Stetson Quality Designations, Just What Do Those Xs Mean, Anyway?

-By Warner Todd Huston

So, you have a Stetson XXX hat, or a Portis XX hat, or a Wormser XXXX hat and you want to know what the heck those Xs mean, right? Well, this is the place where you can find out. But it is neither an easy answer nor an entirely satisfactory one. As the kids say, it’s complicated.

Welcome searchers of history and information about men’s hats, fedoras, top hats, derbies and bowlers, and, more specifically, Stetson history. If you’ve landed on this page, chances are you found us through a Google search as our pages now rank on the very first page for most search questions on hat history. For that we are shocked and grateful.

One of the reasons you found us, though, is because information on hats is not just hard to find, it is very, very hard to find. But on these pages you’ll find much of what you need to know and resources to look elsewhere for other great info, too.

A Glossary of Hat Terms, Words, Definitions, And Styles

All the hat terms you need to know to understand the world of hats and hat wearing.

Observations on Fedora Sweatbands,
Size Tags, and Fedora Dating Tips

Wherein we help you date your Stetson using the tags noted.

Dating Stetsons by Company Crests,
Stetson Logos and Hat Liners

Because the Stetson logo changed only a finite number of times, here you’ll find yet another way to help date your Stetson.

Dating Stetson Hats By Inventory Tag

These tags are another of the many ways to track down a date of a Stetson hat.

A Tour of My Collection of Antique Stetson Western Hats

This fascinating page has detailed photos of Stetson cowboy hat collection. These hats were made from the late 1800s, through the 1900s.

So… What’s the Deal With Those Stetson Hats, Huston?

This is an interesting walk through my personal collection of antique fedoras. Please enjoy the journey.

And Now, on with Just What Do Those Xs Mean, Anyway?…

It is well known that John B. Stetson was the most famous hatmaker in the world from the mid to late 1800s and on into the first four decades of the 20th Century. Stetson hats became famous for many things. It was one of America’s first national brand names, it was an early adopter of the assembly line-style of manufacturing, and it was the hat the won the west. I guess it was the Cadillac of hats. Yes, Stetsons were the Cadillac of hats before there was such a thing as a Cadillac. Maybe we should call Cadillacs the Stetson of Cars… anyway, you know what I mean.

At the bottom of this post I talk about what your hat might be worth…

Back in the old days, nothing could separate a man from his Stetson. Heck, for a time, every cowboy hat was called a “Stetson” in slang terms. Stetsons were considered top of the line, the best of the best. Even when they were priced at the same point as every other hat maker’s wares, Stetsons were thought of as the bee’s knees. Yes, I said “bee’s knees.”

But there is an enduring mystery about Stetson’s products that only got worse as the company aged. What the heck is an “X quality” hat? What is this three x, a four X, a Five X, what does that danged Seven X mean? Are they better, do they have more beaver fur? What? WHAT?

Well, early in Stetson’s history, the “X” designation was used as a pricing point. In fact, the three X hat was one of Stetson’s better products back in the late 1800s and into the 30s. And by the 20s the 7X became one of the company’s most expensive hats–in fact one of the world’s most expensive. But an X designation wasn’t Stetson’s only quality notation. There were many others.

As the years waxed and waned, Stetson puttered around with all sorts of ideas of how to identify the quality levels of its products. Ultimately Stetson landed on the royalty terms like “Royal,” “Royal De Luxe,” “Sovereign,” or “Imperial.”

But the Xs still hung around causing confusion for collectors and customers alike. Worse, as the years moved into the future, those Xs meant less and less as a marking of quality until today they seem practically meaningless with modern Stetsons having absurd things like a “500 X” and a “1,000 X” quality marking. Seriously. 1,000 Xs? Don’t be ridiculous.Did a thousand lil’ beavers die for that hat?

So, how much beaver makes an X?

The fact is, no matter what era your hat is from, we just don’t exactly know how much beaver fur is in there. The fact is, we don’t really have a sure-fire way to know what the Xs mean. Sadly, Stetson did not keep records for posterity on how much beaver to rabbit fur mix was contained in its products. It was an industry secret, in any case, and one that Stetson would not have made public during the hat heyday, anyway. An ancient Chinese secret, if you will (I know, that old TV commercial reference dates ME, too). So, the fact is we don’t know at all how much beaver fur was in Stetson’s hats. We don’t know with precision what the Xs mean.

