Dating Stetson Hats By Inventory Tag

-By Warner Todd Huston

Hats are often impossible to date in exact terms. Once in a while there is an actual ink stamp on the inside of a leather sweatband telling us the date the hat was made or sold but this is very rare. Sometimes there is an original receipt from when the hat was purchased. This is also rare and maybe a bit unreliable because, after all, the receipt could have come from any where and it’s hard to be sure it was actually for the hat it is with. Even less reliable is family lore on when a hat was purchased (so few people know anything about hats that this is a highly unreliable method of dating). Other times we know through hat company advertisements that a particular, marked model was only sold during a specific time period. But usually one can only make an educated guess based on when particular models were introduced taken with the various manufacturing methods used on the hat. This criteria usually can only give you about a 10-year period into which the hat’s manufacture date could fit.

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.

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

Everyone wants to know what the heck Stetson means by those “genuine” Xs. Here we endeavor to answer that question.

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 Dating Stetson Hats By Inventory Tag…

Collectors have the most information on Stetsons but even that is hard to pin down. The following is what collectors know so far about dating a Stetson. This information is always changing as collectors are finding out more and more and newer vintage examples come to light.

Now, one way to date your Stetson hat is by re-order (“To Duplicate”) and inventory tags. Dating Stetsons by inventory, style and sizing, or re-order number tags might only give you a general set of dates of not more than a decade or two, but taking note of these inventory tags can give you a general idea of the era in which your hat was made. As with all dating systems for Stetsons, exact, to the year dating is nearly impossible simply because Stetson’s records have long since been destroyed.

The idea with these tags was that you could re-order your favorite hat style simply by telling Stetson what your tag said. On that tag is a style number, a block number, and a size, etc. With this innovative system a customer never had to guess what sort of hat he had and never had to be forced to try a new style when his old hat wore out. If he liked the type of hat he had he could get it replaced with one exactly like it. Customer service was the word of the day!

These tags had other uses, too. It was also a way for Stetson to keep track of what was going on in the factory. The tags helped track what hats sold the most and where they were in the manufacturing process.

I think Stetson introduced this system in the late 1800s and it wasn’t long before every hat manufacturer had some sort of inventory tag of its own.

Whether on a Stetson tag or on that of another hat maker, some of the information on these tags were crown depth, hat size, blocking number, finish style, sometimes even color appeared on them (but not often). And, of course, the name of the hat company and sometimes its address were also on these tags.

Where can you find these tags?

On Stetsons there were two of these stickers glued to the felt behind the sweatband, at the back of the hat.

This is the inside of the hat. Follow the arrow and look behind the sweatband for the tags

What do they look like?

Here is what it looks like when you turn down the leather sweatband


Now, be very, very careful when you turn that sweatband down. On older hats the sweatband stitching can be very delicate. Turning down that leather in a rough manner can easily result in the stitching breaking apart of the leather cracking. If you are afraid of damaging the hat, just take a peek behind that leather. If the hat is in great shape, though, go ahead and turn it out.

But be aware that a leather sweatband is NOT made to be constantly flipped in and out of the hat. Hatters may suggest that the sweat be turned out when drying a modern, newly made hat, but this is NOT a good habit on vintage hats for the reason noted above. A leather sweatband is generally manufactured to stay flipped inward to hold the proper shape of the hat opening but the bigger problem is age. It is not usually safe to flip sweatbands in and out on an older hat. So, once you see your reorder and size tags, best to take a photo of them and then never flip that sweatband out again if you can help it!

Reorder, Size, and Finish Tag Styles and Dating

Late in the 1800s Stetson instituted a great idea for customer relations. You see, in those days, a hat was quite an important part of a man’s personal style. Once he found a hat style he liked, he usually tried to stay with that as long as possible. Hats weren’t incidental in those days. A man was making a personal statement with his hat.

So, Stetson implemented a way for a man to replace his favorite hat with exactly the same style as his lost or worn out hat. To do that Stetson created a “to duplicate” tag with a number on it. The number told Stetson what sort of hat was being requested so that when a man re-ordered his hat he’d get the exact model he wanted with the same style, same brim width, etc. The ultimate in customer service.

This reorder system lasted from the late 1800s to about 1960 when Stetson finally dropped the service. The separate re-order tag seemed to appear in a myriad of different versions. The first was a brown tag that was almost square–but not quite–and lasted to sometime in the mid to late 1920s. Then came a second version in orange. Finally came an orange version that was a bit more rectangular than the second. But there were several other types, to.

Early Stetsons had the “to duplicate” information on the same tag as the sizing and blocking info. It is possible that Stetson used both the black tag and the separate brown “to duplicate” tag concurrently. But it wasn’t for long, for sure.

Still, it is currently unknown just when Stetson started using paper tags inside hats to denote size, style, reorder numbers and block and crown depths. The earliest tag I have seen is from somewhere between the 1870s and 1900. Stetsons from between 1865 and 1890 are, well, like finding hen’s teeth, so it isn’t real common to see what sort of tags they used prior to 1900. In any case, Stetson seems to have had well over a dozen different tags that all appeared in certain eras.

