Kings' Crowns and Fools' Caps
“SHE went to the hatter’s to buy him a hat,” and three days later, when he was caught in a shower, the hat shrunk an inch in circumference, and assumed a pyramidal or monumental appearance, more peculiar than pleasing.
The Baron was naturally dissatisfied, Miselle was discomfited, and Caleb was mildly triumphant.
“Another of your favorite economies, my dear,” said he. “ You should have known by the price that this can only be a wool hat, and the inevitable destiny of wool hats is to terminate like this, — in a cone.”
“ Wool! why it is a felt hat, and all felt is made of wool,” replied Miselle, in a lofty manner.
“ Indeed ! I was under the impression that the best felt hats are made of fur, and never shrink or lose their shape like this.”
And Caleb, picking up the unfortunate subject of discussion, set it lightly upon the head of the Venus, whose marble neck seemed to curve anew at the indignity. The Baron forgot his woes, and laughed outright; but Miselle insisted upon calling the question.
“Oh! Felt made of fur! I never heard of such a thing, and I don’t believe it,” said she.
“ Seeing is believing,” tranquilly replied Caleb. “ Mentor was speaking of hats to-day, and professed an intention of visiting a factory in Boston. I will get him to take you over it, and you shall afterward convince me, if you choose, that you are, as usual, in the right, and that all felt is made of wool.”
“ I am not always in the right,” magnanimously conceded Miselle, “but I should like to visit the hat-factory.”
Mentor proved willing to make good his sobriquet, and a few days later conducted Miselle to a large establishment in Boston.
They were received by the heads of the concern, to whom Mentor, after some conversation, presented Miselle as “ A lady anxious to learn of what material, and in what manner, hats are made.”
The heads smiled, bowed, and professed themselves pleased to give all possible information upon the desired points ; and Miselle rushed at once to the great question, propounding it in a manner essentially feminine.
“Felt hats are made of wool, — are they not ? ” asked she.
The heads smiled benevolently.
“ Not ours,” said they. “ There are plenty of wool hats manufactured, but they are only bought by those who cannot afford, or do not know enough to choose, fur ones. We do not use a fibre of wool in our establishment, but consume, instead, about eighteen thousand pounds of fur.”
“What sort of fur?” inquired Missile, somewhat hurriedly.
“ Several sorts, or rather several varieties of one sort,” replied the heads, “ For although it is all, in point of fact, rabbits’ fur, the highest quality is called Russia hares’ fur, and the lower grades Scotch and French cony. Then we occasionally get a small quantity of domestic rabbits’ fur, brought mostly from the South ; and some nutria, a fur obtained from the coypou, a smaller species of beaver.”
“ Do you get any genuine beaver now ? ” inquired Mentor.
“ Sometimes. But beaver fur is worth fifty dollars the pound to-day, while the best Russia and German hares’ fur commands only five, and the Scotch and French cony from two to four dollars. We will show you some specimens of the principal grades.”
Some square paper packages, accompanied by a subterraneous odor, were here brought in, and laid upon the table.
“ This is Russia A. H.,” said one of the heads, unfastening the whity-brown foreign-looking envelope, and displaying a pile of pretty little fleeces, as one might call them, of a golden brown color, so carefully cut from the skin as to leave them quite whole, although not adhesive enough to admit of handling.
“ This is from the back of the animal. The fur of the other portions of the body is considered inferior. All this is carotted fur,” said one of the heads.
“ What is carotted fur ? ” inquired Miselle of Mentor, who of course replied, —
“ Did you never hear of carroty hair ? This is the fur of a carroted hare, don’t you see ? ”
Without deigning reply, Miselle repeated her question aloud, and was informed that the carotted fur had been subjected to a mercurial or quicksilver bath, the effect of which process was to facilitate the subsequent amalgamation of the fibre.
“ This effect, however,” explained the head, “ is obtained at the expense of a certain amount of strength. A felt made entirely of carotted fur would have very little consistence ; but, without a certain proportion of it, the raw fur would not felt at all.
This next package is Scotch cony, It is entirely white, you perceive, and is used for ladies’ white hats without requiring any bleaching process. This other is French cony, dark-colored, like the Russia, but not as glossy or heavy. Here is a package of German fur very like the Russia ; in fact it generally goes by that name among the trade, although not in reality so valuable ; for as a general rule the richest furs come from the coldest climates.”
Miselle took up the label dropped from this German package, and read: —
Manufactured by W. Kugler Zim.
Offenbach, near Frankfort, a/M.”
“Frankfort on the Main,” translated Mentor, looking over her shoulder. “ Yes, there are large warrens near Frankfort, where rabbits are bred expressly for this trade. But why the accident of death should transform a German rabbit into a Russian hare I do not understand.”
