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  #1  
Old 03-16-2001, 10:21 AM
argybarg argybarg is offline
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http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mmadhatter.html

"The origin of the phrase, it's believed, is that hatters really did go mad."

It's believed? It's *believed*? Hasn't the staff around here heard of sources? Research? I already knew that that was "believed." "Believed," I can do myself.

Many spurious word and phrase origins are "believed" but disappear upon close scrutiny. My guess is that this is one of those cases.
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  #2  
Old 03-16-2001, 11:46 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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Etymology is rarely an exact science. Tracking the origin of a phrase or word does not have the precision that arises in other topics.

Sure, sometimes we can track a word or phrase, like "15 minutes of fame" to a specific bon mot by some famous person. Sometimes we know precisely where and when a certain usage arose -- especially if it is derived from a written text. Other times, trying to track down the origin of a phrase (like "whole nine yards") leads to much speculation. And when the phrase arose in common speech and wasn't written down until it was already in common use, it is extremely difficult to ascertain the origin.

Thus, we cannot say with certainty where the phrase "mad as a hatter" originates. All we can say is what is most commonly believed, and what some of the alternate explanations are. If you're not happy with this, argy, then you'd best stick to only reading questions about the quantifiable sciences. (I was going to say, you can shove it in your -- ahem -- hat.)

I should also point out that Cecil does not give Straight Dope Staff any budget for research. We tend to use secondary sources. If you would like to contribute, say, $300,000 or $400,000, I would be glad to spend the next year or two in England trying to track down a more specific origin from original source material. At present, however, all I can do is note what others (who have done the primary research) have concluded.
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  #3  
Old 03-16-2001, 12:11 PM
argybarg argybarg is offline
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Hat in hand

I have exposed myself as a jerk of a massive order. Please accept my apologies for my shrillness. I'm now committed to finding a subject of actual importance so I can be outraged where it matters. Until then I'll be polite.
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  #4  
Old 03-16-2001, 12:49 PM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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No sweat, Argy, just take a bite out of your teacup and move over one seat, the dormouse is asleep again.
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  #5  
Old 03-16-2001, 06:13 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Dex I enjoyed your column about "Mad Hatters" and related topics. I know that we have had board discussions along those lines within the last 6 months or so, but you summarized the available information nicely and cleanly.

My question to you(any anyone else who cares to respond) is this-- if the term *Mad as a Hatter* was in print by 1837, and there is no evidence that the felt hat industry was using mercury compounds at this point in England , why would one conclude that the phrase actually referred to mercury-poisoned Hatters?

I am sure that people in the hat making business were poisonsed by mercury compounds. And I have no trouble accepting that Hatters appeared "mad" to outsiders who might not know of their condition.

A last note: anyone who can, please give the source of *Danbury shakes* , referring to Connecticut hatters problems. Please give cite in print by date. Thanks.
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Old 03-16-2001, 07:22 PM
JBENZ JBENZ is offline
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Originally posted by samclem

My question to you(any anyone else who cares to respond) is this-- if the term *Mad as a Hatter* was in print by 1837, and there is no evidence that the felt hat industry was using mercury compounds at this point in England , why would one conclude that the phrase actually referred to mercury-poisoned Hatters?

I am sure that people in the hat making business were poisonsed by mercury compounds. And I have no trouble accepting that Hatters appeared "mad" to outsiders who might not know of their condition.

A last note: anyone who can, please give the source of *Danbury shakes* , referring to Connecticut hatters problems. Please give cite in print by date. Thanks.
Danbury, Connecticut was a major hat manufacturibng center right to almost the end of the 20th century. The best known company was Stetson and up 'til around 1992 or so you could go to their factory outlet store and buy the 10 gallon hat of yer choice hot off the press:
Here's a few on the Danbury Shakes:
http://www.epa.gov/grtlakes/seahome/...rc/effects.htm
http://www.villagehatshop.com/main_facts.html
http://www.cheminfonet.org/mercury1.htm
http://chemistry.about.com/science/c.../aa032999a.htm
Or just do a Google Search on "Danbury Shakes"

Here also are Michael Quinion's column at World Wide Words:
http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-mad2.htm
and the lovely and talented Evan Morris' version:
http://www.word-detective.com/030299.html#madhatter
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  #7  
Old 03-16-2001, 08:13 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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JBENZ Thanks for your reply.

None of the links you supplied answered either of my questions.

Again, Mad as a Hatter was in print by 1837(or 1836) and the use of mercury compounds in felt hat production in England was not. So how could this be the source of the phrase?

And, secondly, none of your links provided any clue as to where *Danbury shakes* first appeared in print. No year, no source. But thanks for trying.
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  #8  
Old 03-17-2001, 12:52 PM
Clark K Clark K is online now
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Forgive me if I'm being dense, Samclem, but what makes you think mercury was NOT being used in the hat-making business at the time? Your question seems to take it for granted that the period of mercury use and the origin of the phrase do not match up. But, unless I read right past it, I haven't seen that spelled out.
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  #9  
Old 03-17-2001, 02:22 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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...there is no evidence that the felt hat industry was using mercury compounds at this point in England...
Okay. Mercury was used to make felt hats out of beaver fur. Beaver hats had been around for centuries.
http://www.thehatsite.com/felt.html
Quote:
Beaver felt hats date back as far as the 14th Century with the majority of production being based in Holland and Spain.
Here's a picture of a 17th century Dutchman wearing a beaver hat.
http://www.npj.com/homepage/teritowe/tlc1.html

This was why the early explorers were so happy to find that North America was teeming with beaver. "We're all gonna be rich!"

Beaver felt needed mercury to make it "felt" properly, but when it was done, it was superb. Waterproof, glossy, and soft, but most important, it held its shape in the rain. Other kinds of felt won't do that, especially if it's a wide-brimmed hat. Other felt hats from different kinds of felt, like wool and rabbit, were made in a different way, without using mercury.
http://www.thehatsite.com/felt.html
Quote:
Beaver

The initial stage in the hat making process would be the plucking of the coarse guard hairs from the beaver pelt, which was then brushed, with a solution of nitrate of mercury.

This would raise the scales on the fur shafts so that they would become firmly locked together. This process became known as "carotting" and if carried out in a poorly ventilated room, the mercury fumes could damage the brain, hence the expression "mad as a hatter". The fibres would then be cut from the skin and placed on a bench in a workroom known as the "hurdle". Over the bench would be suspended a hatter's bow, very much like an oversized violin bow and the fibres responded to the vibrations of the bow which was controlled by the craftsmen, separating themselves and becoming evenly distributed until they had formed into a thick but loosely structured mat of material known as the "batt". Several batts would then be shaped into a cone and reduced in size by boiling and then rolled to create a firm dense felt. The hood would then be sent onto the hatter who would mould it to the required shape and then line and finish it.
So they would have stopped using mercury when beaver hats went out of fashion. So I went looking for when beaver hats went out of fashion.

http://www.thehatsite.com/felt.html
Quote:
Hats made from Beaver felt were to see a marked decline in the mid 1800s and gradually became replaced by the silk hat, followed by fur felt hats and wool felt hats.
http://www.connerprairie.org/clothing.html
Quote:
Several hat styles were available - round crowned, wide-brimmed fur felts, higher-crowned "toppers" of beaver fur, with slight flares to the taps, high-crowned, wide-brimmed woven or plaited straw for summer. Silk hats were increasingly popular after 1830, as beaver pelts became scarcer and more expensive.
http://parkscanada.pch.gc.ca/parks/a...h/beaver_e.htm
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When silk hats replaced the beaver hat in popularity in the 1840s...
So, it looks to me like they still would have been using mercury to make beaver hats in 1837.
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  #10  
Old 03-17-2001, 03:06 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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...and this just in--

http://www.americancynic.com/06281999.html
Quote:
The first time haberdasher John Hetherington walked down a London street in 1797 wearing his new invention -- the top hat -- the display caused a riot. Women fainted, dogs barked, and children wailed. A mob scene ensued. Hetherington was dragged into court where he was charged with appearing "on the public highway wearing upon his head a tall structure having a shining luster calculated to frighten timid people." Really, the hat was just a silk variation of the beaver pelt riding hats contemporary at the time. For decades, some folks stuck to the beaver, and some switched to silk. Then, in 1850, Prince Albert started wearing a top hat made of plush silk, and that set the standard.
I'm not an expert on the history of hats, but here's a website devoted to selling authentic reproductions of period hats to historical re-enactors.

http://www.historyinthemaking.org/catalog/menhat.htm
Quote:
With the exception of the noted ocassional use of machine sewing, most of our hatmaking techniques pre-date the English industrial revolution. The trade has separated into the two fields of feltmaking and hatmaking, but the methods used here pre-date the factory hatmaking system and early machine-made hats. W e do not make our own felt, but all other aspects of the work use methods which date from the time during which the feltmaker was also the hat blocker and hat finisher.
They offer hats from time periods covering the 1720s through the early 20th century. All the top hats they offer, for time periods up to and including the 1920s, are finished in a "beaver felt finish". I'm assuming that they don't sell silk top hats because men's silk top hats haven't changed that much since 1850, so if you want a silk top hat to go with your late 19th century re-enactment, you just go buy one from a formal wear store--you don't need to order a special reproduction from these people.

