Seven Halloween Hats, ca. 1955
I did my first post on this series of hats on 25 August 2006, did a second on 21 January 2007 (by which time I had three hats) and in April of last year I wrote that “I now have seven hats in this series … I suspect there were eight in all, so I am holding off on doing the post until I find the missing hat.”
Well, now I am not so sure there are actually eight hats in the series so I have decided to “post, and be damned.” My new-found skepticism is partly the result of finding this vast collection of Halloweeniana on Flickr, which contains five hats from my series, followed by a sixth hat (below) that I don’t have and which had me wondering in July of last year whether it could be my long-lost eighth hat.
Then, only a few weeks back, I found the same hat in Claire M. Lavin, Timeless Halloween Collectibles, 1920–1949: A Halloween Reference Book From The Beistle Company Archive With Price Guide (2005), 109. It is from the “Clown Hat” series [Stock no. 1749] originally released in 1940.
Looking closely at Lavin’s entry I realised (1) this was not my long-lost eighth hat and (2) there were only five designs in the “Clown Hat” series—just as there are five in the 1938 “Clown Hat” series [Stock no. 1731] (on p. 116)—so it is possible that only an odd-number of hats were ever released in my series too.
Another thing that occurred to me while looking at the six hats on the Flickr set, and the various “Clown Hat” series in Lavin’s book, is that it quite likely that my series was issued by the Beistle Company. I can only assume that it was issued after 1949—since it does not feature in Lavin’s book—but I had dated it from “the late 50s” on stylistic grounds anyway. Of course, the only way to confirm my suspicion would be to visit the Beistle archives, which may take some time to organise!
Unfortunately, Mark B. Ledenbach, who had a look at one of the hats for me back in 2006, was confident that it isn’t the handiwork of “Beistle or Dennison and probably isn’t Whitney or Gibson either,” suggesting that “it must be from one of the countless small firms supplying the Halloween market.” It is with the greatest reluctance that I would differ in opinion from an expert such as Mark, which is why it has taken more than three years, not just to collect the hats, but to come to this conclusion.
One final thing to note, if this series is from Beistle, then it is likely to be another “Clown Hat” series. I have said before just how similar the home-made clown and witchy costumes were in the first decade of the the twentieth century, and that one key difference is the hat. Witches hats do sometimes have a bushy/pom-pom top, as my last post showed (what an amazing coincidence that I just happened to do a post on the Columbia Pictures/Dusty Anderson/Adele Jergens chorus girl outfit last week!) but they are uncommon and Clown hats usually have more than one pom-pom.
There are also usually other features, like a neck-ruffle and an all-in-one loose-fitting Pierrot-gown, which help to separate the two. But, as I have showed twice before (in April 2008 and again during last Halloween (here), sometimes you do get a mixture.
Anyway, all of this is mere background to my main question: were Beistle’s “Clown Hats” really (only?) intended for Halloween Clowns (i.e., people who wore a clown costume on Halloween)? I have assumed that this series of hats was intended for women dressed as witches, as well as actually being hats that feature witches: a kind of symbolic tautology, like naming your dog “dog” or your car “car.”
And it has amused me no end thinking about this symbolic tautology, it would be like an accountant wearing a tie depicting accountants, a fireman wearing a protective suit covered in pictures of firemen rescuing people and putting out fires, or a politician wearing a shirt with little silhouettes of them kissing babies, talking to the press, emptying your wallet, taking bribes, and having sex with prostitutes.
Of course, it is scarcely less amusing to have a clown wearing a picture of a witch: they really aren’t supposed to be very funny, are they? And a happy or a smiling witch should really be quite alarming (“oh goody, your baby is nearly ready to eat!”), but perhaps a happy sexy witch is another matter altogether. Anyway, it would make more sense for them to have pictures of little bicycles and exploding cigars, no? Also, would a witch wear a hat depicting a clown? I’ve never seen one. Bats, Cats, Moons—all the gothic and macabre cliches in fact—yes, but clowns? It is all very silly. But perhaps I just need to get some more sleep…