Sadly, there is no way at all to ever ascertain just how much beaver is in any particular X quality hat. Further, that formula changed as the decades moved on. Triple X hats in the 1910s were of better felt quality that the XXX hats of the 1950s and the XXX hats of the 50s were far superior to those of the 1970s. It is patently obvious that the fur content and finishing process was radically different from era to era, so a three X hat from 1920 and one from 1970 are in no way at all similar in quality. Cost cutting in manufacturing and costs for materials were major reasons for this disparate quality.

Collectors do know merely by handling hats if the beaver content is high or low as there are telltale signs on quality to an experienced hand. But saying that a XXX hat from 1922 was as high as 50% is just a guesstimate. In fact, we are only “pretty” sure that a Stetson 100 is 100% beaver (but made of the most delicate part of the beaver, the belly fur) or that a Stetson 50 is 50% beaver, a Stetson 25 is 25%… well that is, at least, what Stetson used to say in advertising once in a while. As to the “other” X hats, a 7X is likely also 100% beaver (but not of that special belly fur)… but even that is more or less a guess by collectors. Also, there are fur felt hats made of vicuna fur, nutria fur and chinchilla, too. Stetson even had a line of hats made of buffalo fur.

As to today’s Stetson Xs, most collectors just ignore the whole scheme as they don’t seem to make any sense at all. Most collectors feel that the Xs lost all meaning before the year 1960 dawned.

This also makes it worse for collectors, by the way.

But you must remember one thing: Stetson’s quality designation systems were really little else but a sales gimmick. Hats weren’t art nor were they in some permanent state of being. They were a business. And businesses are always trying new sales gimmicks to sell products. That being the case, Stetson played around with its quality markings early and often. For that matter, they were fashion and fashion is always changing to stay new and relevant.

And this is just the trouble with Stetson’s X markings. When you get to other hat makers like Italy’s Borsalino, Portis or Wormser or, well, any other hat maker that uses Xs for its product quality designations, there just isn’t any way at all to know what they really mean other than at what price point they originally sold. There just wasn’t any sort of industry standard and there certainly wasn’t any government agency forcing them to an industry standard, to be sure.

Like I said, it was all a sales gimmick.

Still, a look at the history of Stetson’s quality designations do give a sort of general guide on what your hat was worth when it was first made–if not what its worth today–and where it might fit in on Stetson’s always moving quality meter. These names, designations and price points do help collectors figure out a little bit about what the heck is going on with those Xs, anyway.

One other thing to note. Very early in Stetson’s history (like between 1870 and 1920) Stetson used model names for hats a lot more instead of quality designations. This was common in the industry in the early days but began to change when the first $20 hat was marketed in 1915. After that, hat makers wanted an easy and quick way to impress customers that they had a range of quality and price points to go along with its quality levels. This is when the “Stetson Fifteen” or the “Stetson Twentyfive,” or the “100” etc., and those Xs came in.

So, here are a few of the quality systems that Stetson used over the years to help give you an idea of where your hat fit in on that ever sliding scale. Also interspersed throughout the listings are some photos of what the stampings on the leather sweatbands looked like to give you an idea.

1922 (dress hats)

  • Select Quality
  • Excellent Quality
  • No. 1 Quality
  • Extra Quality
  • Nutria Quality
  • Real Nutria Fur Quality
  • 3x Beaver Quality
  • 4x Beaver Quality
  • 5x Beaver Quality
  • 7x Beaver Quality

Stetson The Fray, Select Quality, 1920s

1932 (dress hats)

  • Excellent Quality
  • Nutria Quality
  • Real Nutria Quality
  • 3x Beaver Quality
  • Stetson Special Quality
  • 4x Beaver Quality
  • 5x Beaver Quality
  • 7x Beaver Quality

Stetson Standard Quality, 1930s

Stetson Select Quality, 1930s

Late 1930s (dress hats)

  • Standard Quality
  • Select Quality
  • Superior Quality
  • Extra Quality
  • 3X Quality
  • 5X Clear Beaver Quality

Late 1940s (dress hats)

  • Royal
  • Royal Stetson De Luxe
  • Medalist
  • Sovereign
  • Imperial
  • Premier

Stetson Royal De Luxe Quality, 1940s

Stetson Imperial Quality, 1940s

1944 (dress hats)

