Jan

23

 The first hat was the blue Policeman's hat worn by my father. I thought it made him look a giant and one dared not dispute his authority. I learned from him that the hat was a universal symbol of authority and respect. And that it was made of a sturdy felt that protected the head from falling objects, blows with a stick and even gun shots. The hat came in handy whenever I got into trouble in school. Artie would go into the principal's office with his hat on, and his holster, and ask the principal if he had read me my rights before disciplining me and extorting the confession from me. The funny thing is one of those encounters got me into Harvard. Although I was very good at tennis and college boards, Harvard accepted only a handful of Jews from all of Brooklyn in those days, and I didn't have the 100 average that thousands of other National Junior champions among applying Brooklynites had. But the principal was so incensed by my father's visit that he wrote on my application that Harvard should not admit me. The man who interviewed me had been exposed to a similar blackballing and was so incensed that he insisted as a big donor that they admit me.

 In those days, indeed throughout the history of our republic until 1950, everyone wore hats in the winter. But near the beach, at Sea Breeze Park on W. 4th street, where the checker tables were, it was customary to take the hat off when the temperature was above 80. There was one person however, who a crowd always stood behind, who never took his hat off even in the summer. I learned that it was Tom Wiswell, the world go as you please checker champion. I eventually took weekly checker lessons from him for 20 years. He wrote to me once, "I wore my hat, I won many tournaments, Wylie was the first checker teacher and I will the last. It's time for me to take my hat off.". At the age of 85 he suddenly lost his memory and I never saw him again. But I will always love him, and I will never take my hat off again, except when in the presence of a lady, or if I ever patronize a lady of the night for the first time, in his honor.

 My next encounter wiith hats came at the foot of my grandfather Martin, who was genius court interpreter that spoke 50 languages at least. After working as chief accountant for Irving Berlin's music firm, he became a highly successful speculator in stocks, channeling most of his trades through Bache and Company. Like some of his descendants however, he had one major failing. He liked to trade on 20 times leverage and when the depression came and many stocks fell 20% in one Black Friday, he lost everything. He was always studying the market thereafter and loved to buy the can't misses, true blues like Western Union and Radio and Trolley and Canal which were the blue chips of his day. He told me for my Bar Mitzvah that he would buy me 10 shares of any stock I liked under 10. I asked him what was the best for the long term, something that I could hold onto for growth and peace of mind until I went to college, and that was near 10. Hat Corporation of America he told me, people will never stop wearing hats. They make them in all varieties. There are thousands of uses. And they have a monopoly on all the machines that are necessary to make them. You can wear this one for ever and sleep well with it under the bed. "But Martin," I said, "I read that there were 110 hat manufacturers in 1900 and only 7 left today. Hats have been in a decline since 1900 because people don't want to be formal any more and they don't walk to work." "Never Mind," he said, "the time to buy a stock is when it's out of favor. They have a new method of manufacturing where they substitute a resin for the felt that totally automates what was once a hand made process." Hat as it was called never spent a day above 10 after I bought it and like Union and the others eventually receded to below 1 before being delisted and declaring belly up. 

Whether it was because of the car, or the many overhead vestibules, hats have continued their decline ever since. They received what the owner of the HCA called their death blow when Kennedy became president because he never liked wearing a hat. When Cavanaugh the owner told him he had ruined the hat business, Kennedy took to always holding a hat but never wearing it.

T.K Marks comments:

 At the end of each evening my father would gingerly place his hat in its box on the top shelf of half (quarter) of my parents' closet.

Infants should be handled so delicately.

It was a Homburg if my memory serves correct.

The thing would sleep there, upside-down in its comfy confines, till the next day's dawn came around.

Then both it and he would be off to catch the Long Island Rail Road so that they would both be an hour early for work.

Rudy Hauser comments: 

Given all the talk of hats, I should perhaps add my own comments since I have been wearing hats for many years. Back when I was young I did not wear hats. But after one snowy day which I encountered with a bare head, I decided to wear a hat in the winter. I choose a fur hat made with relatively inexpensive rabbit fur. Drafts from air conditioning in trains that aggravated an allergy induced sinus headache caused me to add hats for the remainder of the year. In the moderate temperature range of spring and autumn, I wore a derby hat I purchased at a very reasonable price at the South Street Seaport for a few decades. Unlike a true derby this was made of soft rather than hard felt. In recent years I have worn a better quality Homburg. In the summer I wear a Panama hat. It has the advantage of helping keep the head a bit cooler in the sun and protecting my face from sunburn.

As to the impact a hat has, back when I was an economist for a money management firm, I would go down to Washington on occasion with a small group arranged by an economist/political analyst consultant consisting of a small number of his institutional clients to visit with government officials. One member was a distinguished lady who was the political policy advisor of a major mutual fund complex. She had once remarked (not to me directkty) how my presence with my derby added a certain dignity to our group. One of the Panama style hats I wore was not a true Panama and was rather flexible, creating its own unique sharp from long wear. My boss and colleague had indicated that it was time to have it replaced. We had both attended a meeting of the Mont Pelerin being held in Cambridge as his guest. Chuck had made the remark in the earshot of a fine classical liberal of the British peerage, who remarked that the hat had character and should be retained. I often hear compliments on my hats on the street. This even applies to my very old and worn rabbit skin fur hat, whose black dye has faded and now is a shade of black and brown with little bits of the fur missing. My attitude is that it still keeps my head very warm, and should I be discarded just because I have lost hair and what I have left is turning gray? Since my response to the latter question is in the negative, I see no reason why I should treat the hat differently.

But the hat business has clearly suffered greatly. To my knowledge there were only two very good quality hat stores left in Manhattan, and the one on Madison Avenue in the 40's closed well over a decade ago leaving only one on Fifth Avenue around 30th Street. There is (or at least there was as I am not sure if it is still in business) a hat store downtown, but the selection of quality hats is not that great, although it did have many lesser quality hats. There is a cigar store on Lexington that has high quality hats, but its selection is very limited.

Sam Marx comments: 

With the government backing them (and Peter Lynch saying good things about them ), even FNM seemed indestructible.


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2 Comments so far

  1. Andre Wallin on January 20, 2012 12:54 pm

    mark to market price uses two primary weapons of extracting money from the weak. it first induces the human brain to act precisely when it is wrong to act. it uses time as a means of getting one to give up on an otherwise profitable position. there is a big difference in knowing when your wrong and knowing when your tired and feel like giving up because you’re weak. i feel like the only way around is to let the market really prove you wrong on what ever time frame your trading and then negotiate the exit. mark to market price is the ask and your entry price is the bid shoot for the middle of those 2 to exit. “a man with a theory is a tiresome man”

  2. Gary Phillips on January 21, 2012 8:36 pm

    Surely not a hat, and barely even a cap, let us not forget the kippah or yarmulke. The Talmud says that the purpose of wearing a kippah is to remind us God is the higher authority over us. He alone is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. When we pray and worship with our heads covered, we are saying that we are in total and complete submission to the will of God Almighty now and forever.

    I was recently in the hunt for 2 of the crocheted variety for my 2 and 4 year olds to wear to school. My elder son demanded that the kippah be white with a blue Magen David. The synagogue gift shop was unable to fill our order, so I turned to a higher authority - E-bay. As J. Peterman would say, it is 6″ in diameter — one size fits all. Handmade in Israel with a very small fine stitch. The yarmulkes are made by people who have made Aliyah; low income and handicap people, generating income to make a living.

    I grew up and observant Jew until I had my first taste of bacon and blondes, and I never looked back. However, I now find myself lighting the candles, saying the hamotzi, and making Kiddish on Friday nights…Nice.

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