Hats are not as popular today as they were years ago, so there are fewer hat shops and fewer people making special hats fitted to a particular buyer. But in the 19th and early 20th centuries, milliners were found in every city and town.
A hat was designed and created with the help of a “milliner’s head.” The milliner shaped, cut, pinned and fashioned the hat on the head. Then the finished hat was displayed in the shop. A life-size head made of soft wood or papier-mache was used. Sometimes the top of the head was made of padded cloth so it was easier to pin the hat to the head.
If you plan to buy an old milliner’s head, be sure to look for pinholes. There probably will be flaking or damaged paint, too. Early ones were painted, but by the 1850s some were made with printed eyes and mouths pasted in place. The hairstyle also helps date the head.
Folk art collectors like these heads, so they’re pricey. An early one could cost $1,500, and a 20th-century example $500 or more, depending on condition.
Q: I have an armless rocking chair that was my great-grandmother’s. She passed away more than 20 years ago, at 100 years old. The chair has a label on the bottom that reads “Cochran Chair Company, Cochran, Indiana.” Can you tell me anything about it?
A: There is very little information about the Cochran Chair Co. It seems to have been in business from 1879 until 1983, but was no longer family-owned after the early 1970s. The label on your chair reads “Cochran, Indiana,” which means it was made before 1900. Cochran labels reading “Aurora, Indiana,” indicate the furniture was made after 1900.
While your chair may have great sentimental value, it probably is worth less than $150.
Terry Kovel’s column is syndicated by King Features. Write to: Kovels, (Las Vegas Review-Journal), King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.