The Hatted Professor in his 1920s Dobbs Derby Dating Cavanagh Hats

There is a rule of thumb regarding dating soft felt hats (what we now call fedoras) at just a glance, which postulates that hats with taller crown plus narrower brims are from the 1920s to mid-1930s or so, whereas hat crowns slightly lowered but brims grew wider from roughly the late-1930s through the 1940s into the early-1950s.  From the mid-1950s onward to the present day, crowns typically tend to be lower and brims are very narrow.  While there is some validity to this rule of thumb due to the changing nature of fashion over the decades, hats of all these styles can be found in all periods, so internal clues to dating hats are needed to make more accurate estimations of age.

Cavanagh Hats in particular are notorious for hiding their age regarding their style.  Cavanagh had a clientele that was typically older and more conservative, fashion-wise, than the other brands.  As such, they often stuck to a style for decades, and thus one could find a Cavanagh hat from 1928 that looks nearly the same, externally, as one from 1960.  Cavanagh was not so much interested in setting styles as they were in maintaining them.  Still, Cavanagh did produce some modern styles, especially once the changes in the mid-1950s came around.

As an example, here are two Cavanaghs separated in manufacturing time by thirty years:

Cavanagh Comparison

From my experience, most Cavanagh hats in existence today, and that come on the market, are almost always from 1954 into the 1980s.  Earlier ones are rarities, though through diligence one can still find them.

Before we enter the fray on dating Cavanagh hats, I'd like to offer up a caveat.  This list is not meant to be a comprehensive list of clues to dating hats, but instead is meant to serve up the most common elements that can help one attain a more accurate gauge of a hat's vintage.

For Cavanagh hats, one of the best clues to narrow them to certain time periods, such as decades, is by the crest design used in their liner tips.   Most important is the address for the Cavanagh shop, displayed below the shield.


The earliest versions on Cavanagh hats say John Cavanagh, Ltd, and "247 Park Avenue, New York."  This address in the liner dates from the opening of the store in November/December 1928, though Cavanagh didn't apply for a trademark until December 12, 1929.  The trademark was registered May 13, 1930.

These versions are from 1928 to 1936, and probably on the earlier side.  Note that one style mentions the Cavanagh Edge Process across the top of the shield, and the other doesn't.  Derbies could be finished with the Cavanagh Edge process without actually having a Cavanagh Edge, but examples do survive that also feature Cavanagh Edges, though they are hidden under the brim edge binding.

Here are some examples. From top, left to right, a circa-1929 Derby, an early-'30s Derby, a circa 1929/'30 Opera hat, a circa-1936 Derby, and a '33-'35 soft felt hat:

1928—1936 Liner Tips

Very Early Cavanagh Derbies and Other Hats

Within this period, there are a few clues we can use to date a hat.  The first clue is this use of a rather rare debossment, "Cavanagh Make," as seen below.  These have only shown up on about three hats I have seen so far, and no trademark was ever filed for it.  I believe it to be from the first year or so of Cavanagh production, and then its use was discontinued.  For evidence, take this Derby.  It has the Cavanagh Make stamp, and inside the sweatband are the handwritten initials JJC, and a plain factory label, neither C&K nor Cavanagh.  I'm guessing that the Cavanagh label was not yet in use, necessitating the generic label.  The writing to the left of the initials I believe reads "cav div," as in Cavanagh Division. As well, there is a lot number 37, a relatively low lot number, which probably places it in 1929, though it could always be really late in 1928. The use of a lot number is interesting in that they appear to be quite rare in hats from C&K, Dobbs, and Cavanagh. The second label below featuring a lot number is from the circa-1930 Derby, though this lot number appears to have far more in common with a "To Duplicate" or "Reorder" number. This is the second clue.  Photos from left to right, or top to bottom: "Cavanagh Make" debossment on the Derby, an Opera hat, the inside of the Derby, and a label from a circa-1930 Derby for comparison.

Circa-1929 "Cavanagh Make" Emblem, Inside of Sweatband, and Circa 1930 Label

Because I knew that John Cavanagh liked to drop in from time to time on the Cavanagh division's curling bench to curl the brims on some of his branded hats, I had originally hoped that his initials meant he had personally curled the brim on this particular Derby.  No such luck, as the handwriting doesn't match up to his signature elsewhere.  Still, it probably means that the hatter marked it as destined for John Cavanagh, Ltd.  These types of handwritten notes don't show up on later hats, making this the third clue.