So, assuming that these people know what they're doing, I'm interpreting this to mean that a beaver felt finish hat must be "authentic" for the time period 1850 to 1920, that there must have been "old fogies" all through the 19th century, and up through the 1920s, who weren't happy with a top hat constructed of silk glued to cardboard, who insisted on "the real thing". So conceivably, mind-boggling though it may be, it's possible that until the 1920s, there may have been hatters somewhere who were still using mercury. "Hey, it's a living..."

The trade in beaver fur never entirely went away, so there would have been pelts available to be made into hats. It just wasn't as big an industry as it had been. And actually the trade in beaver fur is still with us today.
http://www.ohiostatetrapper.org/auct...tion000219.htm

But I dunno, maybe I'm way off base here. Any hatmakers out there?
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  #11  
Old 03-17-2001, 07:13 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Clark K. and DDG I'm sorry to have written my rant without giving links. I think I was tired.

I think you should read this site. It gives about the best summary of info available about the topic.

The part that I choose to focus on concerns Thackeray and his novel Pendennis. While I haven't read the novel, it seems to have a section describing the hat industry in England prior to 1850. There is no mention of mercury poisoning in the novel. In the link I cite, the author says...."Thackrah's failure to include mercury poisoning in his description of hazards in the British hat industry in the early part of the 19th century."

If you read the article from the link I supplied, you will see that there is no printed evidence that mercury compounds were used prior to the 1840-50's in England.

DDG Your site from the hat industry hat industry doesn't offer any proof that mercury compounds were used on beaver prior to the 1840's/50's in England. They jump from saying that beaver felt hats were started in the 14th century to just saying that mercury nitrate was used in the carotting process. So just when was a mercury compound first used in the "carotting process"? There is no printed evidence to indicate that it was as early as 1839. Unless I missed something.

If mercury compounds were used by the Hugenots before and after they fled to England, then why would not some indication that Hugenot hatters suffered ill effects enter the literature? After all, they came to England in 1685. One would assume that there would have been a few mercury-poisoned hatters in the next 150 years.

I know that my reply is rather hard to follow, but there is no printed evidence that mercury compounds were used prior to the 1840's-50's. I think they probably were, but show me the evidence.
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  #12  
Old 03-18-2001, 03:18 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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The Goldwater link is just one man's opinion. And that's the opinion of a man with an axe to grind: he says the phrase is supposed to be "mad as an adder". His point is that since Thackeray didn't mention mad hatters in his autobiographical novel Pendennis, published in 1850, that therefore there was no such thing as a "mad hatter", and that Lewis Carroll must have misheard "mad as an adder". That's the whole point of his article.

I have to be suspicious of anybody who uses a work of literature for reference but consistently misspells the author's name throughout. We get "Thackrah" and "Thackerah", but it's "Thackeray". William Makepeace.

This statement of his:
Quote:
Thackrah's failure to note the use of mercury nitrate in the hat industry supports the fact that it was not being used in 1830.
--does not necessarily follow. Just because a novelist doesn't mention it in a novel of the time doesn't mean it wasn't being used. I bet Judith Krantz doesn't mention heroin in Princess Daisy, but that doesn't mean people weren't shooting up with it.

I can think of a bunch of reasons right off the top of my head why Thackeray wouldn't have mentioned mad hatters, mercury nitrate, and mercury poisoning. First, Pendennis is described as being an autobiographical novel of a young man's experiences at Cambridge. I doubt whether a young man at university would even notice the mental condition of hatters and the chemicals they used to make hats. Second, Thackeray came from an upper middle class family. Generally speaking, the upper classes did not concern themselves with the mental or physical condition of the working classes. He may simply not have noticed any peculiar behavior of any hatters he met, or if he did, may have simply chalked it up to them being "lower class". Third, he may have noticed the hatters acting funny, but it didn't fit into his novel, so he left it out. Fourth, same thing for the chemicals they used to make hats. He may have known that they were using mercury nitrate, but he didn't think his readers would be interested, or he didn't think it belonged in his novel, which after all was about him, not hatters or the hat industry.

From the Goldwater link. Unlike Goldwater, I have no reason to doubt the truth of Ms. Hamilton's research

http://occ-env-med.mc.duke.edu/oem/hatters.htm
Quote:
In her classic work, Industrial Poisons in the United States, published in 1925, Alice Hamilton reviews the general subject of mercurialism in one chapter and devotes a separate chapter to the hat industry. The latter is longer than the former, reflecting the importance attached to health hazards among hatters during the first decades of the 20th century. According to Hamilton, the process of treating the fur with mercury nitrate, the so-called secretage, "...has been traced back to the middle of the 17th century when it was a secret in the hands of a few French workmen, evidently Huguenots; for at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 when the Huguenots fled to England, they carried the secret with them, established the trade there, and for almost a century thereafter the French were dependent on England for their felt."
Re "mad hatter" Huguenots. Mercury nitrate isn't that toxic, if you use small amounts with adequate ventilation. It's the fumes. Mercury and its compounds had been around for hundreds of years. Maybe the Huguenots just had a better tradition of handling it than anybody else. Or maybe they did get sick and it was just that nobody happened to write it down. (see below on the working classes being beneath the notice of the upper classes who wrote books).
Quote:
This statement is difficult to reconcile with that which appears in Diderot's encyclopaedia published in 1753, to the effect that in preparing fur for making hats "...the pelts are rubbed with an acid solution before the fur is removed...."
Mercury nitrate is a combination of mercury and nitric acid. So it's not totally incorrect to refer to it as an "acid".
Quote:
It is also at variance with an account of secretage given by Lee (1968) in which he states that the process was introduced into England from Frankfurt around 1870.
Maybe Lee referring to a slightly different process. Or maybe Lee was just wrong.

Re mercury being used before 1837 to make beaver hats. Mercury has been known from ancient times, and its compounds were well-known to medieval science (even if they didn't call it "science" but "alchemy" instead.)

History of mercury.
http://www.ucc.ie/ucc/depts/chem/dol...m/elem080.html
Quote:

Mercury reacts readily with nitric acid, yielding mercuric nitrate and Oxides of Nitrogen.
http://www.hermograph.com/science/mercury3.htm
Quote:
Mercury was known in ancient times and was an important chemical for medieval alchemists, suspected of being an element of which all matter is made from, and when solid it was thought to become gold. It is also known as "quicksilver" because it is liquid and silver-white in appearance.

Half the world's supply of Mercury, in its cinnabar form, comes from Spain and Italy.

Mercury forms two kinds of compounds

Mercurous -- uses both electrons in the bonding process.
Mercuric -- uses just one electron to bond with another element.

Mercurous compounds use Mercurous ions Hg++. The most important compound is Hg2Cl2 a Mercury chloride called calomel, used medicinally as a liver stimulant and cathartic.

Mercurous nitrate is one of the few soluble mercurous salts; it will dissolve into other liquids.

