You may want to make a large cup of Varnish Coffee today. Mother of God, today is the ultimate hat story. I asked fellow Woody Boater Greg Jones to send us a story on his hat collection. Oh! Ya! He delivered.. oh he delivered.. It’s a fun read, and even more fun to look at all the classic boating hats. And shockingly, Greg looks normal in these hats. I can never pull it off. But he sure can. So without adding more stuff you need to read. Take it from here Greg!
You asked for it…you got it. Hats…Yachting hats. Captain’s Hats. Skipper’s Caps…a tutorial
I was raised in the 1970’s and they were everywhere. K-mart, Sears, sporting goods stores, mail order, and marinas. TV had them on Captain & Tennille, McHale’s Navy, and of course that little show about the castaways…
They were for whatever reason a sign of being rich, authoritative, or leisure to me I guess. I wanted one. Everyone had ball caps. I guess I needed to stand out.
So mom and dad likely bought one for me at the department store. Then Dad worked at the airport and bought one of those “Junior Captain” pilot hats at the gift shop. But these were flimsy and inexpensive and lasted a few months before they were worn out. Finally being a lousy student, Dad hatched a plan to bribe me to do better in school. He went to the Army & Navy Surplus store and bought the real deal! A bonafide Captains hat with black sweatband, white top and gold embroidered patch. I was promised if my grades improved I would be given the hat.
So the school year trundled along…no improvement. After a while I suspect my folks just gave up and by summer they wanted it out of their bedroom. Alas I was given the hat. I lasted about a year.
So as I got older, high school came along and hats went away as it was more important to be “cool”. Some time after high school I was playing trombone, and could never play the damned thing quietly. So I needed a way to quiet things down on a ballad. Bucket Mutes are clunky and heavy. Cup mutes are too restrictive. Plunger mutes have to be held over the bell and leave your arms feeling like MaGilla the Gorilla. So I needed something quickly accessible…and something I would be able to find if I might…have…a…drink on the bandstand. So the Captain’s hat fit the bill. Pop it off…hang it on the bell…return to head when done.
So yes. It became my thing. People fought and lost their lives for us to live as we wish and thus I wear the damned hat. I see many folks wearing sports teams hats who have never played a day in their life. At least I’ve owned and restored 11 boats.
More amazing when we are out, I get the rare Captain and Tennille remark, but generally people stop us to make favorable comments. At the fast food drive thru, the grocery store, the meat counter. On and on. Maybe people are starved for fashionable headwear.
Department Store Hats
These are on the inexpensive side. The Han-Kraft Flyweights are at the top end of that spectrum. The unknown Khaki hat in New-old-stock and made in Louisville with no indication by whom. The Imperial is more typical of the Sporting Goods Store. And the cheap blue one is interesting in that I was told by Trombonist Grover Mitchell who was Count Basie’s 2nd in command near the end of Basie’s life…Grover would be sent out to buy hats for “the Chief”. But “Chief” didn’t want to spend much money, so this was typical of the hats Mr. Basie wore.
Search the internet and you will find similar caps on his album covers or publicity stills. The Forty Fathoms and Columbia Sportswear hats are nicer department store hats and look for all the world like the famous Lancaster hats. They are pretty rugged too, albeit light-weight in construction. These get favorable comments for whatever reason.
I used to wear the Columbia Sportswear hat often during election season. I looked up the manufacturer and they are around and still producing ball caps. In fact they produced the infamous MAGA Hats, so I wore this when I was around non-MAGA types. Not because I liked HIM…but I thought those folks were childish acting in such a way toward a hat. So this was my little undercover protest. SHHHHHH!
So there are also many manufacturers of what I’d term intermediate caps. These are a step above the department store hats, but not quite at the Lancaster Cap Co. grade…which for me is the Holy Grail and measure of all hats.
So here we go!! A step above the department store hats
The Unknown Crusher is designed after the popular 50 Mission Pilot cap. It can be rolled up in a duffel or stored without damage by cramming it in where needed. This Abercrombie and Fitch cap is pretty much Identical to the hat Humphery Bogart wore in “To Have and Have Not”. This insignia is embroidered into the band braiding. This is kind of unique.
The Art Caps is just a typical, but good example of a nice medium-grade cap as is the next one from Kerr’s Sporting Goods.
Their stores were on the West Coast and this hat is actually waterproofed on the fabric. The Kingform was worn by a senator or congressman in the Michigan political circles. That may explain the 7 5/8 sizing. LOL! And last the Marshal Fields hat is just a nice example of a removable wool cover on a frame for cleaning purposes. It’s in quite good shape, though the visor needs to be softened.
Bored yet!?!?!? Who knew there were so many styles of hats!?!?!?
We now are migrating toward military spec or professional grade hats. These are hats that tend toward the formal and or military style with a frame, chin strap, removable cover, and band with insignia.
