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The Fedora Lounge Guide to Dating Dobbs Hats

Brad Bowers

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,187
The Fedora Lounge Guide to Dating Dobbs Hats

Part I: 1908 - 1940


View attachment 10285

NOTE: This guide will utilize liner tips and factory labels, and to a certain extent, sweatband stamps, to date Dobbs hats to within a decade, or within a few years, as the case may be. It is by no means comprehensive. There are multiple variation of all liners, labels, and stamps used throughout the years, and this guide only touches on a few that seem to be common.

The easiest method to date early Dobbs hats is through the Dobbs crest on the liner tips. Dobbs included the address in the crest, and because we know the dates and locations of their shops, we can be fairly certain on dating these hats to within a few years of accuracy. Dobbs factory reorder labels are also useful, but more so once we hit the 1940s, when they became standardized across all Hat Corporation of America brands. Prior to 1940, factory labels are included below immediately following the liner in their associated hat. You will see that the labels are inconsistent in their usage prior to 1940, so by themselves they don't offer enough clues. The same holds true for retail size tags. There were several styles, and their usage covers decades in some instances, and not consistently. Size tags will be addressed in an addendum below.


1908 – 1914
The original Dobbs & Co. retail store opened for business on September 15, 1908 at 242 Fifth Avenue in New York City. They remained at this address until the end of 1914. Dobbs Hats from this period feature the address, at least on the silk hat examples I have seen. Note that below the address the banner reads “The Knapp-Felt Shop,” as the primary hats Dobbs & Co. sold during this period were Crofut & Knapp, Knapp-Felt, and Knapp-Felt De Luxe. I haven’t seen any Dobbs’ Derby or soft hat examples from this period, but they should be similar; however, it’s always possible they omitted the address from them. The silk hats I have seen did not have factory labels, so I have yet to ascertain what these early labels looked like.

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1915 – 1917
At the beginning of 1915, Dobbs & Co. moved next door to a larger shop at 244 Fifth Avenue. While I don’t have any examples, I suspect that liner tips were updated for the new address.

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1908 - 1909 Union Label
Crofut & Knapp allowed the United Hatters of North America to place their label in C&K hats from 1896 until 1909. After a strike paralyzed the company, C&K discontinued the use of the Union label in January 1909 and forced the union completely out of the factory on February 8, 1909. For a very brief few months, then, from September 1908 through January 1909, Dobbs hats probably featured a union label. This example is from a C&K hat between prior to 1909. The union was kept out of the factory until 1946, but union labels would not show up again on Hat Corporation of America hats until the 1960s.

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1917 – 1919

On May 1, 1917, Dobbs & Co. opened a new flagship store at 620 Fifth Avenue. Liner tips were most likely updated with both addresses at that time. This is possibly an example of a 1917-1919 hat because there is no 2 West Fiftieth Street on the address, but it could also be post-1922 because it says “New York’s Leading Hatters” on the banner (See next date period). It is an exception to one of these periods.

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1919 – 1922
In June 1919, Dobbs & Co. leased additional space at 618 Fifth Avenue, as well as extended space around the corner at 2 West Fiftieth Street. The latter address was added to liner tips, while the former was not.

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The above two photos are by and courtesy of Joshua Brutzkus.

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1922 – January or February of 1927
In a 1934 trademark filing, Dobbs removed “The Knapp Felt Shops” from the banner and replaced it with “New York’s Leading Hatters,” claiming it had been in use on their hat liners since 1922. Additionally, by 1924 they had added 4 and 6 West Fiftieth Street to the 620 Fifth Avenue store, giving them an impressive retail outlet. This perhaps explains the rearrangement in the order of the addresses, as 620 had far surpassed 244 Fifth Avenue in importance. This example also feature a different factory label.

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The above two photos by and courtesy of Robert Kent.

Alternate
1922 – 1930s? Liner
Here is a liner style that was first used in 1922, and may have been used into the 1930s. It's not as common. Note that in the trademark filing and the first physical example, on each side of scrolling banner the addresses 620 (on the left) and 244 (on the right) were used. This means it could be from 1922 until the beginning of 1927. On what appear to be later versions, the addresses have been omitted.

