“Show me another” is a well-trodden phrase in the antiques world when a spectacular or uncommonly rare item appears for sale. It’s a saying that adds value normally, but not in every case.
A great rarity appeared in the May sale held by Barbara Kirk Auctions in Penzance.
This was a tarred-leather Billingsgate porter’s hat, with a nailed flat crown and upturned brim.
Known as ‘bobbin’ hats, they were worn by porters at London’s famous fish market and were said to last for 40 years.
The hats were unique to Billingsgate and were made locally in the East End by specialist craftsmen who nailed the leather into its position to allow the deep, all-round brim to catch any dripping, icy water. Their protective qualities were also enhanced by several coats of waterproofing tar.
The flat top enabled fish boxes to be carried on the head by porters. Incredibly, the tar and nails contributes to a weight, in the example shown, of 1.5 kilograms, or nearly 3½lbs.
There are many collectors of hats. That’s no surprise given they come in a wonderful range of colours, shapes and styles – as seen at Ladies’ Day at Perth Races recently! That goes for materials, too – furs, felt, feathers, bows, beads, silk or straw, and so on.
Specialist groups exist, such as those who collect military or regimental headgear. Others concentrate on a particular era or theme. And there is, apparently, a Mad Hatters’ collecting group.
There is some debate over what hat collectors should be called. Millinophiles appears the favourite. In Dundee, I suppose, it would be bunnetophilia.
The Billingsgate hat took £140.