My Collection of Antique Stetson Western Hats

-By Warner Todd Huston

Since you clicked on the photograph of my collection of antique Stetson cowboy hats, here is some more info on those hats.

First of all, Stetson is the cadillac of hats, for sure. John B. Stetson became one of the most famous hatmakers in history thanks to his ubiquitous western hat. His name is so synonymous with cowboy hats that a western hat is often generically called a “Stetson” whether made by Stetson’s company or not.

Stetson History

In 1865, with $100, John B. Stetson rented a small room, bought the tools he needed, bought $10 worth of fur and the John B. Stetson Hat Company was born. A year later the “Hat of the West” or the now famous “Boss of the Plains” hat was born and the name Stetson was on its way to becoming the mark of quality, durability, innovation and beauty.

John B. Stetson experienced trying times in his life but after it all he relied on the one thing he did exceptionally well, making hats. He was trained by his father, a master hatter, and applied his skills and knowledge to a trade that, at the time was not held in high regard.

A hatter was seen as unreliable, lazy, or aloof, only looking to make his money and go have fun. John B. Stetson changed all that and built one of America’s most well-known and successful businesses. The longevity and history of the John B. Stetson Company is based on innovation and quality! John B. Stetson led the hat industry his entire career by designing new hat styles for fashion and function. When it came to quality it was his creed and for the past 130 years it has so stamped the product that the name and the word are synonymous.

Today the Stetson hat factory in Garland, Texas is one of the largest in the country and produces a line of hats in hundreds of different styles and colors. In spite of this size, however, classic styling and premium quality remain as the driving forces behind each and every hat. As a result, Stetson hats are the most well known hats in the world. Wherever and whenever hats are discussed Stetson will be mentioned.

Stetson is the standard in hats, the essence of the spirit of the West and an icon of everyday American lifestyle. Because of its authentic American heritage, Stetson remains as a part of history and, for the same reason will continue into the future.

Stetson, it’s not just a hat, it’s the hat.

My Collection

I have been collecting hats for many years, but my favorites have always been Stetsons. I am mostly interested in fedoras, but I also have a little collection of original Stetson westerns that range in manufacturing dates from the 1890s to the 1930s. Original Stetsons from the early days (especially pre 1900) are very hard to find. You see, a Stetson was a man’s most beloved possession back in the old days and he usually wore his hat to pieces before he finally bought a new one. Therefore, old Stetsons don’t exist in great numbers because. They were just used up and finally discarded, not saved for posterity. Additionally, the ones that do still exist these 100 years later are rarely in great shape. I mean, come on. They are cloth items, made to wear, not built to last forever in the first place, and are usually quite well used. Granted, any hat that is still around since before 1900 is a rare piece, but an antique Stetson just has that extra aura about it. It was the hat that tamed the west, after all.

In any case, here is my little collection. I hope you enjoy viewing it.

(Note: You can click on the first photo of each hat to go to a larger image so you can see details better. Be sure to hit your back button on your browser to come back to this page. The photos of the insides of the hats are not linked to larger photos.)

Stetson, The Hat that Made the West

Identification key

1). The Derby (1900)

The derby is not really an American hat. It was actually created in England as the bowler or the Cooke Hat (pronounced koke). It was initially invented to be a sort of protective helmet for equestrians over there, but by the time it got to America is was merely an item of fashion. Derbies were considered a city hat more than a western hat, but regardless of that general conception, the derby was seen throughout the country–the west included–from the moment it came to America’s shores in the mid 1800’s.

This size 7-1/8 derby is the model that won Stetson a “grand prize” at a 1900 Paris hat manufacturer’s competition. It is duly marked with the 1900 prize winner imprint on the sweatband and was originally sold at a store named “Haskell and Jones Company,” of Portland, Maine. The hat is also a “flexible conforming” hat. This one was made between 1900 and 1920.

This derby has the brown re-oder tag in it as seen in the last photo above. Sometime in the early 1910s Stetson changed the color of the re-order tag from brown to orange. No one left alive knows why the color change, but whatever the case, only Stetsons from previous to 1910 have the brown re-order tags.

