By Gillian Leitch
There are many objects that litter our home that we hold dear because of their connection to members of our family, many of whom have since passed on. These objects hold value to us because of their association with our memories of their owners, the situations where they were present. As a historian, it is important to catalogue these values along with the other characteristics of these items in order to preserve their historical value.
I thought I would use an example to illustrate the recording of the value of an item of historical interest.
Behold: the hat!
Any evaluation of a historical item must begin with a description of the item’s physical characteristics. As you can see, it is a pink flowered hat, which dates from the 1960s. When worn, the hat covers the entire head and much of the wearer’s hair. It is made of pink and white silk, cut into flower petal shapes and a few green silk leaves.
From the inside of the hat is clear that these silk flowers were sewn onto a pink nylon mesh. The hat has the label of the famous Canadian high end store “Holt Renfrew.” The hat is in good condition, and is relatively clean.
This hat belonged to my mother. She bought it at Holt Renfrew for her ‘going away’ outfit for her wedding in 1966. She affectionately called it her ‘Confetti trap’ because she found that the construction of the hat made it very good at keeping in the confetti from her wedding long after the fact. She once said that even years after the wedding she was still shaking out the confetti from its depths. She loved this hat, and wore it long after it was fashionable. The last time she wore it was at my cousin’s wedding in 1977.
Looking at the pictures of Mom wearing the hat, it is clear that the hat, when worn does not have to cover all of the hair, and it was worn back from her forehead and fringe.
The hat then has many values. The first is as a piece of material history, a hat which was popular, and worn in the 1960s. Its good condition, or excellent state of preservation is valuable to clothing historians who study the history of the construction and appearance of fashions over time. The label indicates that it was an expensive item when originally purchased, and was also likely made by Holt Renfrew, inCanada. This then stands as an example of a time long past when Canadian women could purchase fashionable accessories that were domestically produced. It likely also possesses a monetary value, as it is in excellent condition and there are a number of collectors of vintage clothing pieces, who seek out this kind of item for themselves.
From its history of a piece of clothing owned by my mother, the item represents how such a piece of clothing was worn. While purchased for a specific event in her life, and a quite significant one at that, her wedding, the hat was not relegated to the heap after its use. It was kept and re-worn at other special occasions, such as family weddings. It was well kept during her lifetime, and treasured. It also speaks to the traditions of wearing hats to weddings, and the need for this kind of formality in culture at specific occasions.
For me, the current owner of the hat, it too holds value. I don’t wear it, as quite honestly I can think of no occasion where it would work. This makes me sad, but realistic. I have a lot of other hats myself, so Mom’s hat is a treasured piece in my collection. I have distinct memories of her wearing the hat, happy occasions, and I do remember the odd piece of confetti falling out of it. Sadly all the confetti is now gone, like my mother. But the hat is on display in my home as a testament to the happy memories I have of her, and of her wearing the hat.
The hat then is a piece of my family’s history, by virtue of it having belonged to my mother, who loved it, and by virtue of my keeping it and displaying it.
By taking into account of the various streams of history attached to an item, and by recording its specifities down, the genealogist, or family historian makes their family’s stories richer, and gives context to items valued by its members.