Cavanagh Hats was started by John Cavanagh in 1928

in conjunction with the creation of Cavanagh-Dobbs, Inc., out of the merger of Dobbs and Crofut & Knapp.

Cavanagh Hats

John Cavanagh, a New York Hatter, began his career in 1880. He worked under his mentor, James H. Knapp at Crofut & Knapp. Cavanagh became Vice President by 1907 and then President by 1923. 

Cavanagh HatsThe company Cavanagh-Dobbs Inc. was born in 1928. It included his own label, Cavanagh Hats, which was based out of New York City. Cavanagh opened an exclusive store, John Cavanagh, Ltd., at 247 Park Avenue in NYC. The company was one of the premiere hat-makers in the 1920s and 30s, and Cavanagh remained a premier hat maker through the 1950s, and made excellent hats into the 60s. 

Cavanagh introduced the Cavanagh Edge patented 25 February 1913. A second patent, for an improved version of the Cavanagh Edge was granted on May 19, 1931. 

John Cavanagh became an instrumental part of the Hat industry and helped to reshape and influence the design of men’s dress hats. His innovative ideas and approach to hat making earned him the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award. It was in recognition of his services to the American hat industry. 

Today’s Cavanagh Hats are as stylish and well made as the original hats John Cavanagh created back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His legacy of expert craftsmanship continues today.

John Cavanagh, Innovator

John Cavanagh, born January 16, 1864, started working in the hatting industry at 17 years of age. After a couple of false starts, he found himself at Crofut & Knapp (C&K), where he worked his way up to brim curler, an exacting and demanding job. His attention to detail caught the eye of James H. Knapp, creator of the American Derby, and one of the founders of Crofut & Knapp. Knapp mentored Cavanagh, and made him superintendent of the curling room. 

By 1893, C&K dissolved as a partnership and incorporated. Cavanagh was one of the five original stockholders. That same year, Knapp appointed Cavanagh as superintendent over the whole factory. By 1907, Cavanagh was general manager and vice-president of C&K. He ascended to the presidency in 1923, a position he held until 1937.

Cavanagh helped form a new holding company in 1928 to consolidate C&K and Dobbs. The new company, Cavanagh-Dobbs, Inc., also included Cavanagh Hats, and John Cavanagh, Ltd., an exclusive retail outlet in New York City for the new line. In 1932, Hat Corporation of America was formed to merge Cavanagh-Dobbs, Inc., and their hat brands with Knox and Dunlap. Cavanagh retained the presidency of the new corporation until 1937, when he stepped down to become chairman of the board. He held this position until 1947. Essentially retired at that point, John Cavanagh was still elected as honorary chairman of the board until the end of his life in 1957.

The Cavanagh Edge

At the time John Cavanagh first started working on the Cavanagh Edge process, there were three basic types of brim edge treatments applied to hats.

The first was the raw edge, where the brim was trimmed to size, with no extra appointments added. The second was the bound edge. On hard felt hats, such as the Derby, the edge of the brim needed to be bound in ribbon to keep the white residue of the shellac from showing through. Third was the welted edge. Welted edges were used to add strength to the edge of the brim of soft felt hats, which had been soaring in sales since Cavanagh recommended their reintroduction in 1906.

The stitching on welts was a weak point, and not as attractive as Cavanagh would have liked. The intimate knowledge of brim edges that he gained from his job, as well as the knowledge of felt passed along by Knapp, enabled Cavanagh to perceive a solution to the deficiencies of bound and welted edges, a solution that would come to be known industry-wide as the Cavanagh Edge.

Cavanagh Edges could be found on hats from Crofut & Knapp, Dobbs, Cavanagh, Knox, Dobbs, Stetson, Mallory, Resistol, Stack, Borsalino, Disney, Portis, Lee, Bond, Duff, and Stevens, just to name a few.

Crofut & Knapp held the patent rights in 1913, but extended their exclusivity to Dobbs, a successful line of hats created by John Cavanagh in 1908. The creation of the Cavanagh line of hats in 1928 gave three brands the Edge.

Crofut & Knapp does not appear to have licensed the process to any other manufacturers. With the expiration of the first patent by 1931, other manufacturers were finally free to offer their own version of the Cavanagh Edge, and the heyday of the felted welt edge really began. 

At its most basic, the Cavanagh Edge is a felted welt edge, and this is the term first marketed by Crofut & Knapp. It wasn’t until the 1920s that edge came to be known as the Cavanagh Edge. Over the years, many different names have been applied to it by the various manufacturers. Dobbs, for example, has given it the names Felted Welt Edge, Cavanagh Edge, Improved Cavanagh Edge (the second patent process, also marketed as the Cavart Patented Process), Guild Edge, and Dobbs Edge. Dobbs also offered a hand-finished Cronap Edge, in the 1930s in addition to the Cavanagh Edge, but the author is uncertain at this time as to what edge it represented. The name Guild Edge was first marketed in 1944, and is the name best associated with Dobbs. In Cavanagh Hats, it has always been the Cavanagh Edge.

When Knox introduced their version in 1931, they named it the Custom Edge, a name they continued to use throughout the rest of their production. Stetson used the name Selv-Edge in 1933, but by 1940 changed it the Mode Edge. Borsalino referred to their edge informally as the Bordo Doppio, or “double edge.” Stevens called it the Hand-Felted Edge. Lee, perhaps one of the last manufacturers to adopt the style, called theirs the Edgelee.

Few hatters today know how to work with Cavanagh Edged bodies, and fewer still is the number of felters that remember how to craft one. It is arcane knowledge from a bygone era. While hat making has not died off completely, certain techniques, such as the Cavanagh Edge, are virtually extinct. Felters and manufacturers have been pursued, cajoled, and even offered large sums of money to revive this lost art, but the answer keeps coming back a resounding, “No.” The option is always there, though. The concept is fairly simple, but the execution requires much skill and effort. For now, the Cavanagh Edge may be dead, but the process created by the master, John Cavanagh, will forever live on in the vintage hats that bear his edge of distinction.

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