The History of Crofut & Knapp, Dobbs, and Cavanagh Hat Manufacturing
NOTE: This guide will utilize liner tips and factory labels, and to a certain extent, sweatband stamps, to date Dobbs hats to within a decade, or within a few years, as the case may be. It is by no means comprehensive. There are multiple variation of all liners, labels, and stamps used throughout the years, and this guide only touches on a few that seem to be common.
The easiest method to date early Dobbs hats is through the Dobbs crest on the liner tips. Dobbs included the address in the crest, and because we know the dates and locations of their shops, we can be fairly certain on dating these hats to within a few years of accuracy. Dobbs factory reorder labels are also useful, but more so once we hit the 1940s, when they became standardized across all Hat Corporation of America brands. Prior to 1940, factory labels are included below immediately following the liner in their associated hat. You will see that the labels are inconsistent in their usage prior to 1940, so by themselves they don't offer enough clues. The same holds true for retail size tags. There were several styles, and their usage covers decades in some instances, and not consistently. Size tags will be addressed in an addendum on the second page.
The original Dobbs & Co. retail store opened for business on September 15, 1908 at 242 Fifth Avenue in New York City. They remained at this address until the end of 1914. Dobbs Hats from this period feature the address, at least on the silk hat examples I have seen. Note that below the address the banner reads "The Knapp-Felt Shop," as the primary hats Dobbs & Co. sold during this period were Crofut & Knapp, Knapp-Felt, and Knapp-Felt De Luxe. I haven't seen any Dobbs Derbies or soft hat examples from this period, but they should be similar; however, it's always possible they omitted the address from them. The silk hats I have seen did not have factory labels, so I have yet to ascertain what these early labels looked like.
1908—1914 Silk Hat Liner
Crofut & Knapp allowed the United Hatters of North America to place their label in C&K hats from 1896 until 1909. After a strike paralyzed the company, C&K discontinued the use of the Union label in January 1909 and forced the union completely out of the factory on February 8, 1909. For a very brief few months, then, from September 1908 through January 1909, Dobbs hats probably featured a union label. This example is from a C&K hat between prior to 1909. The union was kept out of the factory until 1946, but union labels would not show up again on Hat Corporation of America hats until the 1960s.
United Hatters Union Label
At the beginning of 1915, Dobbs & Co. moved next door to a larger shop at 244 Fifth Avenue. Considering this change was only for two years, hats of this period are probably quite rare.
1915—1917 Silk Hat Liner Tip
On May 1, 1917, Dobbs & Co. opened a new flagship store at 620 Fifth Avenue. Liner tips were most likely updated with both addresses at that time. This is possibly an example of a 1917—1919 hat because there is no 2 West Fiftieth Street on the address, but it could also be post-1922 because it says “New York's Leading Hatters” on the banner (See next date period). It is an exception to one of these periods.
1917—1919 Tuxedo Hat Liner
In June 1919, Dobbs & Co. leased additional space at 618 Fifth Avenue, as well as extended space around the corner at 2 West Fiftieth Street. The latter address was added to liner tips, while the former was not.
1919—1922 Derby Tip Sticker and Label. Photos by and Courtesy of Joshua Brutzkus.
1919—1922 Soft Hat Liner Tip and Label
In a 1934 trademark filing, Dobbs removed “The Knapp Felt Shops” from the banner and replaced it with “New York's Leading Hatters,” claiming it had been in use on their hat liners since 1922. Additionally, by 1924 they had added 4 and 6 West Fiftieth Street to the 620 Fifth Avenue store, giving them an impressive retail outlet. This perhaps explains the rearrangement in the order of the addresses, as 620 had far surpassed 244 Fifth Avenue in importance. This example also featured a different factory label, one that's typical of the late-1930s. It's possible that this style of tip sticker showed up by the late-1920s, or perhaps this hat has been renovated from the factory at a later date with a later label. The tip sticker is slightly askew, which suggests some trauma to the hat.
1922—1927 Derby Tip Sticker and Label. Photos by and Courtesy of Robert Kent
Here is a liner style that was first used in 1922, and may have been used into the 1930s. It's not as common. Note that in the trademark filing and the first physical example, on each side of scrolling banner the addresses 620 (on the left) and 244 (on the right) were used. This means it could be from 1922 until the beginning of 1927. On what appear to be later versions, the addresses have been omitted.