2). The Boss Raw Edge (1930s)

The Boss Raw Edge was one of Stetson’s early big sellers. They were made from the late 1800s until the 1930s. Called “raw edge” because there was no binding sewn to the edge of the brim and no edge treatment otherwise (like stitching or welting), the Boss Raw Edge was made in many, many crown heights, brim widths and came in several colors like black, brown, natural, and sometimes white.

This one is a size 7-1/8 and was sold originally in Sheridan, Wyoming at an outlet of “Stevens – Fryberger Company.” Due to the size of the crown and the fact that the sweatband stitching is an up and down stitch, this hat was likely made in the 1930s. (Earlier Stetsons had a “v” stitch on the sweat band, instead of an up and down stitch.)

There are no tags inside, but this hat does have one of those oil skin sweat barriers that Stetson tried out in the 1930s. These sweat barriers were meant to stop the wearer’s sweat from wicking through to the outside of the hat. When a hat is worn a lot outside in summer weather, sweat naturally leaks through to the outside and will stain the area where the brim meets the crown. When the sweat dries it leaves a white salt stain in that area as well as on the ribbon. Because of this, Stetson tried this sweat barrier idea. It’s a band of oil skin sewn between the leather sweatband and the hat body.

This idea didn’t last too many years, though. It was ultimately found that the sweat that wicked off the wearer’s head got trapped between the leather sweatband and the oil skin shielding and this caused the oil skin to adhere to the leather sweatband which quickly rotted the sweatband out and caused it all to fall apart. The oil skin sweat barrier, while a seemingly good idea, caused more trouble than it was worth.

3). The Boss Raw Edge, 3X, Kettle Finish (1920s)

Here we have another Boss Raw Edge, but this one is a 3X quality model sporting a “Kettle Finish” brim.

The 3X in the earlier days of Stetson’s manufacturing likely had a very high beaver fur content. It was one of the more expensive hats and was one of Stetson’s higher grade hats at the turn of the last century. The “Kettle Finish” meant that the brim edge was curled in what many call a “pencil curl.” This hat was originally made between 1900 and 1920. It was originally sold at “McVicar – Howard Clothing Co.” of Wichita, Kansas.

Unfortunately, some goof removed the entire sweatband from the hat at some point in the past. It has been tacked back in, in six places as you can see with the light colored thread in the photos. Still, it is a solid and rare hat in great condition.

4). No. 1 Quality (1930s)

The number one quality (No. 1 Quality) western was originally one of Stetson’s mid priced hats. This particular one is in a beautiful white and sported a bit of history, too. I have since sold this hat, but I have a similar one that you can see below.

This was a beautiful hat, originally owned by one Mr. Nathan Levy, the Post Master of Visalia, California — Nathan Levy was the son of Julius Levy and was Postmaster of Visalia up to the time of his death in 1939 at the age of 67. He arrived in California in 1863, and in Tulare County in 1865. Nathan’s son, Ben Preston Levy, died in Korea. Ben is survived by his wife Alice Stocker Levy Collins of SC, daughter Linda Levy Hurzeler, and son Gregory Levy Collins. I purchased this hat from his great grandson. The hat was made likely sometime in the 1930s and was purchased at “Whitehill’s” of Salinas and Visalia, California. The size is 6-7/8.

5). No. 1 Quality (1900 to 1920)

Here is another No. 1 Quality, but it is an older hat than the one above.

This raw edged, flat brimmed hat has a great western pencil curl all the way around. It is a size 6-7/8 and was made between 1900 and 1920. It was originally sold at “Woods Brothers men’s Store,” but where that store was located is unknown.

This one has the brown re-oder tag in it as seen in the second to last photo above.

6). Clear Nurtia (1900 to 1920)

This one is a nutria felt hat, not beaver. Most hats of this era were made of the fur of the good old American beaver, but at the turn of the century, the nutria came to America and its fur made a very tough hat. Nutria–a rat-like creature imported from South America–produces a fur felt that is tough as nails, not soft and pliable like beaver felt. In fact, it is so tough that even with time it never really softens like beaver fur felt does. Many cowboys liked the nutria hats because they were almost indestructible. This one is a “clear nutria” meaning that it was a 100% nutria fur felt hat.

Originally sold at “Burlington Arcade,” in New York, this hat features a shortened crown creased in a telescope dent. It is a size 7-1/8 and was apparently originally owned by a fellow named “R. Nutt” if the inked name is any indication.

