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The Collectors – A Hat Story

October 3, 2011

Photograph: Jacqueline Mitelman

As my hat collection grew I became aware that the ABC Collectors TV program were looking for a hat collector. When I spoke to the producer I received an enthusiastic response. Since the 1970s- 2008 I had collected well over 200 hats, most of them vintage.

In Early April 2008 my darling husband was undergoing radiation treatment for cancer. I wanted to cancel the collectors TV crew but my husband would have none of it. On the morning the crew arrived my poor husband had another bout of radiation but as always he was stoic and we managed to include him in the final shot. The producer of The Collectors wanted to keep the story until Melbourne Cup week in November 2008.

In September I went to Hobart ABC TV for an interview with The Collectors panel. I took about eight vintage hats with me in a giant hatbox – at the airport I thought I would have a hassle with my luggage but when they knew I was going to appear on The Collectors they let me through

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On the plane to Hobart I read Vermeer’s Hat, the Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global world by Timothy Brook. On the cover of the book was a 17th century painting by the famous Dutch painter Vermeer – Officer and Laughing Girl. The painting depicted a laughing young woman in yellow with cream headscarf – she’s flirting with a dashing officer in a red coat, his back is to the viewer but his appearance is dominated by an enormous black felt fur hat trimmed with red ribbons.

In the early 1600’s fur pelts were exchanged with the Huron Chiefs in Canada in return for European weapons. Back in Europe the under fur of the prized pelts was stewed in copper acetate and mercury laced with glue to make the very best felt for fashionable hats. A large fur felt hat was a status symbol for both men and women in at this time. I found it fascinating that the trade in furs enabled the Dutch to finance voyages to China. There with the silver mined in Peru the Dutch purchased Chinese porcelain so often associated with the Dutch painting at this time.

When the television program went to air in November 2008 I received an enormous amount of wonderful feedback. Clearly I was not alone with my passion for hats.

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