Mercuric compounds include halides (salts) like Mercuric Chloride (HgCl2) or Mercuric Flouride. The former does not conduct electricity and melts easily at 280 degrees Celsius, bonding covalently rather than ionically**. Normally a white crystalline salt soluble in water it is also called corrosive sublimate and is extremely poisonous. It has been used as a germicide. It can destroy kidneys in humans. If combined with the protein albumen, Mercuric ions form an insoluble white solid that acts like what heat does to egg whites!
http://tekran.com/backgnd.html#gen
Quote:
Mercury was among the first metals known, and its compounds have been used throughout history. Archaeologists found mercury in an Egyptian tomb dating from 1500 BC.
The alchemists thought that mercury, which they associated with the planet Mercury, had mystical properties and used it in their attempts to transmute base metals into gold. The Greeks knew of mercury and used it as a medicine. Mercury and mercury compounds were used from about the 15th century to the mid-20th century to cure syphilis.
http://www.nidlink.com/~jfromm/alchemy/alchemy_subt.htm
Quote:
Jeweler's Etchant -- 3g. Silver Nitrate + 3g. Nitric Acid + 3g. Mercurous Nitrate + 100cc water.
Spencer's Acid. 3g. Silver Nitrate + 3g. Nitric Acid + 3g. Mercurous Nitrate + 100cc of water.
http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~jeffreym/glossary.html
Quote:
Glossary of Archaic Chemical and Alchemical Terms

mercurius calcinatus per se mercuric oxide (HgO) prepared by the calcination of mercury. The substance known as precipitated mercury per se or red precipitate is the same substance; however, because of its different preparation (by mixing mercury with nitric acid, evaporating, and heating the residual mercuric nitrate), the identity was not at first realized.
History of beaver hats.
http://www.whiteoak.org/learning/furhat.htm
Quote:
From about 1550 until 1850, felt hats were fashionable in much of Europe and the felt hat industry became the driving force behind the fur trade. By the late 1500's, the beaver was extinct in western Europe and was close to extinction in Scandinavia and Russia. The North American fur trade became a new source and kept the fashion going for another 200 years.

This section describes the process of making a beaver felt hat during the 1700's and early 1800's.
Carroting
A solution of "nitrate of mercury" would be brushed on the pelt.
I can't find any website that says specifically, "This is when hatmakers first began using mercury to treat beaver fur." But since we know that mercury nitrate makes the carrotting process work better on beaver, and we know that people in the 14th century had access to mercury nitrate, and we know that people in the 14th century started using beaver felt to make hats, isn't it logical to assume that they were using mercury nitrate back then, to make beaver hats?

I think the reason that the term "mad as a hatter" doesn't appear in print until 1837 isn't because that's when hatters first started going mad. I think it's because that period in time, the early Victorian era, was when the industrialized West first started to develop a social conscience, and an interest in the problems of the working classes, including hatters. Up till that time, people, including novelists and playwrights, were mainly interested in the antics of the upper classes, but starting with Charles Dickens, in the 1830s, there began to be more attention paid to the problems of the working classes. The early Victorians started workingmen's clubs, for clean after-hours entertainment, they opened "night schools", for the working man to get an education, and they sponsored lecture series just for the edification of the working classes.

So, up till 1837, nobody had ever paid any attention to the peculiar behavior of hatters, and nobody had ever bothered to write about it.
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Old 03-18-2001, 04:03 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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...and maybe the Huguenots were working with a more dilute solution. The chemical itself would have been fairly expensive (chemicals usually are), so maybe they figured out what the most dilute solution was that would still work, and used that

"Thus, because of their frugality, the simple and good Huguenots escaped the ravages of mercury poisoning..."

Makes a nice story, don't it?

All the other things that Lewis Carroll put into his books were familiar things to little girls. March hares, cats and caterpillars, decks of cards, a dormouse in a teapot, kings and queens, gardens and flowers. Even the "caucus race" might have been something that a "little pitcher with big ears" might have overheard Dear Papa talking about. And she was old enough to understand word plays and puns like the one on the "mouse's tail/tale". So why would he include an odd, inexplicable, totally new kind of character like a Mad Hatter if it wasn't something she was already familiar with? How would he explain it to her? The joke would be non-existent if you didn't already know "hatters are mad".
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Old 03-18-2001, 05:09 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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DDG said
Quote:
The Goldwater link is just one man's opinion. And that's the opinion of a man with an axe to grind: he says the phrase is supposed to be "mad as an adder". His point is that since Thackeray didn't mention mad hatters in his autobiographical novel Pendennis, published in 1850, that therefore there was no such thing as a "mad hatter", and that Lewis Carroll must have misheard "mad as an adder". That's the whole point of his article.
Did we read the same article? Talk about grinding axes:::

Point-by-point
l. Leonard J. Goldwater, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Occupational Medicine, Columbia University. He wrote a book on Mercury, one chapter, of which, was summarized and typed by hand and excerpted in the article to which I linked. Where's the axe?
2. The spelling of Thackeray. Since the article was hand-typed by someone from Dr. Goldwater's book, I'll let you make up your own mind about a spelling mistake.
3. Dr. Goldwater brings up the *adder* reference in a reference to what *Gardner* presumed. To state that *that's the whole point of his article* is simply not true.
4. Thackeray's novel evidently had a section in which he discussed, in detail, the British hat industry, including some of the hazards. Thackeray was 39 when he published the novel. He had spent the previous 20 years as a writer/journalist, and many of his writings were about historical things. I guess we both ought to read the book to get a feeling as to whether it is merely an autobiography of a young man at college.
5. Diederot's Encyclopedia. I agree with you. The reference to *acid* could indeed be a mercury solution. I would think that you are probably right.

I appreciate you agreeing with me that there is no printed reference to mercury compounds being used in the hat industry prior to 1850 or so. And I think that the Huguenot's secretage may have, indeed, been a mercury compound. Perhaps the fact that they were so secretive and kept it *in the family* for so many years, and that they may have know how to use the compounds so as to avoid poisoning, may have meant that it didn't come into print/or as a problem until the mid-1800's.

But having agreed with you on the last points, I would propose that the term *mad as a hatter* probably had nothing to do with mercury poisoning of hatters. The evidence is on the side of it being a phrase similar to *mad as a ....(take your choice)*
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Old 03-19-2001, 04:57 AM
waterj2 waterj2 is offline
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But having agreed with you on the last points, I would propose that the term *mad as a hatter* probably had nothing to do with mercury poisoning of hatters. The evidence is on the side of it being a phrase similar to *mad as a ....(take your choice)*
What evidence? As DDG pointed out, Carroll mentioned the Hatter in virtually the same breath as a march hare, commenting that both were mad. I think we all accept that a march hare was something that was generally understood at the time to be mad, and that the expression "mad as a march hare" was in common usage. It would seem unlikely that the march hare's companion would be something not generally understood to be mad.

We also know that it became rather well-known that hatters were affected by mercury poisoning, as evidenced in the phrase "danbury hakes". It doesn't seem likely to me that two different phrases would arise about mental health problems of hatters through entirely separate and unrelated etymologies.

So, basically, we are left with the facts that in the 1830's the phrase "mad as a hatter appeared in print" and that at some time later it was widely known that mercury poisoning was affecting hatters. What isn't known is whether mercury nitrate was actually used by hatters prior to the 1840's. While there is some reason to speculate that it wasn't, there is no real proof either way.

It does seem as if Thackeray would mention madness in his work if it were widely known, but the fact that he doesn't can hardly be considered proof of anything. In my opinion, the weight of the evidence would be on the side of the mercury poinoning explanation.
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  #16  
Old 03-19-2001, 08:04 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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The question that started all this was: << Mad as a Hatter was in print by 1837(or 1836) and the use of mercury compounds in felt hat production in England was not. So how could this be the source of the phrase? >>

Y'all have certainly outdone me on the mercury poisoning. I did some preliminary looking, and couldn't find any quick clear answer to exactly WHEN they stopped using mercury in hat-making.

But I think the answer to the question does not lie in hat-making so much as in etymology. It is usually impossible to track the origin of a popular or slang expression like "mad as a hatter" or "it's the oldest rule in the book" (also used amusingly by Carroll.)

The process is different today. Today, everything gets into print very quickly because we have the technology that allows that. (Thus, one of the problems with the WWII origin of "whole nine yards" is the absence of printed reference before the 1960s.) But back in the 18th and 19th Centuries, there could be an enormous lag between the time a phrase arises and the time it appears in print. Someone says the phrase; others hear it and repeat it; others hear them and repeat it. It grows in popular usage, perhaps for many decades -- but it is slang, and so no one bothers to write it down.

We know that "mad as a hatter" was a reasonably common expression by the mid-1800s, right up there with "wise as an owl" and "sly as a fox" and "slow as molasses." Thus, Carroll could introduce the character of a Mad Hatter in much the same way (for amusement) that Milne would later introduce the character of the Wise Owl. And this was valid even if hatters no longer went mad, or if Athena was no longer worshipped as a goddess.