It is a raw edged brim with the right and left edges slightly turned upward.

Since nutria were introduced to America, though, they’ve become a dangerous, destructive, invasive species that most people would rather see eliminated. Nice move, hat makers!

7). No Name Hats (1890s to early 1900s)

The last one is quite special. It is a “No Name Hat Company” Hat made between 1890 and 1910.

This hat was originally sold at “Greentree” of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and is in the style that was extremely popular for townsfolk and city folk. This hat would have been worn by laborers, bankers, newspaper men, men of all sorts. It was a very typical style at the turn of the century, but what makes it special is the company that made it.

The “No Name Hat Company Hat” was actually a Stetson hat company. It wasn’t the Stetson company that was owned by the John B. Stetson that we are all familiar with, but it was a company that John worked for nonetheless. You see, it was his father’s and brother’s company–though John also was a principal in the company at one time.

This hat was made in the early 1900s by Henry Stetson (John’s brother), who was the main “No Name” man. By this time Stephen (the father) had long since passed away. John’s younger brother, Stephen L. Stetson, also worked for “No Name.”

It may sound like a joke, but it was called “No Name” because the Stetsons just couldn’t come up with a name for the company. So, they just stuck with “No Name.”

The “No Name” company and “John B. Stetson Hat Company” were apparently quite close, though. How close can be seen on the sweat band of this hat. In the photos you’ll see an imprint bearing “The Fray” patent. “The Fray” is actually a trademarked process for making the leather sweatbands. This was one of John B. Stetson’s big selling points on his hats between 1879 and 1920. But since this “The Fray” patent mark appears on a “No Name” hat, this means that John and his brother Henry shared the process between their two companies without argument. The patent was taken out by one of Stetson’s earliest employees of long standing, one Mr. William F. Fray.

Interestingly, the happy cooperation between Stetson companies that I mention above did not stay so cordial later in the century. As it happened, in 1933, John’s younger brother Stephen L. Stetson started a hat company of his own that he tried to call “Stetson Hats.” But big brother John wasn’t amused and sued him for violating his trademarked name. Stephen lost in court and had to make sure he called his company the “Stephen L. Stetson Hat Company.” Not only that but Stephen had to include a little disclaimer on every hat and hat box that went to great pains to inform customers that his company was not connected in any way to the John B. Stetson hat company. You can see an example of a Stephen L. Stetson hat along with the ubiquitous disclaimer on my other thread HERE.

Recently Purchased and Not Pictured Above

8). Stetson No. 1 Quality (1930s)

Here is another No. 1 Quality, and it is nearly the same model as the white one above that I sold. Oddly enough, this one was even originally sold at the same California store as the one in my little diorama photo of Stetson Westerns!

This one has a finely trimmed brim edge that measures in at a generous 3-1/2 inches. It was manufactured sometime in the 1930s. It has the name “Hap Corey” imprinted into the sweatband. This owner wanted to be sure no one walked off with his Stetson, for sure.

9). Stetson No. 1 Quality (1930s)

And here is another No. 1 Quality, and it is nearly the same model as the white one above, but in brown. Even sold at the same California store which makes the third one I’ve seen from that store.

This also has the finely trimmed brim edge that measures in at a generous 3-1/2 inches. It was manufactured sometime in the 1930s.

Sadly, one of the original owners poked two holes in the brim in order to add a stampede string. But that flaw is small and doesn’t detract too much from the hat.

10). Stetson No. 1 Quality (1890s to 1910s)

I have to say, I was thrilled as heck to come across this No. 1 Quality Stetson.This hat is particularly beautiful. It looks as though it just came off the store shelves even though it is likely older than any of the hats above. It is rare, indeed, to find a 100-year-old Stetson in such perfect shape.

Anyway, this black No. 1 Quality is finished in a wonderful pencil curl brim and also features one of Stetson’s 1890s era imprint stamps. This hat was made between 1890 and 1910. It also sports a “The Fray” sweatband. This was the patented sweatband invented by one of Stetson’s earliest employees of long standing that I mentioned above.

This one also has the brown re-oder tag in it as seen in the last photo above.