  • Stetson Premier ($8.50)
  • Royal Stetson ($10)
  • Royal Stetson De Luxe ($12.50)
  • Imperial Stetson ($15)

1946 (dress hats)

  • Stratoliner ($7.50)
  • Whippet and many other named models ($10)
  • Royal Stetson ($10)
  • Royal Stetson De Luxe ($12.50)

1948 Panamas and Straws

  • Select ($6)
  • Premier ($7.50)
  • Royal ($10)
  • Royal De luxe ($12.50)
  • Stetson Medalist

Stetson Premier Panama Quality, 1940s

Stetson Medalist Panama Quality, 1940s

1955 (dress hats)

  • Royal (10.00)
  • Royal De Luxe (12.95)
  • 3X Beaver (15.00)
  • Sovereign (20.00)
  • Stetson 25 (25.00)
  • 4X Beaver (35.00)
  • 5X Beaver (40.00)
  • 7X Beaver (50.00)
  • Stetson 100 (100.00)

Stetson Royal Quality, 1950s

Stetson 3X Quality, 1950s

Stetson Twentyfive, 1950s

Stetson 7X Clear Beaver, 1950s

Stetson 100, 1950s

1960s (westerns)

  • No. 1 Quality (10.00)
  • Nutria (15.00)
  • 3X Beaver (15.00)
  • 4X Beaver (20.00)
  • Twentyfive (25.00)
  • 4X Beaver (35.00)
  • 5X (40.00)
  • 7X Beaver (50.00)
  • Stetson 100 (100.00)

1960s (dress hats)

  • Royal Stetson (12.00)
  • Royal Deluxe Stetson (13.50)
  • 3X Beaver (20.00)
  • Sovereign (20.00)
  • Twentyfive (25.00)
  • 4X Beaver (35.00)
  • 5X (40.00)
  • 7X Beaver (50.00)
  • Stetson 100 (100.00)

Stetson Sovereign Quality, 1950s/60s

Stetson Sovereign Quality from the year 2008

Nutria Felt

A nutria is a horrid, rat-like animal that is not native to the United States. It is a nasty, invasive species, for sure. But its fur does make a very, very strong fur felt for hats. Cowboys in the late 1800s and early 1900s loved the nutria hats Stetson made because they wore like iron. They held their shape like concrete, the weather never seeming to have any detrimental effect on them. I would guess that this is why so many early Stetson cowboys hats that exist today are nutria fur felts!

Below are some of Stetson’s imprints for nutria fur hats.

This Stetson nutria is from a hat made between 1900 and 1920 or so.

A nutria logo from the early 1930s.

Another 30s era nutria logo.

So, What is my Old Fedora Worth?

Now, many of you may be wondering what your hat is worth. This is a very, very difficult question to answer because there are so many factors involved in assaying a hat that it is hard to address them all.

Before we get to specifics it should be noted that Stetson hats are always worth more than examples from other manufacturers. Stetson has that name, that cache, that other hat makers never achieved. Some Knox models are sought after, Dobbs made a few that collectors seek, and Cavanagh is also a respected product among hat collectors, but Stetson is the big name still today. So, keep that in mind.

In any case, one phrase holds true for both the bedroom and vintage hat sales: size matters!

For instance, you may have in your hand an extremely rare Stetson model from the 1920s that is in nearly perfect shape. Yet, it could be worth $50 or $500 depending on one little factor: the hat size. This is the most frustrating part of hat pricing for the seller, really. If you have that rare hat in, say, a size 6-7/8 it will be practically worthless to you (well comparatively, anyway). On the other hand, if that same exact model in that same exact condition were a size 7-1/4 it could bring up to $300. Further, if it is size 7-1/2 or larger you could get upwards to $500!

The fact is, the larger the size, the more money you can get for your vintage hat on the collector market.

Why is this?

Because few hat collectors collect strictly to add examples to their collection. They do want to fill those gaps in their collection, sure, but 90% of hat collectors buy hats to wear, so they won’t be buying hats that don’t fit.

You still didn’t tell me why that matters?

It matters because the average head size is a 7-1/4 to 7-3/8 these days. That means the small hat sizes are simply not that sought after. If you have a size 6-3/4, 6-7/8, or size 7 hat you’ll find it harder to sell–the smallest size particularly so. And if you do sell it you’ll find it going for a very cheap price. On the other hand if you have a size 7-1/4 hat it will go for good money and if you have a hat in 7-3/8, 7-1/2, 7-3/4, or 7-7/8 you’ll find that it will fetch a very high price, indeed.