Stetson’s earliest known tag (as least to me) is this one. This tag was found in an 1880s-style American police hat with a metal pin that has”SLP” surrounded by a wreath on its front (maybe St. Louis Police). This English Bobby-like police hat was popular in American cities until the early 1900s when they went out of fashion for our police departments.

This one is similar to the one above, but has the categories moved around a bit. This was found in a bowler with a liner sporting Stetson’s 1889 medal winnings. So, it was made between 1889 and 1900

Stetson’s early black tag, late 1800s to sometime in the 1920s. The black and white tag is often seen on bowlers. Note how the “to duplicate” information was part of the same tag in this early iteration, too.

This one has only been seen a handful of times. It perhaps from the 1900s or as late as 1920. This was found in a bowler.

Here is another alternate version, this one also a rare sighting. Again it is unknown how long this one was used.

Early in the 1900s, perhaps as early as the 1910s, Stetson began to separate the re-order tags.

Separate Reorder Tag Styles and Dating

Ultimately, Stetson used the two separate tags from sometime in the 1920s all the way until about 1950 or so when they went to the white tag seen below.

Stetson’s early brown re-order or “to duplicate” tag. This tag went from about the 1900s to somewhere in the late 1920s. This one was mostly gone by the mid to late 20s but some stocks of them were still being used up.

Stetson’s early alternate “to duplicate” tag. This tag came to light recently from collectors at the Fedora Lounge website and seems to be from the 1900s to 1920s or so. It is either the brownish color of the early tag or the orange color of the later tag surrounded by a plain paper border with accents. Not many of these have been seen so it is unknown how often it was used.

Another alternate version of the brown tag same dates as above.

Here is another shot of the alternate tag as above from a different hat, only this one is showing how the re-order number would have been printed on the tag. This is from a 1900 Paris Grand Prize model derby from sometime between 1900 and 1920.

Once in a while the “to duplicate” tag was also in red. This is not real common, but it happens. This one was found in a 1920s era fedora.

Stetson’s first orange tag lasted possibly as long as the early 1930s. It was essentially the same tag as the brown one, just printed in orange.

Stetson’s more oblong orange tag lasted from the mid to late 30s to about 1957 or so. After that, the re-order number was incorporated into the size and block tag as you’ll see next.

Separate Size and Style Tags

Here are the separate size and style tags.

Stetson’s orange tag with a large size panel and three smaller panels from the sometime in the early 1900s to the early or mid 1930s or so. Note that the “to duplicate” info is no longer on the size and block tag.

Orange tag from the early to mid 30s to about 1940, note how panels are slightly different than above.

Orange tag from 1940 to the mid 1950s, note the further change in the panel set up.

An alternate tag to the one above, this one with the colors reversed. This was discovered in a practically destroyed Stetson Stratoliner Vita Felt from the early 1940s.

1950s to the early 60s. Notice that Stetson went back to incorporating the re-order and size info on the same tag.The first use of this tag seems to date to 1952 or so, but the earlier orange and red tags were also being used concurrently with this white one for at least 5 years after this white one was introduced. Collectors speculate Stetson was just using up its stock of the read and orange ones before going with the white one full time.

These re-order tags were a standard for many decades, but by the time the 60s and early 70s rolled around, Stetson had switched its inventory system to a computer-based system and began to use a big fold out tag that was glued to the side behind the sweatband instead of being glued to the felt in the back of the hat behind the sweatband. This last tag was about 2 inches wide and folded out to be 3 inches or so long.

Of course, by the 1970s, Stetson had done away with the idea that you could reorder your hat by the tag information, anyway. Stetson decided it did not want to spend the time messing around with all the records that the tags required them to maintain. Sadly, at this time all those old records were destroyed. All those records… just gone. Sad.

Post 1970 tag and the end of the re-ordering feature

Non-Stetson Hat Manufacturers

Inventory tags were quite common throughout the hat-making industry between the late 1890s all the way to the 1960s. There are all sorts of these tags and while they differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, one general rule of thumb is that they got smaller over the years. They also got less and less fancy. Early tags were quite fancy with little flourishes and fancy type styles. Then, as time moved on, all the prettiness of these tags went away until they just looked like a tag a computer churned out. You can see above the way Stetson’s devolved as an example. (In fact, Stetson’s were always pretty staid. Some manufacturers really got fancy.)

Here’s a few quick examples of other hat maker’s tags. Below you’ll find one from the No Name Hat company from about 1920 or so, one from the Hoyt Hats company, and one from the Biskup hat company. The latter two are from the late 1940s.

No Name Hats

Hoyt Hats

Biskup Hats

So, there you have it, folks. Some examples of inventory tags from other manufacturers. This system persisted until the hat industry went belly up as a customizable product.

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.

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