Q: A former employee gave me this. He said it’s a hat stretcher. Is it an antique? Is it worth anything?
A: Wooden hat stretchers, or hat jacks, like this have been used for over 100 years. They can be used to keep a hat in shape when it is stored, bring it back to its original shape if it has shrunk, or make it slightly larger. It works best on fitted hats made from cotton or felt. It can’t be used on hats made of leather, polyester, or straw. If you’re trying to make the hat larger, steam the hat first so it is slightly damp before stretching. Put the stretcher inside the hat with the wooden parts against the hat band. Then turn the turnbuckle (handle) to expand the stretcher slightly. Leave the stretcher in the hat for a day or two until the hat is completely dry. Don’t try to increase the size too much at one time. Repeat the process if needed. We can’t tell from the picture, but your stretcher may have the hat size marked on it. Wooden hat stretchers are still being made. It’s not possible to tell the age or value of your hat stretcher without a maker’s mark. They sell from $10 to about $40.
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