“ Besides these varieties of fur,” proceeded the head, “the felt contains another ingredient called ' roundings.’ This substance is the trimmings of the hats cut off in the finishing-room,— pieces of felt, in fact, ground and picked fine again. The effect of this roundings is to give a softer and finer finish to the completed work, as in the process of felting ; its tendency is to work up to the surface, and closely connect the cruder fibres of the new fur. Too large a proportion of roundings, however, would have a tendency to weaken the consistency of the felt.”
“ In what proportions do you mix the different varieties of fur, and the roundings ? ” inquired Mentor.
“ That depends altogether upon the style of work we have in hand,” replied the head. “For men’s felt hats we use about equal proportions of the whole. For ladies’ hats, which are thinner, smaller, and not so high-priced, we use less of the hare’s fur, and also less of the roundings, making them principally of the medium grades. White hats, as we before mentioned, are made altogether of white cony.
“ And now, having shown you the material in all its varieties, we will proceed to the first process of its manufacture into hats.”
So saying the heads led the way from their comfortable office to a large upper room containing boxes and bales of fur and trimmings waiting to be ground into roundings, and several large machines. One of these was a picker much like those used in woolfactories. Into this the mixed fur is introduced by means of an endless leathern apron and feed rollers, is next passed between two sets of toothed rollers revolving with great rapidity, and finally escapes through a square opening into a large closet, where it lies in a soft pearly heap.
“ From this picker the fur goes directly to the blower,” said one of the heads, shutting the door upon the heap, and leading the way to a curious machine about twenty feet long, and seven or eight high, furnished with little windows all along its sides, and altogether extremely like a secondclass railway car ; a resemblance aided by the whir of steam-driven wheels and bands, and the heated smell of oily machinery.
“ This,” explained the head, “ is the blower; and the fur, after passing through the picker, is placed upon this endless apron at the end of the blower, and fed in between these rollers to a toothed cylinder just beyond. This cylinder revoiving at the rate of thirtyfive hundred times in a minute, seizes the fur, and, while tossing the lighter part yiolently upward and forward, carries theheavier hairs, and the bits of pelt or dirt which may still remain among it, downward through the opening in which it revolves. The heavier portion of the remainder falls presently upon the grated or sieve-like floor of the blower, to which floor a constant jarring motion is imparted by the machinery, so that most of the refuse is shaken through. The rest, with the finer portrons still floating in the air, is blown forward to the next set of rollers, the next cylinder, and the next sieve, and so on. In this blower there are eight compartments thus divided. In that other one, used for coarser work, there are only four compartments.”
“ Why should not the fur for coarse hats be as well blown as that for nice ones ? “ asked Miselle.
“ Because in each compartment it loses weight, and the quantity sufficient for a hat, after passing through four compartments, would only be halt enough after passing eight,” said the head, as patiently as if the question had been a wiser one.
The process thus explained, the blower was set in motion, and Miselle was invited to look through the little glass windows, and watch its operations. This she did so eagerly, that, while one head kindly shouted explanations and information into her ear, the other, with Mentor, was fully occupied in preventing her limbs and draperies from coming to hopeless grief among the machinery.
“ What makes all that smoke inside ?” inquired she, after several moments of breathless contemplation.
“ That smoke is the fur, or rather the lightest portions of it,” replied the head ; and Miselle, looking again, tried hard to believe that the graceful and fantastic cloud-wreaths floating through the dome-roofed chamber of the blower could be anything so substantial as even the downiest of down.
“Here is some of the siftings,” said the head, taking up a handful of the accumulation beneath the blower, and showing that it consisted principally of the hair, so soft and glossy upon the original pelt, but so harsh, wiry, and unmanageable when separated from it. This hair, so far as ascertamed, is not adapted to any use, and offers a wide and untrodden field far Yankee invention and speculation.
From the eighth chamber the fur, now throughly separated from every impurity, issues between a pair of rollers like those which carry it into the blower, and falls into a box. It now looks and feels very like eider-down, and is ready for use.
“ The next process,” pursued one of the obliging heads, "is to weigh out the fur into quantities sufficient for one hat, and then to Carry it to the formingmachine. For men’s felt hats, upon which we are at present running, the weight of fur is six ounces; for the bodies of silk hats it is often no more than three, and for ladies’ and children’s hats it varies from two to four.”
Revolving this information, Miselle followed her conductors to a lower room, where she was presently introduced to the " Wells’s Patent Hat-Forming Machine,” and assured that the specimens before her were the only ones to be found in Massachusetts.
“ And a very pretty specimen of American ingenuity it is,” said one of the heads, contemplating the machine with affectionate interest; and, so soon as Miselle could comprehend its intricacies, she was more than willing to agree with him. But, like most wonderful contrivances, the principle, when explained, is very simple.
