Dating HCA Hats: Commonalities The Hatted Professor in his 1920s Dobbs Derby

With the acquisition of Knox & Dunlap in 1932 and the creation of the Hat Corporation of America, changes began to be implemented to bring consistency to all of the various hat lines.  By the late-1930s into the early-1940s, standardization was the norm, especially in labels and tags.  This page documents those commonalities that can be found in the majority of HCA brands from that time period until the end of HCA in 1972.  With lesser-known HCA brands, this can prove helpful in narrowing down a decade of manufacture.


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 US 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!

1933—1935 NRA Blue Eagle Tag

Circa-1940 Transitional Labels

Sometime around 1940 (quite possibly late-1930s), Hat Corporation of America began their push for standardization of all factory labeling. A transitional type of label is shown below. This may have lasted into at least 1942, as an example exists of one that mentions a price ceiling on a price tag.

1940s Transitional Labels, along with a OPA-Era Price Ceiling Tag

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 October 25, 1938, by John Garvan Cavanagh, son of John J. Cavanagh.  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.

Typical 1940s Label and 1940s Label with Patent Number and Descriptors

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 on which hats among their various lines were similar, and abide by a fixed-price ceiling for these hats. The label reads “O.P.A. RETAIL CEILING PRICE $XX.XX (Sec. 13. M.P.R 580),” and was 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.

Here are two examples, one a label from a Dobbs Boater (note the standard crest) and the other the remnants of a label from a 1940s Dobbs Derby (with a Roundel tip sticker) 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, in a way.

OPA Price Tag and Interior Tag Remnant

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 the lines of Hat Corporation of America 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.

1950s Label

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.  Again, not all hats from this time period may have had these labels.

OPS Tag and Inside OPS Price Tag

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.

1960s Label and Interior Price Tag

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.


The black size tag probably dates earlier than the 1920s, but examples carried into the 1930s.

Typical 1920s Size Black Tag


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

Late-1920s White Size Tag


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 do not exhibit this issue.

Left: 1940s Gold Size Tag, and Right: 1960s Gold Size Tag


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

1950s Brown Oval Size Tag

~The Hatted Professor

© 2016 J. Bradford Bowers


The History of Crofut & Knapp, Dobbs, and Cavanagh Hat Manufacturing

The Hatted Professor

The Hatted Professor in his 1920s Dobbs Derby
Dating HCA Hats: Commonalities

The Hatted Professor

Dating HCA Hats: Commonalities
Contact the Hatted Professor
The Hatted Professor

The Hatted Professor

Dating HCA Hats: Commonalities
Contact the Hatted Professor
The Hatted Professor