11). Stetson No. 1 Quality (Late 1940s to Early 1950s)

Here is a No. 1 Quality Stetson from the late 40s or early 50s. It’s in very good shape, but the previous owner stretched it a bit as you can see the hat jack indentations in the leather sweatband. I hate these new hat-jacks as they always leave indentations in the leather sweatbands. I never use them.

Anyway, this black No. 1 Quality is finished in a deep pencil curl brim that measures a full 4 inches.This hat was made between 1945 and the early 50s. Despite the hat-jacking it took, the leather is in very supple condition with only a few scuffs here and there and no broken stitches.

12). Stetson Boss Raw Edge, Kettle Finish, Nutria (1913 to 1920s)

This hat is a bit moth eaten, but is a great example of the sort of early dress western hat that was worn between the late 1890s and about 1930. This particular one has the brown reorder tag, so that makes it of a manufacturing date previous to 1920. It is made of nutria fur and features the “kettle finish” brim edge which meant the brim was curled (as pictured). It is also Stetson’s then famous “Boss Raw Edge” meaning it had no edge treatment, just cut raw, no stitching or ribbon binding. Only in advertising can something be finished with no extra treatment, no extra effort to jazz it up yet have that be advertised as a major selling point!

The felt is quite pliable and can be shaped in several ways.

13). Stetson Boss Raw Edge, Kettle Finish, Real Nutria (Late 1920s to Early 1930s)

This is a great Boss Raw Edge western hat with a marked “Kettle Finish” brim edge and made of “real nutria.”

What is very interesting about this is that a Boss Raw Edge usually has a brim edge with no ribbon or stitching adornment. This one, however, has an interesting flat ribbon sewn completely underneath the brim edge. Also, “Kettle Finish” usually meant that the brim had a pencil curl to it. This one, though, is flat. I don’t know if it ever had a curl, but if it did there is no vestige of it now. Also, the leather sweatband is a bit larger than average. It measures 2-1/2 inches in depth.

Another odd thing on this is the older style inventory label. Usually by the late 20s and into the 30s the inventory label had already moved to the orange label as seen in the hats above.

Other wise, it is a typical Boss Raw Edge from the late 20s and 30s. A little dirty, but in great–even wearable–shape.

Lastly, it has a very wide oil skin sweat barrier sewn between the leather sweatband and the hat. It is fortunate that this sweat barrier didn’t destroy the hat as they had a tendency to do over the ages. This one survived in great shape.

14). Stetson No. 1 Quality, Boss Of The Plains Style (Made between 1880 and the 1920s)

This is a great Boss Of The Plains style Stetson. The Boss Of The Plains was one of Stetson’s most famous and popular styles from the 1860s on into the early 20th century. In fact, this flat-brimmed, round-crown style was the so popular, nearly every photo of a real cowboy from the late 1800s is wearing this style hat or something close to it.

Take this photo from my personal collection, for instance. This is of a couple from the 1880s or so.

So, here is my Boss Of The Plains, Stetson’s most famous hat of all…

Finally, this one has the brown reorder tag as seen in many pre 1920 Stetsons.

15). Stetson Boss Raw Edge Dress Western (Made between 1880 and the 1920s)

Not everyone in the west wore a full blown cowboy hat and Stetson made some Boss Raw Edge hats that looked more like fedoras, too. This is one of those.

This great hat was sold in Spokane, Washington sometime between 1900 and 1920 or so.

16). Stetson 3X Beaver Quality (1940s)

This is a nice example of a 1940s era 3X with all the markings on leather and liner both. The words “XXX Beaver Quality” don’t appear very often on the inside liners.

This one also has one of the earliest “Last Drop” embroidered liners, too. A nice late 40s piece.

By a strange coincidence, this is the third hat I’ve found from the Whitehill store in Salinas, California.

17). Stetson Real Nutria Long Hair (Early 1900s up to the 20s)

Nutria fur was loved by the cowboys because it wore like iron and lasted a long time. This one is interesting because it is a long hair, not the closely sanded felt and it is in an eye popping golden cream color. Unfortunately, the moths really ate this one up, but there are no holes, oddly enough. Seems the moths were content with eating the surface instead of eating down through the felt. But, oddly, even with the mothing, this is a pretty cool looking hat.

The moths didn’t eat just the outside of this one, either. A look inside at the re-order tags shows how the little buggers ate right through the labels!

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