The body of this machine was a copper box, perhaps four feet in height, with concave sides widely separated at the rear, but converging at the front to a very narrow aperture much wider at the base than the apex. Opposite this aperture slowly revolved a cone of perforated copper, whose use will presently appear. At the rear of the machine was a form supporting a box divided into small compartments, each of these compartments containing the six ounces of fur requisite for one hat.
A boy, taking the contents of one of these compartments in his hands, spread it thinly and evenly upon a leathern apron, whese forward motion carried the fur between a pair of feed-roller, and into the body of the machine, where it fell upon a cylinder fitted with several longitudinal lines of stiff bristles. The rapid revolution of this cylinder tossed the downy fur upward and forward, creating at the same time a powerful current of air which swept it forward to the month of the box, whence it issued in a light cloud, and, as if drawn by magnetism, attached itself at once to the revolving copper cone.
As Miselle looked, a workman, coming forward, lifted this cone off the frame upon which it stood, and replaced it by another, dripping wet, from a tank of water close at hand. To this the cloud of fur attached itself as before ; and it was now explained that beneath the cone, and beneath the floor of the room, was a steam fan, moving at the rate of four thousand revolutions in a minute. This fan, exhausting the air beneath the perforated cone, created a strong current toward it from every direction,—a maelstrom, in fact, which simply drew in the floating fur as it would have anything else, and in fact did draw all sorts of motes and specks from the sorrounding atmosphere, which motes and specks were, if of any tangible size, picked away by a second workman, standing close beside the cone, and attentively watching its surface.
The six ounces of fur are taken up in eight revolutions of the cone ; and as the supply ceases, the first workman, coming forward with a large wet cloth in his hands, carefully wraps it about the cone, lifts it from the frame, replaces it with another, and plunges the first into a tank of hot water. Removing it after a moment, he sets it upon a bench, carefully unwraps it, turns it upon the point with a sharp concussion, and then cautiously disengages and peels off a comical, felted cap, very weak, thin, and unreliable as yet, but still the whole substance and essence of the hat to be. Folding it with a peculiar twist, the workman lays this shadowy hat-body upon a pile of others, again exchanges the cones, and proceeds to manipulate a new subject.
“ The sides of this tunnel through which the fur flies upon the cone,” said the head, “are, as you perceive, made of thin sheet-copper, and can be bent closer, or pressed farther apart, as the operator chooses, thus directing more of the far to one part or another of the cone. In forming the bodies of silk hats, we press in the upper part of the sides, so that more of the fur is thrown toward the base, and the brim of the hat is nearly twice as heavy as the crown.”
“ You employ cones of different sizes, I perceive,” said Missile, pointing to a set of shelves upon which were arranged several of these articles.
“Yes ; the finer qualities of fur shrink much more than the poorer sorts, and so need to be formed upon a larger cone in the first place. The largest one measures about three feet in height and the smallest about two by eighteen inches diameter at the base.”
“ Have n't you seen enough of this? You are desperately in the way of these workmen,” murmured Mentor, as Miselle stood absorbed, watching the fleecy cloud flying from the mouth of the tunnel, and spreading itself as if by magic over the surface of the cone. A hasty glance showed the suggestion to be founded in fact, and she hurriedly removed herself to the neighborhood of a bench on which lay a pile of the steaming and flimsy hat-bodies just from the forming-machine, a box of fur, and a vessel of water. A workman, carefully unfolding one of the hat-bodies, laid it upon a large coarse cloth, rolled it up, patted it with his hands, unrolled it, patted and pressed it a little, then opened it out, and, holding it upon his two hands between himself and the window, looked attentively into the inside. Then laying it down, he took a lock of the dry fur, slightly wetted it in the vessel of water, and pressed it upon a spot in the hat-body, patting it on with his fingers.
“ He looks to find any thin places or flaws left by the forming-machine, and mends them, as you see,” remarked the head; “ and this rolling up and pressing in the cloth is to give a little more substance to the body before it goes to be felted. You see these that he has done with are considerably more solid than they were at first. Next they go to the sizing or planking room ; but that is such a wet and steamy place that a lady can hardly go through it comfortably.”
