Buying Guide to Vintage Hat Pins

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Vintage Hat Pins are a great place to start when delving into the world of Vintage Jewelry. They are small enough and can often be affordable enough for an everyday purchase, while still holding value to any Vintage Jewelry Collection.

What is a Hat Pin?

Hat Pins are exactly as they sound: pins used to keep your hat secure and in place. They are made with a long pin that is often topped with a design or gemstone, creating a decorational aspect to go along with the functionality.

History of Hat Pins 

Hat Pins are believed to have come about during the early 1850s. Prior to this, straight pins were used to hold down wimples and veils, and eventually Hat Pins helped hats in replacing bonnets as the style du jour.

Britain was having a tough time keeping up with the demands of pins, so they were forced to import from France. In the 1820s British Parliament, after seeing the negative effects on the balance of trade, created an Act limiting the sale of pins to just two days a year! January 1st and 2nd became busy shopping days for ladies looking to purchase their pins.

During the 1830s, an American created a machine that was able to produce pins much faster than the handmade pins. This lead England and France to eventually utilize machine production as well, and these machines were eventually what was used to create Hat Pins.

The popularity of Hat Pins came about during the late 19th and early 20th century. Hats were becoming more popular as an accessory for women, as well as becoming larger in size. This increased the need and demand for Hat Pins. British jeweler Charles Horner became a top manufacturer of Hat Pins, as well as Unger Bros., William Kerr, and Tiffany & Co.

vintage hat pins used as a defense

Hat Pins were also seen as a weapon of self defense for women, aiding in preventing assaults by men. Some Hat Pins were up to 10 inches long, providing a nice sized dagger for women to use. By 1908, America had created a law limiting the length of Hat Pins, out of concern for the use of them as weapons.

Hat Pins started to go out of fashion in the 1920s, as cloche hats became popular and you didn’t need to utilize Hat Pins.

Types of Hat Pins 

The most basic type of Hat pin would be just a pin with a black bead on top. Things slowly progressed all the way to ornate Hat Pins made by jewelers.

The pins themselves are most commonly made out of Silver, Brass, 14K yellow gold, and 18K yellow gold. Occasionally, natural materials such as ivory, jet, and tortoise were used in more luxurious Hat Pins. The designs themselves (not just the pin component) could be made of those materials, but also of more complex materials such as pearls, gemstones, enamel, glass, diamonds and many others.

Hat Pin designs were aligned with the more traditional jewelry eras, such as Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. You’ll all see some Etruscan Revival, Egyptian Revival and Oriental influences. 

Other materials used in hat pins included Carnival glass, rhinestones, hand blown molded glass, micro mosaic, or hand painted or transferred porcelain like the Japanese Satsuma. There were also hat pins made with emeralds, tortoise shell, ivory, stone, amber, jet, celluloid and other plastics, mother of pearl, and coral.

  • Victorian Hat Pins are often black and white in color with simple designs, as they were mass produced during this era. They were often made for the ‘working girl’, with a small black or white bead. But, you will also see some gemstones thrown in the mix, mostly in the fancier Hat Pins.
  • Art Nouveau Hat Pins were usually inspired by nature, with free forms and movement expressed in their designs.
  • Art Deco Hat Pins are more geometric, and here is where you will see the Revival influences mentioned earlier.

Key Hat pin Manufacturers 

  • Unger Brothers
  • Lincoln
  • William Kerr
  • Alvin Manufacturing
  • R. Blackington and Company
  • Day and Clarke
  • The Sterling Company. 
  • Tiffany and Co.

Notable Hat Pin Designers 

  • Charles Horner
  • Louis Tiffany
  • William Codman
  • James T. Wooley
  • Barton Jenks
  • George Gebelein. 

Collectible Hat Pins

  • Specialized hatpins, including hallmarked hat pins, hat pins that serve vanities, opera hat pins, and compact hat pins that have a mirror and a powder puff.
  • Amethyst and pearls hat pins are popular as collectibles
  • Plique-a-Jour enamel hat pins.
  • Hat pin holders.
vintage hats

How to Wear a Hat Pin

For those looking to wear a Hat Pin in the traditional way, you’ll need to start with a hat!

Once the hat is on, you can poke the pin through a spot that hopefully won’t leave a hole. You’ll want it to collect some of your hair, kind of scooping it up to help lock the pin in place. Then, push the pin back through the hat, allowing both ends of the pin to show. Be careful with placement to ensure that both you and potentially someone else won’t easily get pricked.

Some contemporary wearers will wear Hat Pins just like they would any other pin. You can stick it into a pocket, or a blouse. Additionally, some might convert Hat Pins into rings or other more contemporary and common uses.

Tips for Purchasing a Hat Pin

As with many Vintage Jewelry items, you will find some inauthentic items when sellers might pass off modern items as Vintage. You’ll want to be familiar with the styles of different periods, in order to spot some that might just seem off.

 Always be sure to look at the back of the item, to see how it was constructed. If you see solder, this is a sign that the item might be a marriage of two separate pieces. You usually do not see solder markings in a true Vintage Hat Pin.

Another great resource is books, specifically two books written by Lillian Baker:

These resources will help you to learn the designs of the era as well as see examples of authentic Hat Pins.

Hat Pins should not be extremely flexible, as they are made to hold your hat in place. The designed top should look like it was made for the pin, not an afterthought. 

Where to Purchase a Hat Pin

Ebay and Etsy are great choices for purchasing Vintage Hat Pins. You’ll want to be sure to utilize the tips from above, in order to ensure you are truly purchasing something Vintage.

Tips for Purchasing Online

  • Look for shops with lots of positive reviews.
  • Read the shop's "Shipping and Return Policies" before making a purchase decision. 
  • Read reviews and buyers feedback, only buy from shops with consistently happy customers.


Vintage Hat Pins are a wonderful way to get into the world of collecting jewelry. With a rich and interesting history, these little items can provide a great story to any jewelry collection.

Happy Shopping!

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4 thoughts on “Buying Guide to Vintage Hat Pins”

  1. My mother’s birthday is coming and I know that she really likes hat pins. I mean she always look at them online or in magazines. I think that Art Deco Hat Pin can be a great present. I am a complete newbie but I think I can’t go wrong with it, right?

  2. I enjoyed reading your article. My grandmother had hat pins and they are pieces of jewelry in themselves. At the links the holders of the hat pins were just as interesting. I’m thinking that they could also be used as book marks. The pins would fit between the pages and the top portion would really look decorative and stand out. Thanks for the history lesson!


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