H is for Hosier
By ADAMS, John , 1765

John Adams, Hatter and Hosier

  • Author: ADAMS, John
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: at the Hat And Beaver the Corner of Wine-Office Court, Fleet-street
  • Publication date: c1765
  • Physical description: Engraved trade card, laid on old paper, with loss to upper right and lower corners.
  • Dimensions: 175 by 130mm (7 by 5 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 17953


Beaver fur was one of the preferred materials from which to make hats from the mid-sixteenth century onwards. The water-proof and insulating quality of the fur meant that it was preferable to that of rabbits, with the result that native European beavers had been hunted to near-extinction by the early seventeenth century. The trade was revived, however, when the Hudson’s Bay Company began exporting the fur from Canada the following century. In addition to the endangerment of beavers, the use of their fur also posed a threat to the craftsmen who worked it. Beaver skins were soaked in a solution containing mercuric nitrate, the vapours of which caused tremors, depression, paranoia and other mental problems, giving birth to the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’. Fortunately, silk overtook beaver pelt as a more fashionable material for hats in the nineteenth century.

Working at the sign of the Hat and Beaver on Fleet Street during the eighteenth century was a hatter named John Adams, who also sold hosiery, gloves, fabrics, laces and feathers as well. His trade card is illustrated with the hat and beaver of his sign, as well as with a number of other headpieces, designed for both men and women. It is not clear exactly when his card was made, but its style suggests a mid-eighteenth century provenance.

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