Terrified at this suggestion of omitting any part of the process, Miselle hastened to declare herself passionately addicted to visiting wet and steamy places, an assertion supported by Mentor with a shrug of comic resignation ; and the heads led the way across a sloppy court-yard to a vague and misty chamber, its confines hid in the reeking clouds issuing from half a dozen boiling caldrons. Several windows were open, but the heavy November air, instead of stirring the fog, only seemed to render it denser and more unbreathable. Vaguely looming through it were seen the forms of men arranged in circles about the caldrons, and bending devoutly over them. Closely approaching one of these groups, Miselle discovered that the caldron was surrounded by a bench, or frame, about two feet in width, and that upon this bench, in front of each workman, lay a little pile of the hat-bodies, which he constantly dipped into the boiling water, rolled up in a cloth, patted, pressed, opened out upon his hands, folded anew, and finally dipped again into the boiling water, recommencing the whole process. Some of these hat-bodies appeared to have just come from the former, and some were shrunk to one third or one fourth of their original size, although retaining the same conical shape. Those arrived at this stage were handled one at a time, instead of in groups, and the workman frequently applied a graduated round roller to their surface to ascertain if they had reached the desired proportions.
“ This process,” explained the head, “is called sizing, because it is to bring the hat down to the required size, not with any reference to stiffening, which is quite another affair, After shrinking, the hat-body is called a ' shell.’ A smart workman can turn off about four dozen shells in a day.”
“It must be a very unhealthy employment,” suggested Miselle, compassionately. “Standing in this hot steam, and handling these things wet with boiling water, and then going out of doors, must give the men terrible colds.”
“ O, I do not think there is any trouble about that,” replied the head whom she addressed. “ How is it, Brown ? do you call this unhealthy work ? ”
“ Not a bit of it, sir, if a fellow puts his coat on before he goes out, and gets enough of it to do,” said Brown, contentedly, as he splashed a shell in and out of the boiling water.
“The next process is shaving.” said the head, opening a door, above which Miselle locked to see a striped red and white pole, but, finding none, followed with some curiosity into a little room, where sat a remarkably jolly old man representing the barber, and flourishing, by way of razor, a long, thin, and exceedingly sharp knife. Beside him lay a pile of shells, and, with another upon his knee, the jolly old man was scraping away at its surface, whistling merrily the while, it may be with a view of keeping the cloud of pungent and choking dust that surrounded him from entering his lungs.
“ You see some hairs will make their way into the felt in spite of all our care to prevent it,” explained the head; “ and this process is to remove them from the outside. The inside is of no consequence, as the hat is to be lined, and that is one mode of distinguishing a fur from a wool felt hat. The fur has always some long hairs upon the inner surface; the wool, of course, has none.
“ And what comes after shaving ? ” inquired Miselle, retreating from the impracticable atmosphere.
Blocking. This way, if you please ” ; and the unwearied head led the way back to the caldrons, beside one of which stood a workman, dipping the shaven "shells" into the boiling water, and then fitting them, by means of his hands and a piece of curved wood, upon blocks shaped like the crown of a hat. After remaining for a moment upon the block, the hat was slipped off, moulded permanently into the shape it was to retain, and cured forever of the pyramidal tendencies hitherto distinguishing it.
A number of blocks lay upon a bench at hand, and the head pointed out their several shapes and purposes. These were various, comprising tall and awkward ones for gentlemen’s stove-funnels, odd little ones for ladies’ and children’s head-gear, a huge and massive one for shaping a Quaker’s broad-brim, and finally a conical hollow-tipped one designed for the traditional chapeau of a stage-brigand. This was at the moment in use, and Miselle had the satisfaction of watching the manufacture of a villanous-looking hat, destined, perhaps, to figure before her eyes, in time to come, amid the scenes of Lucrezia or Ernani.
“ Blocking is very trying work for the hands,” remarked the head; they generally skin at first, and become quite sore ; but after a while they callous, and hardly feel the difference between hot and cold water. The palms of this man’s hands are calloused half an inch deep.”
Considering within herself the merciful dispensation by which the callous always comes at last to those who have strength to endure the torture, Miselle followed her companions into the drying - room, where, laid upon frames and hung upon pegs, the hats remain for twenty-four hours in a temperature of about 100°
“ From this,” went on the head, “ they are taken to the dye-room. All black or dark hats are colored, but the white, pearl-colors, and light grays re left in the natural color of the fur. After dyeing they are blocked again, and then brought back here for another drying. After this they are stiffened by dipping the brims into a solution of gum shellac, and sponging the inside with a dilution of the same. Lightcolored hats are stiffened with white shellac, and ladies’ white hats are often merely starched. The shellac is removed from the outside of the hat by immersion in a vitriol bath. When imperfectly removed, it causes the shiny and spotted appearance sometimes noticed upon a hard-finished felt. Would you like to look into our carpenter’s shop? ”
Expressing an eager desire to inspect the carpenter’s shop, and wondering what possible use it could Serve in such an establishment, Miselle was led up a short flight of steps to a room charmingly fresh and clean, after the sloppmess of the steam-bath just quitted, and containing a wheel, a man, a bench, many shavings, and several piles of pieces of wood.