This is because buyers want to wear that rare hat, not put it on a shelf and since not that many people have the smaller sized heads these days, well the smaller hats are simply not wanted.

So, why are there so many vintage hats in size 7-1/8 and smaller? Two reasons. First the size 7 hat was a much more common size for men in the early 1900s. But also because the smaller ones were very plentiful in the old days and more survived the decades untouched while the larger ones were not produced as much and the ones that were made were used up and discarded in greater numbers.

You may also ask why hat sizes are larger today? Nutrition and sanitation is why. Both have improved greatly between 1900 and 2014. We’ve all grown larger, fatter and healthier than our gaunt, disease wracked forbearers from 100 years ago.

Dates Matter, too

Yes, the date of your fedora is also a big, big factor. If your hat was made after 1965, consider it junk. It won’t matter what factory made it or what it sold for originally, no one will want it. Fedoras from previous decades, however, are much sought after by collectors, especially Stetsons.

Hats from between 1890 and 1940 really fetch a premium (again, depending on size, model, condition, maker). Hats from the 40s and 50s sell very well. Hats from the early 60s less so. Hats after 1965 are a dime a dozen and few are interested in them regardless of who made them, what condition they are in, or what model.

(Note: The info in this guide is not necessarily true for some modern custom hatters that exist today. A new fedora made at Art Fawcett’s Vintage Silhouettes, Chicago’s Optimo Hats, or Falcon Park Hatters for instance, will sell quite well. Modern, custom made hats are a different story. Custom hat makers have created their own market and are not included in this guide.)


As in all collectibles, condition matters. It should be a logical realization, but if your hat has a ripped out sweatband and is full of holes and moth bites, it just won’t be worth much regardless of how old it is. On the other hand, if your hat has its leather sweatband securely sewn in, the leather is supple and not cracked, there are no holes or moth divots, the inside liner is clean, well you can expect that your hat will be desirable to a collector.

Moth Bites

Fur felt hats are a favorite food of insects. Hats that sit out in the open for years in the corner of an attic or closet are prone to being munched on by the Tinea Pellionella–or the clothes moth–a moth that eats the keratin in natural fibers. They burrow into these fibers (wool sweaters, cotton cloth, or the fur felt of hats) and lay their eggs. Then, when the eggs hatch, the tiny moth larvae eat the natural fibers to grow large enough to fly away. Needless to say, they destroy what they touch.

The are a few ways to ward off these things. One is to make sure your hats are in tightly closed boxes. Adding a few chunks of cedar wood to the bottom of the box is also a good idea. The oils in the wood wards off the bugs to a degree. Finally, keep your eye on the hats occasionally inspecting them to see if they are clear of infestation.

Do not use moth balls on your hats. They will cause the hat to stink terribly and the chemicals in moth balls can also damage a hat. Avoid them.

Still, don’t fret if you have a few moth nips on your hat. A few moth nips do not necessarily make a hat worthless. Most collectors understand that moth nips come with the territory and if there are only a few, shallow moth bites this won’t bother too many collectors (especially on the really old hats). On the other hand, if your hat is covered with moth tracks or you have moth bites that go all the way through your hat, well, you have something of lesser value no matter if it is a rare or older model. Again, remember that most collectors want to wear the hat along with collecting it so if it is unpresentable, it will be undesirable and you’ll probably have a hard time selling it.

The Market Place is Like the Stock Market, It Has Ups And Downs…

Your hat may be worth $500 this month and only $100 next year–or vice versa. This is just a matter of the market as is true with practically any collectable, really. If a preponderance of collectors suddenly get crazed over the Stetson Playboy, the prices will soar. When the market cools, they drop. We’ve seen it over and over again.

For instance, in the years 2011 and 2012 the Stetson Whippet was so hot even the tiny sizes were going for $150 or more with ease. And sizes of 7-1/2 were getting to over $500! But by 2013 the craze subsided a bit. Small sizes started sinking in worth until a 6-7/8 was again down to $100 or less. The big sizes still garnered upwards to $300 though. So, in essence, the Whippet prices stabilized a bit.

The Stetson Playboy also saw this rise and fall. At one time a larger sized Playboy from any time before 1960 could easily fetch $300 or more. But lately the Playboy has plateaued out at a bit less than that.

