Five years ago, Beverly Churchfield of Mission Viejo was browsing in an antique shop when an unusual but striking narrow object caught her eye. It was a rare Victorian hat pin. That single hat pin started her on a collection that now numbers more than 600 and is worth thousands of dollars.
Once she acquired the first antique pin, Churchfield wanted to display it in a Victorian hat-pin holder. But buying the holder created the need for more pins because it had many holes, like a large saltshaker. When she began her search to find other pins to fill the holes, her passing fancy grew into a grand obsession.
Churchfield didn't know that collecting antique pins, those made between 1850 and 1920, would require so much time and expense. "My monthly telephone bill is usually $400, because I'm always calling all over the United States buying, trading, selling and finding them," Churchfield said.
The hat pins are a relic of a time when a woman's crowning glory was a very large, colorful hat set atop a mound of curls. "Back in the Victorian Era, ladies had to wear two hat pins, because they wore so many curls and fake hairpieces on top of their heads that when they wore those large hats, the only way to keep the hat on their heads was with a pair of long hat pins; one in the front and one in the back," Churchfield said. "In fact, hat pins were declared legal weapons during that era. There are even cases of people having been killed by hat pins, back then.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 4, 1990 Orange County Edition Orange County Life Part N Page 5 Column 4 Life Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Hat Pins--A Dec. 22 story about antique hat pins incorrectly described the price range of the collectibles. According to Melinda Churchfield of My Mom and Me in Laguna Niguel, 8- to 12-inch hat pins sell for $20 and up, and hat-pin holders start at $50.
"What's amazing to me is that there were so few people around then compared to now and the amount of hat pins that exist, so each person must have owned hundreds."
"One of the ways of determining the date of the hat pins," she said, "is that the longer the stem is, the older they are. Around 1910, the hats got smaller and so did the hat pins. The stem of the hat pins vary in lengths, usually ranging from eight to 18 inches."
Highly valued are the pins made of solid gold and genuine gemstones, but Churchfield said she prefers the pins made with artificial stones because they tend to be larger and more elaborately designed. Among the more unusual items in her collections are pins with compacts on top of the stem, man-in-the-moon faces, sterling silver heads, porcelain balls and some made of ivory. She has a pair of Satsuma hat pins, one decorated with samurai warriors and the other with geisha girls, that were worn to one of Queen Victoria's tea parties in 1870, Churchfield said. Another pin in her collection has a large dragonfly with 3 1/2-inch wings on its top.
The majority of the hat pins are valued at more than $600, as well as some of their holders.
Churchfield's hobby has also become a business. With her daughter Melinda, she started My Mom and Me, an antique and collectibles business specializing in hat pins and hat-pin holders, two years ago. Already, several thousand hat pins have passed through their hands to other collectors. Sometimes they buy a batch from one source, select the rarest and most unusual to keep, and trade off the rest.
In addition to their small antique business, the Churchfields formed the American Hat Pin Society. The year-old organization has an international membership. Members from the United States, Canada and Great Britain pay $30 a year, and are invited to attend the four meetings a year. A group of about 40 members will meet in Mission Viejo on Jan. 13 for a bus ride to Las Vegas and a seminar on insuring hat pins and holders.
Southern California has more than 200 male and female hat-pin collectors, according to Churchfield.
Most hat-pin holders are made of a rare bisque material and were only fired one time, which tends to make them extremely fragile, Churchfield said. Prices range from $300 up, and within the five years that Churchfield has been collecting them, their value has quadrupled, she said.
"Right now most of the good pieces are being found in a small town in Pennsylvania, which I don't want to mention (by) name because (collectors) will flock there. Every week I get a UPS package from somewhere, either a hat pin or a holder. This business allows me to travel all over in search of pins, and I love it," Churchfield said.