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January or February 1927 – 1929, or perhaps as late as 1931

Sometime in early 1927, by mid-March at the very latest, the old shop at 244 Fifth Avenue had closed and a new store was opened at 324 Fifth Avenue. Once again, the address would be updated, but this time was the last time Dobbs liners would sport the addresses. Why 324 was placed before 620 is a matter open for debate.

Dobbs & Co. opened their grandest store yet at 1 West Fifty-seventh Street and Fifth Avenue on October 16, 1928. 324 Fifth Avenue remained open, as well as a location at Fifth Avenue and West Fiftieth Street, though which address is unknown at this time. Dobbs & Co. most assuredly did not need the square footage that 620 had offered to that point, so it’s probable that they scaled back. References beyond 1929 only mention Fifth and West Fiftieth.

1 West Fifty-Seventh was never given the liner tip treatment. Perhaps 1928 is when the address was removed from hat liners, or perhaps 324 and 620 continued for a little while longer in the tips. Construction on Rockefeller Center started around 1931 and the old buildings were torn down. 1 West Fifty-Seventh Street closed due to bankruptcy in mid-1931, and 324 Fifth Avenue was gone by 1933.

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1930s
This decade sees some new crests featured in liner tips.

The following example from 1936 is probably representative of a common Dobbs crest in the early part of the decade.

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The above two photo by and courtesy of Robert Kent.


Dobbs also used a 1930s variant label that is lineless.

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This liner example is embroidered.

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This variation is from 1938. It would show up again in the early-1950s, though with a plastic liner-tip protector. It also has a variant of the lineless label.

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The above two photos by and courtesy of Robert Kent.


1933 – 1935

One easy way to tell a hat from the summer of 1933 until the end of May 1935 is by addition of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) label, featuring the famous blue eagle. This New Deal program, as it relates to our hatting history, involved the government convincing the industries, corporations, and businesses of America to agree to minimum wages for workers, and for our hats, price floors on items manufactured and sold. Long story short, the law that created the NRA was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 27, 1935, and price floors and labels were no longer applied to goods. Here is an example of an NRA label in a Cavanagh soft felt hat, but all Hat Corporation of America hats subject to the price control should feature the same or similar label. If you have one of these labels in your hat, then congratulations, you've narrowed the manufacturing window to as close as you'll be able to get it without something like a verified sales receipt!

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1934 – circa-1940 Roundel

On April 12, 1934, Dobbs began using a Roundel design in some liner tips. This is from the trademark filing.

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Circa-1940
Sometime around 1940 Hat Corporation of America began their push for standardization of all factory labeling. A transitional type of label is shown following the Roundel below. This may have lasted into at least 1942, as an example exists of one that mentions a price ceiling on a price tag.

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Another example of a circa-1940 transitional label.
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Brad Bowers

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,187
The Fedora Lounge Guide to Dating Dobbs Hat, Part II: 1940 - 1972

Dobbs Sweatband Debossments
1908 - 1940s

The Dobbs name positioned on a upward slant and debossed into the leather of sweatbands is a common denominator throughout the entire history of Dobbs hats, and isn't as useful to help in dating, but will be briefly covered here for reference purposes. This style is common from 1908 until sometime around WWII.

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A far less-common treatment on sweatbands in the 1920s and 1930s has the Dobbs name debossed with gold. This does not show up very often. Black leather sweatbands are also very rare prior to the late-1950s. Both of these examples are from the 1920s.

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The upward-slanted Dobbs debossment is not as common in the 1920s and 1930s, and only slightly more common in the 1940s. It did not replace the upward-slanted debossment. Although all Dobbs hats had a model name in catalogs and advertisements, only a select few ever had the name inside the hat somewhere. It could be printed on the liner, as with the Game Bird and the Rainbow (see Part II for photos), just for a couple of examples, but it often was included in the debossment, as seen here.