“ You are familiar with the lathe, I suppose,” suggested the head.
Miselle shook her own head, vaguely, but Mentor, quietly touching the wheel, remarked : “ Turning-lathe. You make your own blocks, then, sir ? ”
“ O yes. They are turned in several pieces, and then fitted together with great accuracy. Those used in finishing are in five pieces, those used in blocking only in two. The material is white-wood.”
“ ' Cuts like cheese,’ ” quoted Mentor, watching the block in progress beneath the hands of the silent workman.
“And now, if you please, we will go up to the finishing-rooms,” remarked the heads; and again Miselle followed, up a long flight of stairs to a large upper chamber fitted with benches around the sides and through the middle. At one end was an intense coal fire in a sort of furnace, and at the back of the room a row of boilers with steam issuing from around the covers.
“The first operation of finishing,”blandly proceeded the head, “is to dip the hat into boiling water, and to stretch it upon a finishing-block, where it is confined by means of a string tied tightly around the base of the crown, and another around the edge of the brim ; for these blocks, you perceive, have brims as well as crowns. As soon as the hat is snugly fitted upon the block, it is pounced, — an operation you will see here.'’ And the head pointed to a workman, who, with a black hat secured upon a block in the manner described, was vigorously scrubbing away at it with a piece of paper, causing a cloud of dust and an odor of dye-stuff highly displeasing to the unprofessional nose.
“ The paper he uses,” continued the head, presenting a scrap, of it to Miselle, “ is the finest of emery-paper, hardly rougher to the touch than ordinary paper, but still with sufficient power to remove all the trifling inequalities of the surface, and give it the rich velvety look and feeling peculiar to first-class felt. When the outside of the hat is done, he will remove it from the block, and lay it in one of these circular openings in the bench,—thus bringing the under side of the brim uppermost, to receive its proper share of attention. The next thing with the ordinary style of hats is to press them with a hot iron. That man is about to get a slug out of the furnace for this purpose.”
The individual thus pointed out had been for some moments gazing into the furnace as attentively as if he expected to find a salamander there, and now appeared to have discovered him ; for, diving a pair of long tongs into the white-hot coals, he brought out a sparkling mass of something, securely imprisoned it in a box-iron, and, coming back to his bench, began vigorously pressing and smoothing another black hat, twin-brother to the one still suffering under the pouncer’s hands, occasionally facilitating the process by wetting his work with a bit of sponge dipped in water.
“ That is for a smooth-finished hat,” continued the head; “ but we have invented a new style in which we fancy ourselves unrivalled. It is called velvet finish, and is effected by the use of steam without hot iron. You will see the process by watching this operator.”
This operator, having by much coaxing induced a small and very pretty feminine hat to allow itself to be fitted to a block, raised the cover of one of the steaming boilers, and placed the perverse little beauty across the top. After a few moments’ steaming he took it off, rubbed and pressed it with his hands, steamed it again, and finally finished by pouncing.
“ You see what a surface they get by this steaming process,” remarked the head, taking up a coquettish little “ breakfast-plate” from the bench, where it lay completed. Miselle passed her fingers across the crown, and saw, or rather felt, the propriety of the term velvet-finish, for never mouse’s back or baby’s cheek presented a softer surface.
“Velvet-finish hats are never touched by a hot iron,” repeated the head, tenderly smoothing another specimen of the same style. “That would spoil their peculiar effect, both to the eye and touch. They are rubbed into shape by the hand, or at most by these little blocks of wood shaped, as you perceive, to fit closely into the angle of the crown and brim. When a hat, of whatever style, comes off the block here in the finishing-room, its future shape is completely fixed. No further alteration can take place, except the new process of curling the brim, and that is not done until the very last thing. First the hat must be trimmed ; and we will look at that process before going farther, if you please.”
The trimming-room was a large, cheerful apartment, lighted by sunshine and pretty faces, for the operators here were all girls ; some seated at sewingmachines, and some at low tables covered with scraps of bright-colored silks, strips of enamelled leather, and implements of needle-work.
As the visitors went their rounds, some of these girls leaned demurely over their work, some looked brightly up, or glanced slyly at Mentor, but all without exception appeared so respectable, so cheerful, and so prosperous, that Miselle in her heart thanked God and the noble institutions of her native land that these her sisters were saved from the harsh labor or degrading associations by which women of their class in other countries are forced to earn their daily bread.
Pausing beside one of the tables, the indefatigable conductor took up a stiff black hat of the half pumpkin style, so universal upon the manly head at the present moment.