That was why I stopped in my research, without trying to find out exactly when mercury had stopped being used. It would be interesting, but not relevant to the origin of the phrase.
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  #17  
Old 03-19-2001, 08:25 AM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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(Eh, CK, Sam's question isn't about when they stopped using mercury, but when they started. He says it wasn't until the 1850s. I say it was way back in the 14th century.)

The words "Currently out of print, this was re-typed from one of the copies left at Duke" sound to me like it was in print at one time, and that this was re-typed from one of the print copies left at Duke. If they had retyped it from handwritten notes, it should say, "This was re-typed from handwritten notes."

However, I will admit that the spelling error is a minor quibble.

I went back and copied and pasted the article into WordPad (the Bjorn treatment ), to endeavor to make more sense out of it. Yes, you're right--the "thrust of the article" isn't to put forward the "adder" theory. However, blessed if I can figure out what the thrust of the article is. A history of labor legislation covering people who work with mercury, I think, but why in the world does he rope in Thackeray?

The first part of article discusses various studies done in the past of mercurial poisoning in the hatmaking industry. Then he says:
Quote:
These brief remarks have been made as a preface to a discussion of the two later major studies of mercurialism in the felt-hat industry conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service during the 1930's. Because of their scope, these two studies have been widely quoted and, unfortunately, often misquoted. Some of the findings are difficult to understand and, in the light of more recent knowledge, difficult to accept (Goldwater 1964).
So, okay, he's got two studies he doesn't agree with. Then he talks about two more studies, one from New York and one from Italy. But he barely touches on all four of these studies.

Then he brings up Alice Hamilton and her one-paragraph history of secretage. She says, "People were using mercury for beaver felt back in the 17th century." He says, "No, they weren't, because Diderot said in 1753 they were using acid, not mercury, and because Lee said that the process was brought over to England from Frankfort in 1870, and because Thackeray doesn't mention mercury poisoning in Pendennis."

Then he says:
Quote:
Thackrah's failure to note the occurrence of mercury poisoning in the early 1800's in England adds support to the assertion that mercury carroting was introduced, or rather, re-introduced after 1830.
This seems to be his premise, now. He's no longer talking about studies of mercurialism--he's talking about the history of using mercury in the hatmaking trade.
He goes on:
Quote:
A clue to the history of carroting in Britain...
So, okay, he's now talking about the history of carrotting in Britain.

Quote:
This clearly is the carroting process (secretage). If the dates are accurate it shows that carroting was being practiced in Britain in 1859.
Then he brings up the Mad Hatter. He says that Gardner says the phrase...
Quote:
...more likely owes its origin to the fact that until recently hatters actually did go mad..." Writing in 1960, Gardner may be referring to the 20th century, since Thackrah failed to note the characteristic erethism of mercury poisoning in hatters in the 1830's, and the mercurial secretage may not have been reintroduced into England until the late 1850's (Taylor 1875). Between then and 1865 the symptoms of mercury poisoning in hatters could have been known but could hardly have become a by-word.
So he's brought up Thackeray again; he seems intent on proving that Thackeray's failure to mention mercury use proves that it only began in the late 1850s. Why is he so intent on proving this? Why is it so important to him that mercury poisoning among hatters only began in the 1850s, and not in earlier centuries? That is what I find so baffling. And that's the axe that he's grinding here.

Then he quotes a personal source to confirm something about the Mad Hatter.
Quote:
Confirmation of the theory that Lewis Carroll's "Mad Hatter" was not a victim of mercury poisoning is found in views expressed by a Director of Associated British Hat Manufacturers Limited (who wishes to remain anonymous).
Then he finishes up with a history of labor legislation concerning mercury.

What do Thackeray's Pendennis and the Mad Hatter have to do with two studies that may or may not have been flawed due to outdated testing procedures, with Alice Hamilton's statement that they started using mercury in the 17th century, and with the history of labor legislation?
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  #18  
Old 03-19-2001, 10:23 AM
waterj2 waterj2 is offline
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Actually, I think Dex's argument is valid when you consider that even if mercury was not in use when Thackeray surveyed the British hat industry, it looks likely that it had been used earlier. Thus, even if 1830's era hatters did not actually go mad, the expression "mad as a hatter" may have already been in common use from earlier times.
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  #19  
Old 03-19-2001, 03:32 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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[machine gun noise]
[ack ack ack ack ack ack ack ack ack]
[factoid flutters to the ground, a quivering mess]

Thackery did not "survey the British hat industry", or if he did, dang if I can find it on the Web. Anybody else wanna have a go? Every Google search I've done, "Thackeray biography hatmaking", "Thackeray hatmaking", "Thackeray hat", etc. etc. etc. has turned up precisely nothing.

It's a misnomer to refer to Thackeray as a "journalist". Yes, I know, that's what the Encyclopedia Britannica calls him, but it is inaccurate in the modern sense of the word, of someone who goes out and writes hard-hitting exposes of corruption. That was Dickens, not Thackeray. Thackeray is usually described as a "satirist". He wrote fun little pieces for Punch. His most famous novel, Vanity Fair":
http://www.cliffsnotes.com/product.asp?prod_ID=1377
Quote:
This satirical novel of manners will fascinate the careful reader. The story of the various fortunes of two women in 19th-century England is filled with sly irony and tongue-in-cheek humor, yet it offers the leisurely reader a chance to find subtle meanings.
He may qualify as a "journalist" because he wrote for magazines, but he's not really what we would think of as a "journalist".

I am sitting here with a copy (in 2 volumes) of Pendennis, which I checked out of the library at lunchtime. So far--I am up to Chapter 5, and I've peeked at Chapter 10 (see below)--I believe that Leonard Goldwater hereby stands revealed as someone who merely passed along a factoid that someone told him, and got it completely wrong to boot. However, as always, I welcome enlightenment from someone else willing to go find a copy of this and look it up. (Actually, you know, it's pretty good. Like Dickens, but not quite as hectic, not quite so many amazing coincidences. )

Here are all the quotes in Goldwater's article concerning Thackeray and Pendennis:
Quote:
The latter is in consonance with Thackrah's failure to include mercury poisoning in his description of hazards in the British hat industry in the early part of the 19th century.
This makes it sound like Thackeray did some kind of journalistic expose of the British hat industry. A Google search under "Thackeray mercury" shows nothing of the sort, at least on the Web. Not even a hint. Anybody else have any information on this?

The writer William Makepeace Thackeray, as far as I can tell, never wrote or published a "description of hazards in the British hat industry in the early part of the 19th century."
Quote:
Thackrah's failure to note the occurrence of mercury poisoning in the early 1800's in England adds support to the assertion that mercury carroting was introduced, or rather, re-introduced after 1830.
<snip>
Writing in 1960, Gardner may be referring to the 20th century, since Thackrah failed to note the characteristic erethism of mercury poisoning in hatters in the 1830's, and the mercurial secretage may not have been reintroduced into England until the late 1850's (Taylor 1875). Between then and 1865 the symptoms of mercury poisoning in hatters could have been known but could hardly have become a by-word.
Okay, here's the good part. Goldwater quotes an "anonymous source".
Quote:
Confirmation of the theory that Lewis Carroll's "Mad Hatter" was not a victim of mercury poisoning is found in views expressed by a Director of Associated British Hat Manufacturers Limited (who wishes to remain anonymous). Among the credentials which enable this gentleman to speak with authority are the fact that his father's family have been making hats continuously since 1773 and his mother's since about 1660. His discussion of the subject of felting clearly shows that he has done considerable research into the historical aspects.

He points out, in consonance with Gardner's statement that the expression "mad as a hatter" was in common use in England during the middle of the 19th century, that the expression appears in Chapter 10 of Thackerah's Pendennis, which was published in 1850. Thackrah's failure to note the use of mercury nitrate in the hat industry supports the fact that it was not being used in 1830. It was not until the middle of the 1840's that the felt-hat industry as it is known today, with its use of mercury nitrate, was founded.
Here is what's actually in Chapter 10 of Pendennis (to summarize):
Quote:
Major Pendennis returns to his hotel. His valet says, "There's someone waiting to see you in the coffee room."
"Who? Mr. Arthur?" [his scapegrace nephew, the protagonist, who wishes to marry an actress 12 years his senior]
No, it is Henry Foker, who is Arthur's former school chum and roguish man-about-town. He's there to tell the Major of Arthur's awkward attachment, but the Major already knows about it. He tells Foker that the family's not happy about the proposed alliance. [Arthur is only 17, but he's the Squire, so he can do what he likes, evidently.] The Major pumps Foker for information regarding the actress, a Miss Fotheringay. He discovers that Miss Fotheringay (and her father, a Captain Costigan) is evidently under the impression that Mr. Arthur has 2000 pounds a year, when in fact he has barely 500. Foker offers it as his opinion that the money is the only reason she's interested in Arthur. He also reveals that his servant/girlfriend, one Rouncy, has been writing Miss Fotheringay's love letters to Arthur for her, Miss Fotheringay being to all intents and purposes, illiterate. The Major is of course extremely pleased to hear all this, knowing how much Arthur values the lovely letters his "Miss Emily" has been sending him. He succeeds in obtaining a sample of Rouncy's handwriting with which to confront Arthur the next day, and is so encouraged by this good news that he goes to Captain Costigan's apartment to confront him about his scheming.
I don't see the words "mad as a hatter" anywhere in this entire chapter. And I've been sitting here with an index card, scrutinizing it line by line. Shall we blame my bifocals, or Goldwater's "source", for telling him the wrong thing, or Goldwater, for passing along a factoid, or the typist, for typing the wrong chapter number?