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There are very slight differences in the exact shapes of the letters and depth of embossing over the years, but I don't know that we have enough information to necessarily pin down any changes due to differences the dies.

Cavanagh Edge Nomenclature
In the early-1930s, Dobbs debossed the patent information for the second version of the Cavanagh Edge and called it the "Improved Cavanagh Edge." By the late-1930s and up until 1944, Dobbs changed the name to the "Improved Felted Welt Edge." Its final name for Dobbs would not arrive until 1944.

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Circa-1940 to circa-1945
Dobbs changed the Roundel by moving the Dobbs name and curving it along the top. It became more ornate by prominently featuring the lions. It was offered in several color schemes.

View attachment 10319 View attachment 10347 View attachment 10348 View attachment 10349 View attachment 10350 View attachment 10320


1940s Factory Label
Hat Corporation of America standardized their factory labels across all of the lines right around 1940. This standardized label continued for the rest of the decade until about 1950. One difference on some 1940s labels is the inclusion of the patent number for a new finishing process, patented on October 25, 1938, by John J. Cavanagh’s son, John Garvan Cavanagh, for some hats. They also feature the descriptors for each number, unlike the previous examples. The descriptors may mark a distinction in time and be used for dating purposes, but I need to collect more data.
Both examples are show below.

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World War II

Hat Corporation of America did their part in the war effort by manufacturing uniforms caps for the U.S. military. Evidence suggests that at some point during World War II that Dobbs changed from the Roundel and went back to the standard Dobbs crest. Officer's caps from this period feature both crests. There may be some overlap, though 1945 seems a reasonable point to give to the end of the Roundel. Here are two U.S. Army officer's caps with different crests.

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1942 - 1947-ish OPA Labels
Office of Price Administration labels can be used to date a hat to the World War II period. The OPA used the General Maximum Price Regulation from May 18, 1942, when the GMPR took effect, until May 29, 1947, when the Office of Price Administration was abolished. It was designed to create price ceilings for similar products among various manufacturers within an industry. So, Hat Corporation of America, Stetson, Lee, and other hat manufacturers would agree one which hats among their various lines were similar, and abide by a fixed-price ceiling for these hats. I don’t have a photo of a typical label from this era, but it would usually read “O.P.A. RETAIL CEILING PRICE $20.00 (Sec. 13. M.P.R 580),” and be affixed inside the sweatband for the customer to see. Many manufacturers declined to followed the OPA recommendations, and dropped the use of the label by 1945.

However, here is a label from a 1940s Dobbs Derby that has the Price Ceiling listed. There appears to have once been a consumer-removable portion with the pertinent OPA information, and was removed long ago. Kind of like mattress tags, I guess.

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Post-War Liners

Here are some liners from the 1940s that I believe to be post-war.

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Late-1940s Sweatbands
By the late 1940s the Dobbs name was debossed in gold, typically on a textured sweatband, and this lasted until the early 1950s. It was usually associated with a hat model with some longevity, and thus featured the model name below the Dobbs imprint. This example is a 1950s Hanover Square.

View attachment 10337


The debossed Dobbs Coach made its sweatband debut right around the late-1940s.
Originally it was a plain debossing, like most Dobbs hats. This example is from a
Game Bird model (though marked Fifteen, as in the price, $15.00), dated to 1949.
Also note the Guild Edge debossment. Guild Edge was the name Dobbs eventually
settled on for a Cavanagh Edge, and was first used on hats in 1944.

View attachment 10334

1950s Sweatbands
By the time of the Korean War in the early-1950s, Dobbs debossed the Coach in gold. This would last until the end of Hat Corporation of America in 1972, though it would also be used by HCA's successors in Garland, TX. In essence, it has lasted until the present day.

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The later logos do not feature as deep of a debossment as the earlier ones, nor the crisp gold edges. This example is from 1970.

