The subject of this blog is a 19th-century French gendarme hat, which is a current project here at Museum Textile Services. As the project has unfolded we've discovered much to tell you about.
The hat bears a label inside that reads, "M. Ubadie Gendarm." Without knowing who he was, we have discovered a few things about Mr. Ubadie. For instance, the minor abrasion to the proper-right tip of the hat suggests M. Ubadie was right handed. We also found wool batting stuffed inside the hat band, presumably to make it fit better. This opens up the possibility that the hat was second hand.
Bicorn hats, or chapeaux bras, were de rigueur in the United States and Europe by the end of the 18th century and remained in use throughout the 20th century. This one is made of beaver pelt formed around a paper mold with the glazed black cotton sateen liner. There is a black leather sweat band (seen in the above image). The brim is trimmed with folded silver gimp. There is evidence of repairs to the crown as well as damage to the pelt, most likely from protein-eating insects.
We believe that the hat dates to the second half of the 19th century because it resembles other dated examples. The back flap is higher than the front on M. Ubadie's hat but not exaggeratedly so. It is quite symmetrical when seen from beneath, which distinguishes it from an 1872 model more with a triangular shape. It is not a 20th century model because it shares many characteristics with early and mid-19th-century hats with the exact same metal gimp and button. The slides below show other hats we found pictured on the internet.
M. Ubadie's hat has been deinfested and surface cleaned, and is ready to be returned to its owner. We learned many things about both the hat and the wearer, thanks to the the unique relationship between a conservator and an artifact.