So my theory so far is that:

1. The anonymous source was misinformed--he really did think "mad as a hatter" occurs in Chapter 10, and that Chapter 10 deals with the hazards of the hat industry. And Goldwater accepted this and passed it along intact.

2. The anonymous source and/or Goldwater have William Makepeace Thackeray confused with some other Thackeray who really did do some kind of expose on the hazards of the British hatmaking industry. Also, maybe W.M. Thackeray did do an article somewhere, and it just isn't on the Web.

3. The typist mistyped the chapter number. However, a quick survey of chapter headings reveals nothing that sounds like "a visit to the hat factory". However, as I keep reading, I may come upon a visit to a hat factory. It's worthwhile to note that so far, this book is STRONGLY reminiscent of Tom Brown's School Days. It's an affectionate paean to a golden age, long ago when we were all much younger. Industrial Revolution nostalgia for a Simpler Time. I would be very surprised, given the tone of the book so far, to have it suddenly descend into Upton Sinclair-type muckraking journalism, or even Dickensian gloom. It's a very cheerful book. And it has, overall, absolutely nothing to do with hatmaking. Up to Chapter 5, at least, it's about being 17 and in love and writing reams of bad verse to the Adored Object.
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  #20  
Old 03-19-2001, 05:16 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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Ah-ha, "mad as a hatter" IS in Chapter 10, after all. Bad on me for skimming.

It's in the middle of several paragraphs of general chitchat. Thackeray was writing for a magazine serial and presumably getting paid by the word.
Quote:
"What! you know it too?" asked the Major.

"Know it! don't I? and many more too. We were talking about it at mess, yesterday, and chaffing Derby Oaks--until he was as mad as a hatter. Know Sir Derby Oaks? We dined together, and we went to the play: we were standing at the door smoking, I remember, when you passed into dinner."
But it still doesn't answer the other question, about Thackeray doing an expose on the British hatmaking industry.

And still no signs of a visit to a hat factory.
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  #21  
Old 03-19-2001, 06:22 PM
waterj2 waterj2 is offline
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Wow, a rereading of Goldwater's article really shows it to be a very flawed argument. For example, he never mentions why Thackeray should have noted incidents of mercury poisoning/use, aside from a mention of an unnamed "description of hazards in the British hat industry". The article makes it sound like a glaring omission, but never really explains why Thackeray would have had more reason to write about mercury poisoning in hatters than he would have had to discuss the mating habits of cornish hens.

He also quotes Gardner disagreeing with him, then explains that Gardner may not know what he's talking about, because of the fact that Thackeray never mentioned anything about mercury. He quotes Hamilton, who wrote a chapter on the hat industry in her book on industrial poisons, but dismisses her statement out of hand with the encyclopedia quote that, as DDG pointed out, doesn't really disagree with her (and is about 110 years before Carroll anyways). And, of course, he brings up Thackeray's silence on the issue.

Most interestingly, his anonymous source doesn't actually corroborate his theory. All that the anonymous source provides is a citation of the phrase from Pendennis in 1850 and an amusing legend about the origin of the use of mercury that would seem to predate the 19th century.

So basically, we have the opinion of a few experts against the curious absence of corroboration in an unnamed work by an author whose name he can't even spell consistentindustryly wrong from sometime in the early 19th century that deals with hazards in the hat making industry. And I've looked through a bit of material on Thackeray online, and haven't found any indication that he ever did write anything of the sort.

======= LATE BREAKING NEWS BULLETIN ==================

OK, as I was writing this, I did more research, and apparently the work in question is he Effects of Arts, Trades, and Professions, and of Civic States and Habits of Living on Health and Longevity, with Suggestions for the Removal of Many of the Agents which Produce Disease and Shorten the Duration of Life by a person named C. Turner Thackrah, Esq., which was published in 1832, so I think I can quote freely from it.

Quote:
MILLINERS, DRESSMAKERS, AND STRAWBONNET-MAKERS are often crowded in apartments of disproportionate size, and kept at work for an improper length of time. Their ordinary hours are ten or twelve in the day, but they are confined not infrequently from five or six in the morning till twelve at night! The bent posture in which they sit tends to injure the digestive organs, as well as the circulation and the breathing. Their diet consists too much of slops, and too little of solid and nutritive food. From these causes collectively we find that girls from the country, fresh-looking and robust, soon become pale and thin. Pains in the chest, palpitation, affections of the spinal and ganglionic nerves, and defect of action in the abdominal viscera, are very general. The constant direction of the eyes also to minute work, affects these organs. Sometimes it induces slight ophthalmia, and sometimes at length a much more serious disease, palsy of the optic nerve. The remedies are obvious,--ventilation, reduction of the hours of work, and brisk exercise in the open air. The great cause of the ill-health of females who make ladies' dresses is the lowness of their wages. To obtain a livelihood they are obliged to work in excess. Two very respectable Dress makers, who charge more than the generality, state that they earn but 12s. each per week, though they sew, on the average, fifteen hours per day. The sempstress who goes out to her work rarely receives more than a shilling a day, in addition to her board. Can ladies, humane in disposition, and prompt in their support of charitable institutions, reflect on the miserable hire they afford to the persons they employ,-- persons of their own sex,--persons often reduced by the faults or misfortunes of others from a comfortable situation in life, and sometimes even from apparent independence, to work for daily bread?"
Personally, I don't find the lack of references to mercury all that unusual. Certainly not enough to put as much faith in its omission as Goldwater did.
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  #22  
Old 03-19-2001, 06:32 PM
waterj2 waterj2 is offline
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Oh yeah, links would be good

http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/victcfsh.html
-where I found it, it's well down the page

http://www.std.com/Newbury/joslinhall/trade1.htm
-if you want to buy a copy, it's only $375

OK, that's about it. Apparently, this Thackrah guy keeps a pretty low profile on the internet these days. Not surprising, considering the fact that just reading the title of his book requires an act of will.
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  #23  
Old 03-19-2001, 08:40 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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Excellent work, Watson!

I believe the mystery is "solv-ed" as Inspector Clouseau would say, and if so, I am simultaneously a very happy and a very furious duck indeed. Happy at having solved the mystery, and furious that if true, the answer is so dumb.

I read all the way through Chapter 27 but then I started having trouble keeping my eyes open. So I started skimming, just reading a sentence or two on each page. As it was, this still took a while. I believe I can say with 99.9% accuracy that (a) there is no visit to a hat factory in Pendennis, and (b) Thackeray has nothing to say at all in it concerning the British hat industry. The whole thing, both volumes, all 800 or so pages of closely spaced tiny print in the Everyman's Library edition, is about Arthur Pendennis and his trials, tribulations, love affairs, and political career. There's nothing at all about hatmakers or the British hat industry in it.

Except.

And this is the "oh geez" part, the part that had me ranting and raving around the dining room when the Better Half got home from work. "Guess what I did all afternoon?"

There is a milliner.

A very minor character named Mrs. Fribsby inhabits the first part of the first book. She lives in the quaint village where Arthur spends his early manhood.

She's a milliner, for heaven's sake. Leonard, come over here with your anonymous buddy. Have a seat, guys, and Ducky will explain the difference between a hatmaker and a milliner.