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1950s Factory Label

The decade of the 1950s saw the standardized factory labels change again as new printing equipment was put into use. These labels were used across all of Hat Corporation of America’s lines until sometime after 1960, when the label changed slightly. Exactly when these were first used is unknown, but they used on OPS marked hats (see below for OPS information), and thus circa-1950 is a reasonable estimate.

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1951 - 1953 OPS Labels
Because of rising inflation in the first months of the Korean War, a presidential executive order created the Office of Price Stabilization (OPS), which, much like the OPA during World War II, created price ceilings on competing products. It was in effect from January 24, 1951, until April 30, 1953. Labels were affixed to hats just as they had been a decade earlier. Below is an example. Again, not all hats from this time period may have had these labels.

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1950s Model-Specific and Price-Based Liner Tips
Liner tips show distinctions based on model and price. Models like Game Birds and Rainbows would continue to feature custom liners. Pictured are a 1953 Rainbow and a 1949 Game Bird. Game Bird photo by and courtesy of Purplesage.

View attachment 10360 View attachment 10335 View attachment 10336

1950s Standard Liners for Lower-Priced Hats
Models for lower-tier hats revived the half-color crest as seen on this 1950s Hanover Square. Colors could be blue, green, red, or brown, and all seem to feature a plastic tip protector.

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1950s - 1960s Higher Priced Liner Tips
Dobbs hats costing $20 or higher featured a different liner tip with the Dobb crest sitting below the large Lions and Dobbs "D" emblem. These usually had oilskin tip protectors instead of plastic, even into the 1960s. These perhaps showed up in the late-1940s.

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1960s Factory Label
The key difference between the 1950s labels and the 1960s labels is the removal of the block depth from the label. With most hats having short crowns by that point, and fewer men being fashion savvy when it came to subtle distinctions in crown height and brim width, it was apparently deemed unnecessary.

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1960s Liner Tips
Lower-priced hats revived the all solid color crest from the 1940s, only with a plastic tip protector. As before, red, blue, green, and brown were offered. Others used a simplified crest, sometimes with a plastic or oilskin tip protector, sometimes without.

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This is another crest borrowed from the 1940s, though with an oilskin protector.

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One more offering from the 1960s that carried over into post-HCA production was the Golden Coach model.

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If, indeed, the slanted Dobbs name had disappeared by the mid-1950s, it had reappeared by the mid- to late-1960s. This example is from 1968.

View attachment 10340

Post-1972

The gold Dobbs name embossment, along with the Dobbs Coach, has also lasted to the present day with HCA's successors in Garland, TX, though the Dobbs name is straight instead of slanted, and sports a Registered Trademark symbol after the name. The Coach also sports a Registered Trademark symbol.

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Brad Bowers

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,187
The Fedora Lounge Guide to Dating Dobbs Hats: Addendum on Size Tags

Addendum: Size Tags
As mentioned before, size tags are not an easy tool to accurately pinpoint a decade because there is so much overlap between decades, but for reference purposes, most will be shown here.

1908? - 1930s
The black size tag probably dates earlier than the 1920s, but examples carried into the 1930s. This is a typical 1920 size tag.

View attachment 10342


1920s - 1940s
The white tag could be found from the 1920s to the early-1940s.

View attachment 10345

1930s - 1970s

The gold tag has quite the longevity, though there are changes in the typeface used and the type of gold on the paper. Early gold tags feature a serif typeface, and tend to exhibit a greenish patina today; much of the gold often looks to be coming off. Tags from the 1950s onward don't exhibit this issue. They also feature a sans-serif typeface. On the left is a typical 1940s tag, and on the right is a 1960s tag.

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1950s -1960s
The brown oval size tag appeared in the early-1950s, and lasted at least until the early-1960s.

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Brad Bowers ~ The Hatted Professor
 

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Brad Bowers

I'll Lock Up
Messages
4,187
Quick Addendum to the Transitional Labels

Quick Addendum to the Transitional Labels

This transitional label is an example from I hat I just received today that shows this label lasted until sometime after 1942, because of the Price Ceiling on the tag. How much overlap there was with this label and the standard 1940s label is unknown.
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Brad
 

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