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Vault

A Point of Beauty

11 July 2008 - 22 August 2008

A Point of Beauty

I began collecting hat pins because of my Grandmother. I loved hearing her stories about life in the "olden days". She talked about such things as lace-up boots, corsets and hat pins which fascinated me as a child growing up in the UK in the 1970's.he gave me my first three hat pins; the turquoise ones proudly displayed by my husband's Grandmother's silver elephant.

Collecting came easy to me. My parents and I would frequent antique fairs where I would spend my hard earned pocket money. At the beginning there were too many to choose from, now it's a matter of hunting them out. But each purchase is as exciting as the first; they are all very special and often beautiful. Hat pins were functional, essential fashion accessories in their day and yet now seem almost ridiculous and impractical.

With the evolution of Victorian bonnets into large and elaborate hats, a system to secure the hat was required. Hair was usually added to the wearer's hair dress and then a long and decorative pin, or a pair of pins, was used to support the ensemble. The heyday of the hat pin was 1908-1912 when hat pins reached up to fourteen inches. Not surprisingly some byelaws prohibited the wearing of hat pins without the use of a "protector" over the dangerous point.

Hat pins changed along with fashion, influenced by politics, economics and possibly most importantly, war. As women were expected to perform more manual occupations the unpractical hat and flamboyant dresses disappeared and hat pins became quite a lot shorter. The decorations changed too, for example, "trench art" hat pins were made from soldiers' uniform buttons. Some of these were commercially produced and others home made from a button sent back as a sweetheart gift.

One of my favorite groups of hat pins is the "souvenir" pin. Examples include the Whitby Jet pins and the silver Tiki's. These were often purchased on location or given away by cruise ships. A special one for me is the Venetian glass mosaic which was purchased as an antique in Venice.

The most ornate hat pins were made to order by individual jewelers. Charles Horner was a jeweler and silversmith and the first to mass-produce such hat pins, making them more accessible to the middle classes; today they are very collectable. But not all hat pins were expensive, and every woman who owned a hat, had at least one black glass ball. The materials used for hat pins also evolved in parallel with jewelry in general. The early plastics brought vibrant colours which were crafted into all sorts of weird and wonderful designs.

As you can see my collection is not just hat pins but also their holders. You can't really have one without the other and they are now as collectable and diverse as the pins. Most of the porcelain ones are from dresser sets with other matching items such as a hair tidy where you gathered and stored your essential loose hair!

Sarah Cheesman