A hatmaker makes the felt. He also makes the basic hat form. Wide-brimmed beaver hat, ladies bonnet (there are 2 references, at least up till Chapter 27, to ladies beaver bonnets), top hat, whatever. Hatmakers sit there all day and do nothing but make basic hat forms. Then they sell these, wholesale, to milliners, who (a) specialize in ladies' hats and (b) [pay attention, guys, here's the important part,] basically they only sew. They decorate the basic hats which they've bought wholesale from the hatmakers. Sometimes they sew their own hats, from felt or cloth, which someone else has made. They stock ribbons, feathers, cockades, silk flowers, all those sorts of frilly things that you can use to decorate a hat. You can buy a completed hat, decorated in the latest French fashion. Or you can buy the basic hat and the trim and do it yourself at home.

Okay? Got this? The reason Thackeray doesn't mention mercury poisoning in his book is because Mrs. Fribsby wasn't a hatmaker making her own felt and blocking the felt into hats--she was a milliner.

http://www.history.org/life/trades/trademln.htm

http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary
Quote:
Main Entry: mil·li·ner
Pronunciation: 'mi-l&-n&r
Function: noun
Etymology: irregular from Milan, Italy; from the importation of women's finery from Italy in the 16th century
Date: 1530
: a person who designs, makes, trims, or sells women's hats
Trust me, guys, when it says "makes" hats, it does not mean a milliner is making her own felt. It has always been a specialized process, even back in the 14th century, whether they may or may not have been using mercury.

So I am completely disgusted. Thackeray doesn't mention mercury poisoning in his book that supposedly deals with hatmakers, and this is supposed to prove that they weren't using mercury to make hats in the 1830s, but his book doesn't deal with hatmakers--only a milliner. And she is a distinctly minor character, and it's not the kind of book that would concern itself with the health problems of minor characters anyway, unless it's germane to the plot, which it isn't. Mrs. Fribsby is only there so she can tell the curate that she thinks Arthur's widowed mother is in love with him, so the curate tells Arthur he wants to marry his mother and is thereby totally humiliated, because of course she doesn't even know he exists. He's her son's tutor, for heaven's sake.

Thackrah's girls would have been "sweat shop" workers in London, working to make mass produced off-the-shelf hats. The milliners were sewing and trimming hats, working with felt produced by feltmakers (not making felt themselves), the strawbonnet makers were of course making straw bonnets, to be trimmed. Mrs. Fribsby owned her own shop in a rural village, and she's described as frequently reading novels in the back of the store. She is definitely not toiling away in an urban sweatshop, and she's definitely not being exposed to mercury.

While it's possible that Goldwater's first three mentions of "Thackrah" are in fact referring to the study, still The Anonymous Source has "Thackrah" and "Pendennis" together.
Quote:
He [the Anonymous Source] points out, in consonance with Gardner's statement that the expression "mad as a hatter" was in common use in England during the middle of the 19th century, that the expression appears in Chapter 10 of Thackerah's Pendennis, which was published in 1850.
So is this a typist's mistake, or what? Did the Anonymous Source think that Thackrah of the study was the same person who wrote Pendennis? Did Goldwater? I sure would like to see a copy of Goldwater's original out-of-print book.

And now I am going to get on with my life. Arthur is extricated from his affair with the semi-literate actress, goes to college, gets deeply into debt, flunks out of college, goes to London, becomes a writer, hangs out with dukes and things, goes to many many parties, and I actually don't know whether he does or does not marry the beautiful Blanche Amory because by that point I really didn't care.

But I did get a nifty addition to my sig line.
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  #24  
Old 03-19-2001, 08:57 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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DDG and waterj2 Thanks for taking the time to keep me honest here.

DDG quoted from Thackeray thus
Quote:
"What! you know it too?" asked the Major.

"Know it! don't I? and many more too. We were talking about it at mess, yesterday, and chaffing Derby Oaks--until he was as mad as a hatter. Know Sir Derby Oaks? We dined together, and we went to the play: we were standing at the door smoking, I remember, when you passed into dinner."
So here we have Thackeray using the phrase *mad as a hatter* in 1849, and the meaning is clearly that the phrase meant someone was angry. Not *deranged*.

This is how the term most likely was meant at that time. upset and angry.

waterj2 I can't thank you enough for discovering that there was a Thackrah. The coincidence of his name with the fact that Thackeray used *mad as a hatter* is spooky. I would love to read the original work to see if there was indeed more detail about the fur hat industry. I'm sure there was. And if he indeed went into such depth in his discussions, why would he not mention hatters problems with mercury?

I would still be up for someone finding the oldest printed source for *Danbury shakes*.

Lastly, the Thackrah work is available in reprint:
Quote:
13. Thackrah, Charles Turner The Effects of Arts, Trades, and Professions On Health and Longevity
Science History Publications MA 1985 F/VG++. Book is a very nice clean copy, like new, gold stamping on spine. Dustjacket is rubbed at spine ends and corners, lightly soiled. 1st Thus . Bookseller Inventory # R0088110
Price: US$ 45.00 convert currency
Presented by alottabooks.com, Gloucester City, NJ, U.S.A.
order options
from abebooks, the best on-line consortium of used bookdealers, IMHO.
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  #25  
Old 03-19-2001, 10:56 PM
waterj2 waterj2 is offline
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So help me God, I've become obsessed

OK, I'm calling in the help of the hatsuk.com bulletin board (that's hats-UK, not Hat Suk). Also, here's a link to the Snopes page on the subject: http://www.snopes2.com/spoons/fracture/hatter.htm

OK, so the whole Thackrah/Thackeray thing was a bit of a mixup, presumably on Goldwater's part. Looking up more about the guy it seems he was pretty well known as being the father of occupational health in Britain. Also, he founded Leeds University School of Medicine. And it looks like his book can be had for a reasonable price. What is less certain is whether the book dealt with anyone who actually made the felt, or just sewed the hats.

The web doesn't seem to have anything on when the term danbury shakes was first noticed.

I think the Thackeray quote is less than clear in implying anger. I could also easily interpret it as implying fits, such as would be suffered by someone afflicted with mercury poisoning. The Snopes link gives Thomas Chandler Morton's Clockmaker as the first known usage of the phrase. Perhaps DDG might be willing to read through that if I ask really nicely.

I'm still leaning towards the mercurism theory, as it seems rather improbable that people who appeared mad would happen to also be commonly referred to as mad due to sheer coincidence.
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  #26  
Old 03-20-2001, 08:51 AM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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To be perfectly fair to Goldwater, I'm beginning to think the whole mixup stems from the typist's error in typing that fourth "Thackerah". In touch typing, "h" and "y" are typed with the same finger. After a good night's sleep (during which I dreamed incessantly of galloping mail coaches and people drinking punch out of tumblers), I think what happened was that I saw the words "Thackrah", "Thackerah", and "Pendennis" and immediately jumped to the conclusion that Goldwater (and/or his Anonymous Source) was the one who was mixed up.

However, it still doesn't answer the question of why it's so important to Goldwater that they weren't using mercuric nitrate in feltmaking until the late 19th century. Is he maybe feeling threatened, in his position as scientist, by the fact that people used a demonstrably dangerous substance for centuries with Science not realizing it, and giving a warning?

Possibly still available from Science History Publications.
http://www.shpusa.com/home.html?114,48
Quote:
Thackrah, Charles Turner,
The Effects of Arts, Trades, and Professions on Health and Longevity (2ed., 1832)
Preface by Saul Benison
1986, ISBN 0-88135-075-3, $15
I'll volunteer to read it if somebody will buy it and mail it to me.

At Water's link, what little description there is of what's actually in Thackrah's book.
Quote:
Meiklejohn, A. The Life, Work and Times of Charles Turner Thackrah, Surgeon and Apothecary of Leeds (1795-1833). Edinburgh; E & S Livingstone Ltd:1957. Meiklejohn's biography and notes on Thackrah are extremely valuable and informative. This edition also includes a reprinting of the enlarged 2nd edition of Thackrah's most important book, "The Effects of Arts, Trades and Professions on Health and Longevity". Thackrah's work, first published in 1831, was "the first systematic publication in Great Britain on industrial disease and its prevention". .

Thackrah, C. Turner. The Effects of the Principal Arts, Trades, and Professions, and of Civic States and Habits of Living, on Health and Longevity: with a particular reference to the trades and manufacturers of Leeds: and Suggestions for the removal of many of the agents, which produce disease, and shorten the duration of life. Philadelphia; Office of the Journal of Health:1831. 2nd edition. The American edition of an English examination of trade-related diseases.The author discusses a great variety of trades one by one, and explains their hazards.
So Goldwater says that since Thackrah didn't mention mercury poisoning, this proves that they weren't using mercury to treat felt in the 1830s.

