Harold Cotton, Sr. Round Hat Block

This wooden hat block served as a versatile form for a variety of hats. The process of cleaning and blocking felt, fur, or straw hats involved heating or steaming the hat and placing it over a form such as this to return it to its original shape. The oval shape of this form mimicked the general shape of the human head and made it easier to fit the hat to the person wearing it.
From the late-nineteenth century to to the mid-twentieth century, work attire required hats for men and women and most Americans had at least one hat in their wardrobe. Daily wear meant hats got scuffed, dirty, and misshapen. Thrifty consumers did not throw away hats, but had them cleaned and reformed by hatters to extend the life of their purchases. As the fashion of wearing hats declined in the 1960s, hat blocking became a fast-receding craft.
Hatter and small businessman, Harold Cotton, Sr. used this block and others in this collection in his shop in Greensboro, NC. A black entrepreneur, Cotton used the income from his shop to move up the economic ladder and promote the welfare of the black community. Profits from the shop supported institutions within the black community, including St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ, the local black Boy Scout troop, and the NAACP.
For other blocks used by Cotton, see 2012. 0201. 01, 2012. 0201. 04, 2012. 0201. 03 and 2012. 0201. 05.
Currently not on view
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
brown (overall color)
overall: 6 in x 7 1/2 in x 6 in; 15.24 cm x 19.05 cm x 15.24 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Michael J. Cotton and Harold C. Cotton II
African American
See more items in
Work and Industry: Work
American Enterprise
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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