First is the fact they are all military spec caps manufactured by companies who provided hats to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard along with that they saw an opening in the yacht club market.
The first is from Commodore with an beautifully embroidered visor and insignia. Love that gold bullion wire!! The 2nd Commodore is New-old-stock in the bag and comes from a yacht club in Northern Ohio, but was found in an antique mall in Springfield Ohio 150 miles away…for the princely sum of 35.00. Its near perfect and denotes the Yacht Club Rank of Commodore with the three stars around the fouled anchors.
Next is a Joe Harris of San Francisco Cap that is again military grade and the three silver stars denotes Past Commodore. The same is true of the S. Appel Co. of New York, NY. Nice example with some slight staining from age.
We are getting to the Holy Grail of caps next. Two manufacturers made the hats we are most likely to see on on tv shows and movies. They are Midway Cap Company and or course Lancaster Cap Company.
So now we get onto the hats everyone loves and has seen in a million movies. Midway Cap Company is still in business in Chicago and makes a nice cap for not too awful much money. They are not as comfortable as a Lancaster Cap, but Lancaster is no longer in business. However thankfully Matt and the Woody Boater blog managed to get one last run in before the doors closed the final time. I missed the opportunity to buy one at that time, but found some Woody Boater abandoned his cap on eBay…and I snagged it.
So let’s start with Midways caps. Midway is Chicago based and still makes hats on request. They are around 75.00 or so bucks last I checked. They are nice with removable covers for cleaning and come in blue or black and white. They also make a mesh version for hot heads at the launch ramps.The Aristocrat is still made, and the “Unknown” is I suspect a Midway contracted cap for a store dating from the 1950’s or 1960’s given the short visor.
And the Lancaster Caps are the best and most comfortable if worn. The Black cap from the 1990’s is probably due for retirement. It has been my goto cap for years…and still fits like a glove, so I’ve had a hard time not continuing to press it into service. Next is a second job I had Lancaster do for me. I added the insignia…and again…it has been well used.
The Lancaster Standard White cap is one I ordered with the black cap. They both were 75.00 at that time in 1996 or so. The next custom cap by Lancaster is one I had them build with the Admirals visor using the gold bullion wire embroidery. I added the insignia and this hat is used and abused, but never seems to never fail to get a favorable comment. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It fits great and is getting raggedy and should probably be retired as well. It is nearing 25 years old.
The next two are from Captain’s Locker and are house brands made by contract with Lancaster. The shape and style is certainly close. But the construction is of a lesser quality. That is typical of contract work. No one makes the best hat under a name other than the “marquee brand name”. Outboard motor manufacturers did the same thing.
Next the Joe Harris Co. hat is contracted by Lancaster and is similar to one worn by Elvis. This one is New-old-stock as well and at one time had a yacht club insignia inside the life ring. It is near immaculate and was built in the 1960’s is suspect. The next Lancaster is BLUE! It was one I snagged of eBay and was run with the last from the Woody Boater run before Lancaster closed up shop.
And finally…the Super-Duper-Holy Grail is this Lancaster hat with the open weave headband. YES! This was made at about the same time as Alan Hale Jr’s cap for that show. This can be identified by the cut of the cap and the insignia which varied over the years. I wear it sparingly, and never in a dirty environment if possible as these are probably the most scarce hat made by Lancaster. BTW it is also featured on the head of Captain Daryl Dragon on that album containing “Love will Keep Us Together”. (That didn’t really work out so well…did it?!?!?”
Now most of my Lancasters are well past 20 years old and going strong…so I would say money well spent. I will likely not have to buy another to get me through the end of my life…so I wear them. I enjoy them especially when out in our 1958 Lyman running the Ohio River. It’s part of the package. Folks really respond to it…”aboard ship” or on land.
My three oldest caps are a vintage 1912 cap from S. Appel of New York City. It features a very early yacht club burgee in enamel for a now defunct club in Manhattan. The next is an unknown probably from the 1920’s.
It is tired and needs a new sweatband inside. The headband is made of cane and the stitching on the insignia is awful, but original. Lastly a late 1920′ to early 1930’s cap from E.J. Willis. This hat’s age is based on military caps of the era.
And last a few photos of the hats in use.
Hope I didn’t bore you, but there is a lot of history here to be told. It’s all part of the classic boating hobby. We restore, over-restore, and are stewards of the boats, and we have a right or responsibility to not forget all aspects of our hobby. And Woody Boater does a helluva job at that, as does everyone who contributes to this blog. So thanks to one and all from Cap’ Jones. Go buy someone you love a classic hat for classic boating next season. It’s Christmas time. what could be a nicer gift.
I think I sent enough for 5 days with of hats. sorry, but that is only a small percentage of my 75 plus hats I have collected. I’ll send tow quick shots in a minute of the collection
SIDE NOTE FROM MATT, I may have butchered some of Gregs story? It came in several emails, and lots of photos? AHHHHHHHHHH!