“ The first thing toward trimming a hat of this sort,” said he, “ is to sew this round of finely split whalebone around the outer edge of the brim. Then a piece of black cloth is stitched on for an under-brim, the ‘tip’ of silk with a label stamped in gilt letters upon it is placed inside the crown, the sides are lined, the ‘ sweat,’ or strip of enamelled leather, is put around the base of the crown, and finally the edge is bound, and the band and buckle put on. Of course, however, the different styles of hat require different treatment. A soft hat is only lined and bound, sometimes not lined except with a ‘ sweat ’; and ladies’ hats are finished in a dozen different styles, according to the shape and fashion. The present favorite style, however, for men’s hats, is the stiff round crown and curled brim. The hats on this table, you perceive, are all finished even to the band and buckle, while the edge of the brim is left raw and ragged. They are going to be curled, and after that will come back to be bound. Shall we follow them ? ”
And they followed a boy carrying the hats up or down stairs to a little room, where a workman just leaving his bench was induced to return and curl a brim, “just once more,” for Miselle’s especial benefit.
The first step in this process, as it appeared, was to open a box-iron, throw out the lump of cold metal within, and replace it by a freshly captured salamander. The next was to lay a hat upon the bench, wet the brim with cold water, pass the iron round it, and, while it was still steaming, to lay upon it a thin semicircle of steel about half as wide as the brim. The edge of the brim thus left exposed was then turned back upon the steel semicircle, wetted again, pressed again, and never let alone until it had consented to its new condition, and lay back upon the steel semicircle as flat and stiff as if it had been its original intention so to appear. This operation complete, the hat was passed to another workman, who with a curious little gauge, fitted with a keen blade upon its under side, carefully trimmed the brim to its required proportions,— that is to say, cut it nearly away at the front and back, and left it of the full width at the sides.
“This trimming process used to be regulated by the workman’s own eye,” said the head. “ But this little gauge, recently invented, does the business more neatly, more quickly, and far more certainly. This is the latest thing in curling, and makes a very stylish article,” continued he, taking up the hat, and surveying it proudly. “After this it only requires to be bound, before it will be ready for use. The curve in the brim of a soft hat is made upon the block in the process of finishing, and the same process is used to form the convex brims of some styles of ladies’ hats.
“ When entirely finished, the hats, nicely papered, are packed in cases to be forwarded to the West, the South, Down East, or to our city customers. If you will step into the office once more, we will show you specimens of our various styles.”
With weary feet, eyes, ears, and brain, butwith unabated interest, Miselle gladly returned to the pleasant office, and was shown a perfect museum of hats, arranged upon shelves protected by glass doors. Conspicuous among the rest were two broad-brimmed, drab-colored, velvet-finish, soft hats, measuring eight inches’ diameter in the crown, and eighteen from front to back of the brim. These had been moulded upon a block turned especially for them, in answer to an order from a distant city. Besides these were all the ordinary styles of men’s hats, stage hats, military and naval hats, boys’ and infants’ hats, and every caprice of feminine fantasy with which Fashion at present adorns her pretty head. Among these were the dazzling white croquet-hats, made of pure white fur, and pounced with chalk, which leaves the surface looking like a new-fallen snow-bank.
“ I understand that yours is the largest establishment in Massachusetts,” said Mentor to one of the heads.
“ Almost the only one,” replied he, with modest pride. “There are, I believe, two others in Boston making fur hats in small quantities, but they have to buy their hat-bodies of us, or send out of the State for them. Ours is the only right to use the Forming-Machine in Massachusetts.”
“ And what is the extent of your business ? ” pursued Mentor.
“ When we are running our full force, we finish fifty dozen of hats in a day,— that is to say, a hat a minute for the ten hours. We employ a hundred and fifty hands, and manufacture eighteen thousand pounds of imported fur a year.”
“That is doing a good business, — is it not ? ”
“ Yes, it is very well for this section of the country, but a leading house in New York turns off as many as ten thousand hats in a day when it chooses. New York and New Jersey are the hatters of the Union, after all. We cannot compete with them.”
“ Not perhaps in covering heads, but, when it comes to furnishing them, I fancy Massachusetts need yield to no one,” said Mentor, consolingly ; and the heads smiled approval of the leading article of faith in the creed of a NewEnglander.
“Are there any silk hats manufactured in Boston ? ” asked Mentor, putting on his own hat with a new appreciation of its meaning.
“Yes, here is the address of a house which manufactures silk hats, and also felt of similar styles to those you have just seen. You had better give the firm a call.”
Mentor looked doubtfully at his weary companion, but she declaring herself in the first flush and vigor of morning strength, it was resolved to act upon the suggestion ; and, after thanking the courteous heads for their sacrifice of time, breath, and trouble, Mentor and Miselle took leave, and shortly after presented themselves upon their new field of observation.
Here they were politely received, and readily admitted to the penetralia of the establishment, in spite of several staring announcements of “ No Admittance ” upon the various doors.