1920s Derby Banner Tips
Sometime in early 1927, by mid-March at the very latest, the old shop at 244 Fifth Avenue had closed and a new store was opened at 324 Fifth Avenue. Once again, the address would be updated, but this time was the last time Dobbs liners would sport the addresses. Why 324 was placed before 620 is a matter open for debate.
With construction pending on the new Rockefeller Center in 1928, Dobbs & Co. was forced to look for a new flagship location. They found it at 1 West Fifty-seventh Street and Fifth Avenue. Dobbs & Co. opened their grandest store yet on October 16, 1928. 620 Fifth Avenue remained open probably until the Autumn of 1930, when buildings in the area were vacated prior to demolition and contruction on Rockefeller Center. 324 Fifth Avenue also remained open, as well as a location at Fifth Avenue and West Fiftieth Street, though which address is unknown at this time.
1 West Fifty-Seventh was never given the liner tip treatment. Perhaps 1928 is when the address was removed from hat liners, or perhaps 324 and 620 continued for a little while longer in the tips. 1 West Fifty-Seventh Street closed due to bankruptcy in mid-1931, and 324 Fifth Avenue was gone by 1933. Perhaps Dobbs had gotten burned with so many address changes in just a few years' time, but whatever the reason, they dropped the addresses entirely from the liner tips, which simplified liner production for the foreseeable future.
1927—1929 Derby Liner and Label
This decade saw some new crests featured in liner tips. Most common as the simplified crest with no address. This example from 1936 is probably representative of a common Dobbs crest in the early part of the decade.
NOTE: This same basic crest continued in production hats from the 1930s through today, so hats utilizing this crest need to be dated through other means, most likely the interior factory label.
1936 Liner and Label. Photos by and Courtesy of Robert Kent
Dobbs also used a 1930s variant label that is lineless.
1930s Lineless Label
This Derby liner example is embroidered. Embroidered labels show up occasionally on hats through the 1960s.
1930s Derby with Embroidered Liner and its Label
This variation is from 1938. It would show up again in the early-1950s, though with a plastic liner-tip. protector. It also has a variant of the lineless label.
1938 Liner and Label. Photos by and Courtesy of Robert Kent.
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
On April 12, 1934, Dobbs began using a roundel design in some liner tips. This is from the trademark filing. What is unknown is if the standard crest also continued during this time in some capacity. The examples shown here are from the first style of roundel. The roundel would change slightly around 1940.
April 12, 1934, Roundel Trademark and Examples on Hats, along with a Label
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 following the Roundel below. This may have lasted into at least 1942, as an example exists of one that mentions a price ceiling on a price tag.
First Style of Roundel with 1940s Transitional Labels, along with a OPA-Era Price Ceiling Tag
The Dobbs name positioned on a upward slant and debossed into the leather of sweatbands is a common denominator throughout the entire history of Dobbs hats, and isn't as useful to help in dating, but will be briefly covered here for reference purposes. This style is common from 1908 until sometime around WWII.
A far less-common treatment on sweatbands in the 1920s and 1930s has the Dobbs name debossed with gold. This does not show up very often. Black leather sweatbands are also quite rare prior to the late-1950s
1920s Gold Debossments
The upward-slanted Dobbs debossment is not as common in the 1920s and 1930s, and only slightly more common in the 1940s. It did not replace the downward-slanted debossment. Although all Dobbs hats had a model name in catalogs and advertisements, only a select few ever had the name inside the hat somewhere. It could be printed on the liner, as with the Game Bird and the Rainbow (see Part II for photos), just for a couple of examples, but it often was included in the debossment, as seen here.
1940s Upward-Slant Debossment. Photo by and Courtesy of Robert Kent.
There are very slight differences in the exact shapes of the letters and depth of embossing over the years, but I don't know that we have enough information to necessarily pin down any changes due to differences the dies.
In the early-1930s, Dobbs debossed the patent information for the second version of the Cavanagh Edge and called it the "Improved Cavanagh Edge." By the late-1930s and up until 1944, Dobbs changed the name to the "Improved Felted Welt Edge." Its final name for Dobbs would not arrive until 1944.
Early-1930s Improved Cavanagh Edge and Late-1930s Improved Felted Welt Edge Debossments
© 2016 J. Bradford Bowers