Possible reasons why Thackrah (the real one) may not have mentioned mercury poisoning in his survey of the 1830s British hat industry.

1. Maybe he was only talking about milliners, not feltmakers or hatmakers. How many, and which, industries did he cover?

2. Maybe they didn't understand yet that mercuric nitrate had toxic fumes. They may have thought that since you didn't immediately fall over dead upon sniffing mercuric nitrate, that meant it wasn't toxic.

3. Maybe back in the 1830s in Britain they weren't concerned with invisible air pollution yet. There was an increasing emphasis overall on fresh air, good ventilation, and exercise (see Thackrah's advice to the girls to get more fresh air), but maybe they didn't really understand that something you couldn't see or smell in the air could actually be bad for you. They could legislate against bad smells because those are hard to miss, but invisible, odorless fumes might have escaped their notice.

Here's a website about French air pollution laws in the early 19th century.

http://www.le.ac.uk/hi/teaching/papers/poll.html
Quote:
The initial classification of 1810 listed 65 industries, but that number was to be rapidly added to with successive updatings and already by 1815 it had reached 167. It covered everything from blast furnaces to piggeries, from lime kilns to cheese stores. What's more, the scope was even wider than at first appears because although the law was ostensibly concerned with noxious odours, in practice from the very beginning it covered an array of other hazards too:

distilleries for their fire risk

the manufacture of matches for fear of explosion

gold beaters because they were noisy

the retting of hemp and flax on grounds of water pollution

hat makers because they produced dust

menageries, where the specified danger was the escape of animals from their cages.
The thing that pops out at me from this list (other than the mention of hatmakers) is that all of these things that have attracted official attention are either noisy or smelly, or obviously dangerous. The fumes from mercuric nitrate, AFAIK, aren't particularly smelly, at least not in the sense of the whole neighborhood where the hatmakers live being full of the smell of what they're using to make felt. Hatmakers are mentioned as annoying their neighbors because of the dust they produce.

So maybe Thackrah doesn't mention mercuric nitrate simply because he wasn't aware of it. Maybe it was just "the stuff the hatmakers brush on the felt".

Re the word "mad". Yeah, Sam, you're right, I thought it sounded like "angry", too. I was interested to notice, as I waded through this thing, that the word occurred a number of other times, but always in the context of "crazy".
Quote:
Chapter 12: "She brought in a pair of ex-white satin shoes with her, which she proposed to rub as clean as might be with bread-crumb; intending to go mad with them upon next Tuesday evening in Ophelia, in which character she was to reappear on that night."

Chapter 14: "He said afterwards that he wondered he had not taken a pistol to shoot her, so mad was he with love, and rage, and despair; and had it not been for his mother at home, to whom he did not speak about his luckless condition, but whose silent sympathy and watchfullness greatly comforted the simple half-heartbroken fellow, who knows but he might have done something desperate, and have ended his days prematurely in front of Chatteris gaol?" [you're supposed to read this with tongue firmly in cheek]

Chapter 15: "And so indeed it was; the whole society there had the legend--at the news-room, at the milliner's, at the shoe-shop, and the general warehouse at the corner of the market; at Mrs. Pybus's, at the Glanders's, [remember, Thackeray's getting paid by the word ]at the Honourable Mrs. Simcoe's soiree, at the Factory; nay, through the mill itself the tale was current in a few hours, and young Arthur Pendennis's madness was in every mouth."
You begin to see why I stopped at Chapter 27.

[...and isn't it interesting to note that evidently the problem of angry teenagers possibly getting a gun and shooting someone isn't a new one...]
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  #27  
Old 03-20-2001, 09:16 AM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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And of course, since I have about six million things to do this morning, I am going to sit here and look things up.

Anybody out there have an Oxford English Dictionary?

It's my understanding that the use of the word "mad" to mean "angry" is an American usage. Can anybody find when it first began to be used like that?

From my Webster's Deluxe Unabridged 2nd edition (all 20 pounds of it--oof):
Quote:
Mad: [ME maad, mad, mad; AS gemaed, gemad, mad, senseless, foolish]
1. mentally ill; insane; crazy.
2. frenzied; wildly excited; frantic; as, mad with fear.
3. showing or resulting from lack of reason; foolish and rash; senseless; unwise.
4. blindly and foolishly enthusiastic or fond; infatuated; as, she's mad about him.
5. wildly gay; hilarious.
6. having rabies; as, a mad dog.
7. angry; enraged, furious (often with at). [Colloq.]

Syn.--crazy, delirious, distracted, frantic, frenzied, insane, raging, rabid, angry.
So, six out of seven definitions have it as "crazy", only one has it as "angry", and that one is a colloquial one.

So, maybe Thackeray meant that they teased Derby Oaks so much that he "got crazy", not "got angry".

OTOH, Merriam-Webster has "angry" at Number 3 on the list.
http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary
Quote:
Main Entry: 1mad
Pronunciation: 'mad
Function: adjective
Inflected Form(s): mad·der; mad·dest
Etymology: Middle English medd, madd, from Old English gem[AE]d, past participle of (assumed) gem[AE]dan to madden, from gemAd silly, mad; akin to Old High German gimeit foolish, crazy
Date: before 12th century
1 : disordered in mind : INSANE
2 a : completely unrestrained by reason and judgment <driven mad by the pain> b : incapable of being explained or accounted for <a mad decision>
3 : carried away by intense anger : FURIOUS <mad at myself> <mad about the delay>
4 : carried away by enthusiasm or desire <mad about horses> <mad for the boy next door>
5 : affected with rabies : RABID
6 : marked by wild gaiety and merriment : HILARIOUS
7 : intensely excited : FRANTIC <mad with jealousy>
8 : marked by intense and often chaotic activity : WILD <a mad scramble>
But still, seven out of eight definitions mean "crazy", and only one means "angry".
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  #28  
Old 03-20-2001, 10:33 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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Only in the modern era have we tried to classify types of mental illness, and get away from words like "mad" and "crazy." My WAG would be that the two meanings of "mad" were not all that different -- getting angry, turning red in the face, frothing at the mouth, sputtering, yelling, etc would all be symptoms of both mad/angry and mad/loony.
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  #29  
Old 03-21-2001, 09:15 AM
John W. Kennedy John W. Kennedy is offline
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As C. S. Lewis points out in Studies in Words, one must always be careful to distingish between the word's meaning and the speaker's meaning. As he explains, if I say, "Take away all this rubbish," I may mean by "this rubbish" a pile of old newspapers, but that doesn't mean that "rubbish" means "newspapers", or even that I think it does.

Similarly, just because Thackeray is using the word "mad" to describe an angry person, that doesn't mean that he is using the word "mad" to mean "angry".
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  #30  
Old 03-21-2001, 12:24 PM
Axel Wheeler Axel Wheeler is offline
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Oxford English Dictionary? Coming right up.

There is much debate about whether people are poisoned by mercury today; it will certainly be difficult to assess whether hatters were actually poisoned by mercury in the 1800s. Here are some lines of argument:

Actual hatter poisoning -> public perception of hatters as poisoned by mercury -> public perception of hatters as mad

Actual hatter poisoning -> public perception of hatters as mad (but no one knows the cause of the madness)

No poisoning -> public perception of hatters as poisoned by mercury (because of mercury scare) -> public perception of hatters as mad

No poisoning but other odd hatter behavior (see below) -> public perception of hatters as mad

And then the compound theories:

A few hatters poisoned but mostly other odd behavior -> public perception of hatters as poisoned -> public perception of hatters as mad

A few hatters poisoned but mostly other odd behavior -> public perception of hatters as mad, but no one knows why

I don't think we can either rule out or accept any of these alternates. We just don't have data. And this makes us mad as a hatter, because with a character as famous as the Hatter there ought to be some scientific analysis of why hatters were perceived as mad. Yet there is a void.

I am beginning to suspect that whether or not mercury actually made hatters mad, the public perception of madness did not seem to involve mercury.

The online version of OED gives me the impression that the phrase "Mad as a hatter" may have originally had more to do with the notion that hatters were loners than that they used mercury. They may have worked in shops (as opposed to factories) but in a back room where there was peace and quiet. The women in the front of the store (these would be the milliners, according to previous posts?) would sew the exterior of the hats together while the hatter - presumably a man - stayed in the back and made the forms. So, the personable and chatty women in the front might have considered the hatter to be an oddball. This is not surprising if the techniques they used (the bow, etc.) were indeed as odd as has been described.