Glancing through the rooms devoted to the manufacture of felt hats, they found the processes nearly identical with those they had just seen, with the exception of forming the hat-bodies, which were bought of the house they had just left. Ascending to the top of the building, they found two large chambers devoted to silk hats, and were in the first place shown the bodies, made in the same manner as the fur or felt hat, but much thinner and lighter,—a silk hat for city wear not generally exceeding three ounces in weight, although those intended for the country, where a hat is expected to meet with rougher usage and last a longer time, are more substantial. Still more fragile than the three-ounce hat is the gossamer, where the foundation, instead of felt, is only stiffened cambric, and is incapable of enduring the slightest hardship.
The felted body, dipped in hot water, is stretched upon a block of the shape at that moment in fashion, and, when dry, is stiffened with a solution of gum shellac and alcohol. This is covered with a coating of varnish to prevent it from subsequently striking through to the surface, and this again is washed over with liquid glue ; when this is thoroughly dry, the cover of fine silk plush, cut and sewed to fit the hat-body, is carefully drawn on, brought into place, and then smoothed all over with a hot iron. The warmth, penetrating to the glue, dissolves it; and in drying again it connects the plush above and the felt beneath in a union only to be dissolved by a severe wetting.
The hat is next placed upon a revolving cylinder, where it is polished with soft cloths to the required brilliancy. Next it is lined, generally with watered or embossed paper, a strip of enamelled leather is sewed about the edge, it is fitted with an under-brim of cloth or silk, and finally bound and banded.
The plush covering of these hats is imported, the best coming from Martin, of Paris. It is cut to fit the body in three pieces ; the tip, or crown, and the covering of the brim being sewn to the upright piece so carefully that the point of junction is almost invisible in the detached cover, quite so after it has been fitted and glued to the body. Equally invisible upon the completed hat is the diagonal line of junction down the side, where one edge of the cover is lapped over the other and pressed together with the hot irons and revolving brushes of the finishing process.
Completed, the hat is nicely enveloped in tissue paper, packed, and forwarded to the retail dealer, who may, if he choose, style it either French or English, although the American hat is fully equal to the French, and superior to the English, which, like some other Britannic growths, is heavy and clumsy. To be sure, however, the humidity of the English atmosphere would prevent the use of a hat as light as those worn in America.
“ Beaver hats have become quite obsolete, I suppose,” remarked Mentor, to the pleasant young gentleman who had shown the silk-hat rooms and imparted much of the above information.
“ O no,” replied he to this query; “ we made some last year. Those white hats, with long silky fur, so much worn last summer, were beaver hats. The body is made like that of any other hat, and, while it is still soft and wet, the beaver fur is laid on in flakes, and felted in by means of a bow.”
“ Of a bow ! ” exclaimed Miselle, incredulously.
“ Yes. A long bow is strung with catgut, and this string is gently snapped across the fur after it is laid upon the body. The jar of the blow causes it to adhere, and it finally becomes incorporated with the felt.”
“ I believe the ' long-bow ’ part of it,” murmured Miselle in spite of Mentor’s warning glances ; but subsequent inquiry proved not only the truth of this statement, but the fact that, until within a few years, the fur hats now replaced by silk ones were made in the same manner.
Full fed with information, facts, theories, and speculations, Mentor and his charge at last bade farewell to their obliging guide, and to the study of hats, and returned to the minor pursuits of life.
The next day Miselle found herself in company with the Philosopher and Captain Sentry, who pelted each other with Hegel and Social Science.
“You will not deny that something and nothing are identical,” argued the Philosopher.
“No. But as for being and becoming constituting the same principle — ”
But Miselle, who had listened until she felt tempted to jump up and scream, here interposed : " O, please don’t say those dreadful things any more. Tell me about hats instead.”
The superior beings smiled with that air of good-humored forbearance so soothing to the feminine spirit, and Captain Sentry said: "I do not know much about hats, but the other day I was upon a commission, when it became in order to inquire concerning the character of hatters as a class. One master-hatter gave his evidence with great energy to the effect that they were by nature a reckless and dissipated set of men, earning large wages, and spending them freely in various ill-advised fashions. Against this we received the rebutting testimony of another employer, who declared that the Boston hatters, at any rate, are as sober, well-behaved, and respectable a class of men as are to be found in anv mechanical guild. 1 lie last man was a Bostonian, the first from New Jersey, however; and it is possible that the influences of Social— ”
“Thank you,” hastily interposed Miselle, “ I have no doubt that the Boston man was perfectly correct. 1 have seen more than two hundred hatters within the last two days, and noticed them particularly as a very intelligent and wellappearing set ot men. I am quite sure at least that the men in the sizing-room are good men, for they are constantly subjecting themselves to the ordeal ot boiling water, and endure it wonderfully.”
