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ca. 1790 OFFICER’S “COCKED” OR BICORNE HAT – EARLY US ARMY AND EUROPEAN ARMY HEADGEAR – RARE SPECIMEN IN VERY GOOD CONDITION:  Evolved from the tricorne hat in fashion during the 1700’s, the early bicorne hat – also known as the “cocked hat” or “chapeau” - had a rather broad brim, with the front and the rear halves turned up and anchored to each other or the crown. 

The bicorne hat was worn in North America by a number of the troops engaged in the American Revolution including the American, British, Germanic and French forces, and was continued as part of military uniforms through much of the 19TH Century.     

While the French seem to have used the names “bicorne” and “chapeau” interchangeably, and the Germans dubbed it simply the “zwei spitz hut” (two-pointed hat), in the English language the longer rear brim was referred to as "the fan" and the shorter front brim as "the cock" — hence the British, and eventually the Americans, designated this style as the "cocked hat".   

The cocked hat was typically worn in the American and British armies with the points oriented side-to-side, or athwart the wearer’s head during the 1790’s.  From 1800 on, the British Army transitioned to wearing the cocked hat fore-and-aft, but the U.S. Army appears to have continued to wear the hat athwart the head.   

According to US Army uniform regulations, by 1812 the dimensions of the officer’s chapeau had increased, requiring the fan to be not less than 9 ½”, and not more than 11” high.  In 1813 these dimensions had been reduced to not less than 6 ½” and not more than 9”, with a point to point measurement of not less than 15” and not more than 17 ½”, and the plume had been done away with – the pattern that remained the standard through the 1820’s.  These early regulations are somewhat nebulous as they do not specify whether the hat was to be worn with the points athwart the head or fore and aft.  Fortunately, the 1832 uniform regulations were far more descriptive, as the text plainly states that the dimensions of the hat for general officers were to be “….fan or back part eleven inches; the front or cock nine inches; each corner six inches….” (emphasis added), leaving little doubt that during this early period the hat was to be worn athwart the head.    

An example of an identified US Army Cocked Hat of this period is shown below.  Pictured and described in United States Army Headgear To 1854, Volume I (Howell and Kloster of the Smithsonian Institution), this fully dressed specimen was worn by Peter Gansevoort while serving as a brigadier general from 1808 – 1812, and based on the museum’s description, was worn with the points of the hat athwart his head.  Made of heavy weight black beaver fur, Gansevoort’s hat measures 7 ¾” high at the front, 8 ½” at the crest of the rear fan, 4” from the sweat band to each corner, and 16 ¼” from point to point across the hat.  The hat is bound with black silk ribbon, decorated with gold bullion cord terminating with a New York State “Excelsior” button, and features a black silk cockade with a gold metal eagle insignia.    

This Cocked Hat measures 9 ½” high at the front, 11 ¾” at the crest of the rear fan, 6” from the sweat band to each corner, and 18 ½” from point to point across the hat. 

The dimensions and depth of the drop of the “points” or corners of this hat all argue for it being of a style and pattern that would have been in fashion generally between 1790 and the 1830’s.  Unfortunately, there is no maker’s tag or label on the sweat band that would perhaps provide additional information for the purposes of more closely dating this hat.  

What is significant is that this hat was obtained from the same estate where the Revolutionary War Musket Cartridge Box listed in the Accoutrements Section of this site and a Brown Bess Bayonet were also found – further suggesting this hat dates from the earliest years the style was in vogue.    

This Cocked Hat has survived in very good condition, retaining the full form of both the cock and the fan, and the heavy black beaver fur felt still retains the majority of the nap and color.  The fur felt is intact throughout both the cock and fan with no breaks or cracks so commonly seen in these early hats, and only minor points of minimal mothing.  The black silk ribbon binding is fully present on the edges of the cock and fan, with the stitching intact and showing only minimal wear to the extremities of the points.  The fine gold bullion loop is present on the face of the cock, full form with no pulls, broken strands or missing sections of the cords.  Albeit darkened with the tarnish of the passing years, the gilt finish of the cords is still visible.  The fine black cords which anchored the interior surfaces of the cock and fan to the crown are still present, with the majority still anchored in place.  The crown is all present, but has suffered from being folded through the years and is separated along the folds, but none of the material is broken away or lost – the full form of the crown is still present.  The interior of the hat is surprisingly complete, though shows signs of having been worn and the effects of age.  The fine black leather sweat band is fully complete with no missing leather, but the stitching at the base of the band missing approximately 50% of the stitches.  The leather is live and could be restitched in place should that be desired.  The polished black cotton lining is likewise complete with no material missing, but along one section – about ¼ of the distance – where the circular crown portion of the liner is sewn to the side wall portion, the stitches are missing.  Again, this is something that could be restored by a skilled artisan.  The cotton lining shows some white salt deposits, remnants of the owner’s perspiration and evidence this hat was worn.  In spite of these condition issues to the crown and lining which are fairly provided in this description, this Cocked Hat displays quite well, and due to the nature and design of the hat, the affects of age to the exterior and interior of the crown are not visible when the hat is either laid flat or displayed upright on a stand.   

It is difficult to determine if this Cocked Hat was worn athwart or fore-and-aft by the owner.  Quite honestly, it fits a proper sized head very well in either orientation, and the conformation of the hat and the lining do not provide any significant clues either way.   

As this specimen illustrates, a version of cocked hats were manufactured so that they would fold flat and could be conveniently tucked under the officer’s arm when not being worn, and they became known as a chapeau-de-bras, or literally, an “arm hat”.  This sort of variation is the type of feature available to the officers as their uniforms, hats and equipment were all purchased by the individual and within certain, but fairly liberal limits, the officer’s preferences were only confined by his own ability to pay for such special features.     

Examples of the Cocked Hat from the late 18TH and early 19Th Centuries are not commonly offered on the market, particularly those worn by army officers – naval officer’s cocked hats being far more common – and early specimens that have survived in very nice condition such as this one has are quite rare.  This hat would be a remarkable addition to a collection of US Army headgear or to display with a collection of early arms and accoutrements.            (0745) $1975



GENERAL Peter Gansevoort'S HAT


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