Conserving The Past: The Story of a Hat
Beaver top hat with case, ca. late 1800s
This hat and case were purchased specifically for use in a display. Since beaver fur, the most important commodity in the early history of the Company, was primarily used to make men's hats, it was felt that a vintage beaver top hat would be an appropriate item to link the Company's early history and its current role as retailer. Because Hbc sold its furs at auction and did not actually make hats, it was felt that any good quality hat would be appropriate for purchase. The search for a good candidate began.
Auctions, antique stores and collectors are all good places to look for items, but e-Bay, the online auction service, is often the most convenient source when a specific product is wanted. During the time we were considering this purchase, there were dozens of beaver top hats to choose from. The choice was quickly narrowed by selecting only those offered with a case and which were in relatively good condition. What tipped the scales in favour of this particular hat was its provenance, or history: the seller knew that the hat had a Canadian connection and had been owned by a dentist in St. Thomas, Ontario.
Detail of flaking on hat case
For this phase chemical treatments and freezing were both ruled out as potentially damaging to the artefacts. That left the option of isolation in a low-oxygen atmosphere. Basically, the items were placed in a sealed container and the oxygen removed so that whatever insects might be left would suffocate. The objects were then vacuumed and brushed to remove debris and improve their appearance. Once stabilized and free from damaging pests, the hat and case were ready to go on display.If you have an artifact which you think belongs in the corporate collection, and possibly, one day, on display, please Contact Us.