She spoke with conviction, and as Captain Sentry only smiled in reply, she thought him convinced, and turned to the Philosopher, who, shading his eyes with his hand, and, apparently unconscious of the vicinity of any human being, remarked in a dreary manner: “Hats! why, the world has always been hatted more or less. The ancient Romans, to be sure, went bareheaded as a rule ; but at sacred rites, at games, festivals, in war, or on a journey, the head was covered, sometimes with a helmet, sometimes with a woollen cap or bonnet called the pileus, also worn under the helmet, or with a narrow-brimmed felt hat called the petasus, and resembling the modern hat much more than modern men resemble the Romans. Caligula permitted these hats to be worn at the theatre as screens from the direct rays of the sun. Old persons wore the pileus, or woollen cap, for the sake of warmth, and manumitted slaves as a badge of freedom. In fact, they received a cap with their freedom-papers as we call them at the South.”
“ Then the cap has always been a badge of freedom ? ”
“ Yes. After Cæsar’s death, Brutus and Cassius issued coins bearing a cap between two daggers, and after Nero’s death many Romans assumed caps in token of having recovered their liberty. Of course you know all about the Swiss liberty-cap, with Tell, Gessler, and all that sort of thing; and next door to them are the Netherlanders, who, upon liberating themselves from the Spanish yoke, added a hat to their national insignia.”
“As for the cap-and-dagger coins issued after the murder of Cæsar, it was adding insult to injury ; for he, poor fellow ! was bald, and, of all the honors heaped upon him by the Senate, chiefly valued the laurel crown, because it concealed his infirmity,” suggested Captain Sentry.
“ Mrs. S. A. Allen not being of Roman renown,” irreverently added Miselle, while the Philosopher went dreamily on : “ Cæsar, in dying, wrapped his mantle about his head, and the action, though pathetic, was probably instinctive ; for the mantle cape or toga was used by the men of his time as a covering to the head as well as the body. In later days the Romans wore a sort of great-coat with a hood to it when on a journey or in stormy or chilly weather. This hood was often covered with a rough shag, or pile, for the sake of warmth, and was of various colors. The garment itself was worn by both sexes, and was sometimes made of skins. The Romans — ”
“ Never mind about the Romans any more, please,” interposed the audacious Miselle, “but tell me, instead, how long has there been such a race as hatters, and when did they begin the present style of manufacture ? ”
“ The first guild or trade-association of hatters,” promptly replied the Philosopher, “was in Nuremburg in 1360. They were called Felzkappenmachers. We find them in France under Charles IV. from 1380 to 1442, and in Bavaria in 1401. Charles VII. of France is depicted as wearing a round felt hat while entering Rome in 1449.
“No more Rome, please!” implored Miselle. “ When did the hatters get to England and America ? ”
“Hats are supposed to have appeared in England during the eighth century, and were made at that time of hide with the hair left on. These were both round and conical in shape. Felt hats came later. Froissart mentions hats in the fourteenth century as made of fine hair netted together and dyed red, and about the middle of the twelfth century a nobleman is described as adorned with ‘a hat of biever.’
“Stubbs in his ‘ Anatomie of Abuses’ published in 1585, says : —
“ ‘ Sometimes they use them sharp in the crown, standing up like a spire or steeple a quarter of a yard, sometimes fiat like the battlements of a house, and other some round. With them are worn bands of black, white, green, yellow, russet, or divers colors. These hats are made of silk, of velvet, teffetie, sarsnet, wool, or, which is the most curious of all, of a fine kind of hair. These are called biever hats, and fetch twenty, thirty, or forty shillings. They came from beyond seas, whence also are brought enough of other follies and vanities.’
“ Then there is the cardinal’s red hat, its color supposed to typify his readiness to shed his blood in the cause of Christ; and there are the Pope’s tiara, — and the king’s crown, merely different forms of such head-gear as we all wear. There also is the pointed and tasselled fool’s cap, much resembling in shape the hoods I notice ladies wearing sewed to the necks of their cloaks at the present time.”
“ But when did they begin to make hats here in America ?” interposed Miselle, hastily.
The Philosopher grimly smiled, as he replied: “In 1732 the London hatters made formal complaint to the House of Commons of the extent to which the manufacture of hats was carried in New England and New York, thereby injuring their monopoly of the trade. But I believe the Yankees proved as irrepressible in that matter as in several similar ones, and the trade has gone briskly on ever since.
“ I do not think I know anything more about hats,”
“ Does any one ? ” asked Miselle ; and she left the Philosopher and Captain Sentry to Hegel and Social Science, herself retiring to inspect the interior of the Baron’s new fur felt hat.