  5. ^ Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Canterbury Tales and Other Poems".
  6. ^ "The Role of Beaver in the European Fur Trade", accessed 2019.07.26.
  7. ^ Gray, Charlotte (2004). The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder. Random House.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Beaver hats at Wikimedia Commons