As for Cavanagh factory labels, they were usually filled in by hand by someone at the factory, rather than printed by machine as with C&K and Dobbs hats from the same period, though later in the '30s they also became printed.  These labels, like the C&K and Dobbs labels, were replaced with a standardized factory label after 1940.  Photos left to right or top to bottom: A typical 1930s label, an NRA-period 1933-1935 label example, and a late-1930s printed label.

Various 1930s Labels

At least some early Cavanagh Derbies, probably through the early-1930s, feature older styling in their interiors.  The leather sweatband seams are on the side, rather than the back, which is a nineteenth-century trait.  This older styling seems to disappear before 1936, though Derby-wearing was on a serious decline at that point anyway. The early Derbies also had the hat size embossed on the sweatband, a feature that disappeared early on as well. Hats purchased at the Park Avenue shop of John Cavanagh, Ltd. had the address embossed on the sweatband. If the hat was purchased from a Cavanagh Associate retailer in another city, the name and location of that retailer would be debossed instead.  Photos left to right or top to bottom: Side seam of a circa-1929 Derby, side-seam of a circa-1930 Derby, the debossed hat size in a circa-1930 Derby, and the Park Avenue address debossed on the sweatband.

Circa-1929 and 1930 Derbies

With regards to the leather sweatband seam being sewn as opposed to taped together with an adhesive cloth tape, in general this changeover happened around 1941 at Hat Corporation of America, though taped seams may have existed for a few years on some hats into the 1940s.  One example of taped seams lasting longer than usual is on Carter Sweatbands, a patented design that Cavanagh used on hats in the late-1930s and early-1940s.  These sweatbands were not sewn into the crown of the hat, but instead were buttoned in. Buttons were sewn to the crown, and the reed tape of the sweatband had corresponding buttonholes to attach it to the hat.  This would make the sweatband much easier to replace, but the idea must have sounded better in practice, because it was only used during the late-1930s and early-1940s. Photo: Carter sweatband in a soft felt hat.

Carter Sweatband

Click here to download the Carter Sweatband Patent as a PDF file (Opens in a separate window)

John Cavanagh patented something similar in 1936, though his new patent featured a sort of rivet that went from the ribbon on the outside of the hat through the hat body and into the sweatband reed tape.  I have not seen a hat with this feature, and have my doubts about whether it even made it into production.

Click here to download the John Cavanagh Sweatband Patent as a PDF file (Opens in a separate window)

1933—1935 Hats

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. 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


At some point in 1936, John Cavanagh, Ltd. expanded the shop at 247 Park Avenue. The block of Park Avenue that they occupied between 46th and 47th Streets seems to be made up of 237, 247, and 257. This originally placed John Cavanagh, Ltd. squarely in the middle of the block. In 1936, they expanded into 257 Park Avenue as well, giving them 2/3 of the block, all the way up to 47th. They would remain at those two addresses until 1964.

They changed the address references accordingly, to "Park Avenue at 47th Street, New York" which made it easier for the potential customer to identify the location. They would also list the mailing address in advertisements as "247 Park Avenue at 47th Street."

Below are a 1936 advertisement for their Park Avenue expansion, and two liner examples of that address change:

Advertisement, 1936, and Examples of the Address Change

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 by John J. Cavanagh's son, John Garvan 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.  Photos left to right or top to bottom: Typical 1940s label, 1940s label from a Dobbs Derby with incremental sizing, and a 1940s label with the JGC patent number.

1940s Labels

OPA Labels, 1942—1947

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.  Labels from this era, would read "O.P.A. RETAIL CEILING PRICE $20.00 (Sec. 13. M.P.R 580)," (or whatever the price might have been), and were affixed inside the sweatband for the customer to see.  Below is a label from a 1940s Dobbs Boater 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.  Not all hats may have had an OPA label, or they may have fallen off in the intervening years, so the absence of one doesn't necessarily preclude the hat dating to this period.