I note all this to say that prices are not stable. Hat prices fluctuate like all collectables do. However, they have risen considerably in the last 5 years for whatever reason. Perhaps it is the higher profile that fedoras have had among celebrities lately. They are seen on the heads of people like actors and rock stars more often these days so perhaps that has caused vintage hat prices to grow?

So, above are some basic guidelines to think about when trying to figure out what your hat might be worth. Suffice to say, the older the hat the more it might be worth and the larger the hat size the better. Condition is always important. And if it was made after 1965 it is likely pretty worthless.

Some Models of Note

There are a few models that collectors are always looking out for.

Stetson Models

  • Stetson 100 (100% beaver)
  • Whippet
  • Stratoliner
  • Open Road
  • Playboy
  • Bantam
  • Flagship
  • Boss Raw Edge (usually a western/cowboy hat)
  • Boss Of The Plains (not a model name, but a style)

Knox Hats

  • Vagabond (or Vagabond King, its lesser seen brother)
  • Tom And Jerry


  • Game Bird
  • Gay Prince


  • Foldable pocket hat in the triangular cardboard box


  • Campdraft

Of course, like all collectables, there isn’t a sure fire way to say what a hat is worth. It depends on the current market, the condition, model, make, date and size of the hat. It is not as easy as just saying “this hat is worth X because I says so!” Goofball sellers try that on ebay all the time and rarely sell their hats.

You STILL Didn’t Say What It’s Worth

Yeah, I know. So, let’s get specific. Remember, this is only a guide and sometimes prices fluctuate and also remember as noted above size and condition matters, so if your hat is a size 7 or smaller, don’t expect to get much of anything for it.

I will use size 7-1/4 as the mean size and assume the hat is in good condition. Prices for larger sizes will climb a bit, fall for smaller.

A 1950 and previous Stetson Whippet is getting around $225 in 7-1/4.

Stetson 100s are holding at around $250 or so.

Most other models of Stetsons are under $200.

… Unless your Stetson is a western made before 1939, that is. Then you can get upwards to $300 for hats made in the teens, 20s, and 30s. And maybe some $500 for ones made in the 1890s. Earlier than 1890 and prices are really hard to set at an average without taking VERY careful consideration of the condition and historical provenance. So, Stetsons previous to 1890 are impossible to toss off an average price.

Top Hats And Bowlers/Derbies

Folks, sorry to say, but your top hats and derbies are a dime a dozen. It doesn’t matter who made your top hat (and it’s most likely made of silk NOT beaver) they are everywhere out there. Top hats are not worth more than $100 in most cases. Derbies are worth even less. So few people are interested in derbies that you will be lucky to get $50 for one no matter what company made the thing, even if it is in perfect shape.

The only derby that should sell a bit better is one of those extra tall derbies like the ones that were fashionable in the 1890s (see THIS IMAGE of Bat Masterson for an example). There are very few tall derbies still around from that era. But even those really aren’t worth more than $100 as rare as they are. There’s just not much of a market for them. After all, people buy hats to wear, even vintage ones, and nobody wears derbies any more.

As to which manufacturers are worth money, well, Stetson is always the cream of the crop. Vintage Stetson prices far, far out pace other companies. But Cavanagh and Borsalino also bring good prices on the vintage market. Borsos rival Stetson prices quite often.

Now, these general prices really only apply to hats made before 1960. Fedoras made after that are practically worthless (except for ones made by modern speciality hatters such as VS hats or Optimo or other current hatters. Those are in a class of their own.) 1960s and later hats just aren’t worth much except for a few cases. If in good condition, hats made after 1960 are no better than $20 hats regardless of who made them or what model–yes, even Stetsons. Though some of the larger westerns even ones from the 60s and 70s may go for some $200 in the right instances, but we are talking 7-3/8 and larger.

Anyway, it’s really hard to make guesses on prices and remember what I just said is only a guide. You may have a hat that seems worth $300 guaranteed and only end up with $100 in bids on ebay. On the other hand you may think you’d be lucky to get that $100 and end up getting the $300! It’s all very hard to predict.

When in doubt, set a minimum price and try selling with a reserve before you throw caution to the wind and just let it go to whom ever bids the most.

More Hat Related Posts

“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,, and, as well as,,,,, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.

For a full bio, please CLICK HERE.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001