A Dead-Tree Hat

Early craftspeople couldn’t pick up a baseball cap with a cute logo for protection. They had to rely on what they could find lying around. For those working in print shops, where the air turned into an inky, messy mist when the presses rolled, the one thing they had plenty of was paper.

Hence, the printer’s hat.

finished hat 3x2

Made from a mysterious maze of about, oh, 20 folds, the hats protected at least the tops of their heads from those hard-to-wash drips and drops.

Each year, the Palace of the Governors’ Press, with volunteer help from the Santa Fe Book Arts Group, makes a few hundred of the hats to delight children and adults alike during the annual Christmas at the Palace event. This year, Xmas@Pog, as some of us short-hand it, celebrates its 25th anniversary on Friday, Dec. 11, from 5-8 pm.

Besides snagging a hat, you can tour the Press, which was closed for renovations last year, and print your own holiday card on one of the antique, hand-operated presses.

And, thanks to a new video made by Leech and Museum Resources Division Graphics Director David Rohr, you can learn how to make one of your own.

Who made the first printer’s hat is shrouded in mystery, Leech says. There’s a chance they were originally made as boats to ferry hand-mixed inks to the presses. Eventually (and likely as a joke), a worker turned the boat over and plopped it onto his head. (We’re seriously hoping it wasn’t filled with ink at the time … though the vestigal Stooge living in a frighteningly large number of us kind of hopes it was.)

The hats weren’t the sole province of printers, as an admittedly lazy bit of Internet research tells us. Carpenters, stonemasons and painters may have also used them.

An illustration by Sir John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter shows said carpenter with a printer’s hat atop his head.

One blog we found says you can use your handmade hats as “an outstanding promotional tool that costs you almost nothing.”

Something called The Hat Museum in Portland, Ore., has an example of one.

And if you’d rather have a printer’s hat that looks suspiciously like a bishop’s mitre, you can fold it that way, too.

For those of raised on twice-a-day newspapers, who love the feel of newsprint and the snap it makes as you reverse its fold to get to the crossword puzzle, printer’s hats are something of a delicacy, one we’ll decidedly miss should our cherished dead-tree news ever completely give way to our newly beloved blogs.