This c.1890 Collins & Fairbanks black silk plush top hat has a black faille hat band and taupe leather sweatband. Its silhouette--in the words of the New York Times, “a narrow face and back and a heavily upward curled rim”—came into fashion in the late 1880s. It comes safely ensconced in a matching leather hatbox with quilted raspberry satin lining.
Lined in cream silk, the hat has its crown printed with the company’s iconic trademark (a globe wearing a top hat) and information (“Extra Quality, Collins & Fairbanks, 383 Washington St. Opp Franklin, Boston Registered”), and is also embossed in gold with the owner’s initials. The same information (with the addition of a reference to D.P.Ilsley, the hatter Collins & Fairbanks worked for in the 1870s) is stamped in gold inside the lid of the hat box.
The Boston-based Collins & Fairbanks shop was opened in 1883 by two former employees of D.P.Ilsley (also a hatter), and geared originally to young Ivy League college men. Over the course of the decade, Collins & Fairbanks expanded their business to include other types of gentleman’s accessories and outerwear, and by the close of the Edwardian era they were considered one of the country’s finest hatters. They imported as well as manufactured their hats; photo #8 shows two late 19th century Collins & Fairbanks ads describing the range and origin of their stock (the top ad is from the 1892 Harvard Lampoon, the bottom from the 1890 Dartmouth Review).
Measuring 22” around the sweatband, this elegant Collins & Fairbanks top hat has a crown height of 6” and a brim width of 2”. Condition is very good, with some slight storage denting to the crown, and two nicks to the wool of the underbrim (photo #7 shows these issues). The sweatband bow has detached but will be included.
Condition of the hat box is fair, sturdy but distressed, with the (reconditioned) leather scuffed and cracked and the strip containing the top piece of the lock broken off and missing. Old transit labels are affixed to the lid and bottom, and the deaccessioning museum has stabilized the lid seam with nylon thread (photo #5). The quilted satin lining, intact elsewhere, has discoloration and wear inside the rim of both the lid and the lower half of the box. Despite these issues, the hat box still provides excellent storage for the hat and presents quite handsomely.
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