What I Didn’t Buy: Mr John Hat

Some time ago I posted about the pleasures of hat buying in antique malls.  Today, I’m going the buyer beware route.

The hat I’m showing has a Mr. John Jr. label.  Mr. John is a name you need to know.  He was John Harberger, but later called himself John P. John.  He had a long career in millinery, starting in 1926 working for the milliner, Mme. Laurel, who was John’s mother.  In 1929 he and milliner Frederic Hirst joined together and formed a new label,  John-Frederics.  They had a salon in New York, and a studio in Los Angeles, where they supplies hats for movies.  According to an interview with John in 1978, they did the hats for 800 films, including Gone with the Wind. (to see an rare 1930s label from John-Frederics, visit this thread at VFG.  It’s in the last set of 2 photos, a girl in a mirror.)

The pair parted ways in 1948, and it was at that point that John established his label, Mr. John.  He remained in business into the 1970s, and even after closing his wholesale business, continued to design hats for private clients.

According to John, when he was working with his mother, she criticized his work as too flamboyant.  She told him he ought to be paid to un-decorate his hats.  The criticism must have stuck because especially in his hats of the 1960s and 70s, John was more interested in a classic, flattering form than of applied decoration.

And that is what makes this hat so very odd.  It has a silk band with feathers and lily of the valley and that big black and white blossom of indeterminate species.  It’s all very un-Mr. John-like.

For some reason, some vendors of old things feel they have to embellish them in order to make them attractive.  The problem lies in that it is not always an easy task to tell what is original to the hat and what has been added recently.  That is, it can be difficult unless the modern embellisher uses a hot glue gun.

When buying vintage hats, always look at the stitching and then note if the same thread is used throughout.  Is is often, but not always a clue that something has been added.  And the presence of dried hot glue is a dead give-away.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “What I Didn’t Buy: Mr John Hat

  1. I think another dead giveaway is that it’s quite ugly — not Mr. John-like — as you said!

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  2. I actually have a Mr. John hat in my collection! I didn’t know his work was quite so popular. While the outside of the hat is quite plain, the label and inside are extremely flamboyant and decorative!

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  3. That black & white flower is hideously modern – I think I’ve seen those at Walmart recently.

    Oh, the hot gun drives me crazy! Reminds me of a vintage ring hat I restored. The awful hot gun line on the velvet of that hat forced me to get creative with flower placement, but I think I stayed pretty true to the original style.

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  4. Damaris

    I need to ask, What is the difference between Mr. John and Mr. John Jr. I can’t find anything about that. Thanks

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  5. Rachel Schmitt

    I have several Mr John Classic hats in my vintage collection. Some hats have strings behind the labels. Blue and white. Can anybody tell me what they mean??

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  6. Where a hangtag was attached, perhaps??

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