OPA Price Tag


On February 20, 1950, they filed to change the name in the liner tips from "John Cavanagh, Ltd.," to "Cavanagh Hats," though they kept the "Park Avenue at 47th Street, New York" address.  Notice, however, that "New York" moves to a third line on the crest.  The renewal as amended was granted on May 13, 1950.  This shows up in advertisements starting in 1951, which are the earliest I've found, though the change may have occurred in late-1950.  The liner tips also likely changed over during 1950, probably in time for the Fall deliveries.  I can only speculate as to why the change from John Cavanagh, Ltd. to Cavanagh Hats, but it is most probably related to three factors.  First, John Cavanagh had removed himself from both the operations of the company and the public limelight by this point in time, being in his late eighties.  Second, sales at Cavanagh Associate stores around the country were probably just as important, if not more so, to the company than the sales at Park Avenue shop. Finally, the store had for a long time been associated with the name Cavanagh Hats, as evidenced by this letter from 1941. Changing the name at this point in time makes good marketing sense.

Cavanagh Letterhead, 1941


On February 7, 1961, Hat Corporation of America filed an amendment to the trademark dropping the street address altogether, leaving only "Cavanagh Hats, New York," but this change could have first showed up by late-1953 or early-1954.  These advertisements below feature the crest from hat liner tips, and appear to reflect the liner changes from the time. Notice that the change from John Cavanagh, Ltd. to Cavanagh Hats matches with the change in actual hat liners. The ads from 1954 and 1955 show no street address, and quite possibly reflect that change in liner tips at the same time. However, one exception to note is on the back cover of a booklet from 1956, included with the purchase of Cavanagh Hats, which also features the crest from hat liner tips, but the earlier style with the address. So, there could possibly be some overlap in liner tip crests with and without addresses.  Photos left to right, or top to bottom: Liner example from am early-1950s homburg, advertisements from May 1946, September 1946, March 1951, May 1951, November 1952, March 1953, May 1954, April 1955, respectively, and a Cavanagh brochure from 1956.

Example of Liner Address Change, and Advertisements Charting the Timeline of the Change

Cavanagh Edge Script

Cavanagh first put the words "Cavanagh Edge" at the front of the sweatband of their hats starting October 1, 1952.  Though the term had been in use since the creation and patenting of the Cavanagh Edge process in February 1913, the company had never filed on the trademark.  They rectified that by filing for the trademark on October 22, 1952, and received the registration September 1, 1953.  The script debossment would be used on the sweatband at least into the late-1960s.  Photo is of an early-1950s hat with Cavanagh Edge script. Photo by and courtesy of Robert Kent, used with permission.

Early-1950s Address with Cavanagh Edge Script. Photo by and Courtesy of Robert Kent. Used with permission.

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.  Photo is of a typical 1950s label.

Typical 1950s Label

OPS Labels, 1951—1953

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. To the right is an example. Again, not all hats from this time period may have had these labels.  Photo is of an OPS label.

1951—1953 OPS Label

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.  Photo is of a typical 1960s label.  Note the block depth has been removed.

Typical 1960s Label


By the late-1960s, many Cavanagh hats sported a plastic tip protector in the crown of the hat, something that didn't happen in earlier periods. Cost cutting measures also show up, such as sweatband leather that isn't as tall, and gluing the liners into the crown instead of sewing them.


Hat Corporation of America (HCA Industries by 1972) got out of the hat business altogether in 1972, selling their brands to Koracorp, the same company that owned Resistol. Cavanagh hats continued to be manufactured in Garland, TX, until at least the 1980s. For these hats, the word "Cavanagh" in script on the sweatband is a big clue, as are the computer printed factory labels, which are much larger than the HCA labels ever were. Cavanagh hats probably went out of production sometime in the 1980s, though they were briefly brought back by RHE Hatco around 2007. An example of their 100% Beaver Fur Cavanagh Park Avenue is presented here. The production run of hats didn't last more than a couple years. RHE Hatco still sells wool cloth caps under the Cavanagh name, though they are made in Italy. Time will tell if Cavanagh Hats will rise again.

2008 Cavanagh Park Avenue

Addendum: Size Tags

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 Hatted Professor in his 1920s Dobbs Derby

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

The Hatted Professor

Dating Cavanagh Hats

The Hatted Professor

Dating Cavanagh Hats
Contact the Hatted Professor
The Hatted Professor

The Hatted Professor

Dating Cavanagh Hats
Contact the Hatted Professor
The Hatted Professor