Anyway, here are two of OED's early references for "Mad as a hatter":

Quote:
1837-40 HALIBURTON Clockm. (1862) 109 Sister Sall..walked out of the room, as mad as a hatter.

1857 HUGHES Tom Brown II. iii, He's a very good fellow, but as mad as a hatter.
These both predate Alice in Wonderland, although it might still have been a fairly new expression for Alice and Lewis, so people at the time ought to have had some idea why hatters were perceived that way...

but definition #2 in OED is:

Quote:
2. One who lives or works alone, orig. a miner; a solitary bushman. Austral. and N.Z. [Cf. hat covers his family in HAT n. 5c.]

1853 J. ROCHFORT Adv. Surveyor viii. 66 The Bendigo diggings are suitable for persons working singly... Such persons are
humorously called ‘hatters’.

1864 ROGERS New Rush II. 49 Some days ago a sturdy hatter joined.

1865 B. L. FARJEON Shadows on Snow II. 76, I was working as a ‘hatter’.

1869 R. B. SMYTH Goldf. Victoria Gloss. 613 Hatter, one who works alone..The hatter leads an independent life, and nearly always holds a claim under the bye~laws.

1889 E. WAKEFIELD N.Z. after 50 Yrs. vi. 165 Miners who work alone are called ‘hatters’, one explanation of the term being that they frequently go mad from the solitude of their claim away in the bush, exemplifying the proverb ‘As mad as a hatter’.
Of course, these Australian references are after the 1840 reference above, so it's possible that they just picked up the popular usage. Hatter as loner may thus be secondary to hatter as nut.

So in view of the fact the hatter's methods were clearly odd, and that it was indeed a lonesome job, and that we have still found no evidence that mercury poisioning was in fact known among them, I tentatively suggest that "Mad as a hatter" probably has nothing to do with mercury.

Another way of putting it is: given the actual job hatters did, only a madman would decide to spend his life doing it.

BTW: Here are some early references to "mad" itself. It always seems to imply insanity, even when it means angry.

Quote:
1390 GOWER Conf. I. 46 For certes such a maladie..It myghte make a wisman madd. Ibid. II. 144 And if..hir list noght to be gladd, He berth an hond that sche is madd.

c1440 Promp. Parv. 319/1 Madde, or wood, amens, demens, furiosus.

1489 CAXTON Faytes of A. III. xx. 213 Whyche duke or erle happeth to wex madde so that al alone as a fole he gothe renning by wodes and hedges.

1500-20 DUNBAR Poems xix. 12 Gife I be sorrowfull and sad, Than will thay say that I am mad.

1590 SHAKES. Com. Err. II. ii. 11 Wast thou mad, That thus so madlie thou didst answere me?

1590 SWINBURNE Treat. Test. 37 They did see him hisse like a goose or barke lyke a dogge, or play such other parts as madfolks vse to doo.

1611 BIBLE John x. 20 And many of them said, He hath a deuill, and is mad, why heare ye him?

1664-5 PEPYS Diary 25 Jan., He told me what a mad freaking fellow Sir Ellis Layton hath been, and is, and once at Antwerp was really mad.
A mad freaking fellow!!! In 1664/5??!! I love it!

"That Cecil Adams is such a mad freaking fellow!"

Anyway to summarize: we (some of us, anyway, myself included) want the madness of hatters to derive from mercury poisoning, but there are plenty of other reasons for the popular perception of their madness and no evidence of poisoning. A possibly salvation for the mercury theory: Did hatters actually get poisoned by mercury, and thus add to the already popular perception of their madness?

How much mercury was in that solution? How much is needed to drive someone mad? Could simple lack of ventilation cause concentrations to build up to levels potentially causing madness.

One last thing: Is it possible that "mad as a hatter" is simply a reference to the absurdity of women's hats at the time? The appearance of the phrase seems so sudden and widespread; can anyone look up the history of women's hats for a possible explanation? I don't suppose they got bizarre around, oh, 1840 or so?
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  #31  
Old 03-22-2001, 09:15 AM
John W. Kennedy John W. Kennedy is offline
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Careful! Just because we don't have a contemporary source saying, "Hatters are mad because of mercury poisoning," doesn't mean we don't have contemporary sources saying, "Hatters are uncommonly inclined to be mad," and "Hatters use mercury." As far as I can tell, nobody's looked.
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  #32  
Old 03-22-2001, 10:25 AM
Axel Wheeler Axel Wheeler is offline
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Yes, when I say we have a lack of data, I mean we in this group. Someone may well have the data.

My point is that with dangerous materials like mercury and lead there can be a tendency even for reputable historians to jump to the conclusion that these were responsible for various social ills. Maybe they were and maybe they weren't. One way this can happen is that historians raise it as a possiblility and others repeat it as fact.

I mean, this happens even in relatively current events: the debates over Gulf War Syndrome and breast implants could be examples of erroneous conclusions based on possibilities, or they may be real physical effects. But I can easily imagine an historian suggesting that mercury may have been the cause of hatter madness, and then others repeating it as fact.

So I ask:

1. What evidence is there that hatters in the 1800s were actually poisoned by mercury?

2. What evidence is there that people in the 1800s believed hatters were poisoned by mercury?

I see modern references to "hatter's shakes" having been caused by mercury, but if hatters were presumed to be poisoned by mercury at the time (because they were crazy and used mercury), then such an expression might have a popular source, rather than a medical one.

For question 1 above we almost got the answer in that Thackrah piece; it was just not about the hatters themselves.

We must search for more proof! ("We" meaning "you", that is. I have to get back to work before I get fired.)

Meanwhile, maligned hatters of the world, unite!
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  #33  
Old 03-22-2001, 01:21 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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Quote:
Is it possible that "mad as a hatter" is simply a reference to the absurdity of women's hats at the time? The appearance of the phrase seems so sudden and widespread; can anyone look up the history of women's hats for a possible explanation? I don't suppose they got bizarre around, oh, 1840 or so?
Here's a page of tons of links to Victorian fashion.

http://www.costumes.org/pages/victlinks.htm

The short answer to your question is "no". Generally speaking, women's hats in the 1830s and 1840s were just simple bonnets and variations on bonnets and little caps. It wasn't until the 1870s that hats began to get really elaborate, and during the 1890s of course was when you got the really huge hats, with the dead birds on them, etc.

Also, the word "hatter" has always meant quite specifically the one who made the hats, not the one who wore them.
Quote:
1. What evidence is there that hatters in the 1800s were actually poisoned by mercury?
Well, in spite of what Leonard Goldwatter might think, there is evidence that hatters were using mercuric nitrate to make felt in the early 1800s, and even in earlier centuries. And if they were using mercuric nitrate, then according to OSHA (see below), if they weren't wearing all kinds of protective clothing, including respirators, then yes, they were being poisoned.
Quote:
2. What evidence is there that people in the 1800s believed hatters were poisoned by mercury?
Zero. People didn't "get it" until the 20th century. They used the phrases "hatter's shakes" and "mad as a hatter" simply because they observed that hatters' hands shook, and that hatters sometimes behaved oddly.
Quote:
..the public perception of madness did not seem to involve mercury...
Right, because they didn't "get it". How could an odorless, invisible vapor make people go crazy? Remember, this was an era that thought diseases like cholera and malaria were caused by bad-smelling air, not by bacteria or blood parasites. When they drained swamps or provided clean drinking water, they were unwittingly removing the real causes of malaria or cholera, but they thought it was just that the bad smells were gone.

This was also an era where a surprisingly large number of people thought that what we would call clinical insanity was actually caused by demon possession.
Quote:
Did hatters actually get poisoned by mercury, and thus add to the already popular perception of their madness?
The public perceived them as mad. The reason they appeared mad was because they were suffering from chronic mercury poisoning.
Quote:
The online version of OED gives me the impression that the phrase "Mad as a hatter" may have originally had more to do with the notion that hatters were loners than that they used mercury. They may have worked in shops (as opposed to factories) but in a back room where there was peace and quiet. The women in the front of the store (these would be the milliners, according to previous posts?) would sew the exterior of the hats together while the hatter - presumably a man - stayed in the back and made the forms.
I'd sure like to see the actual OED cite for that. I don't see any evidence anywhere that refers to the hatmaking trade being a particularly lonely one.

The Australian usage of "hatter" would be in the sense of "crazy person", as in "you'd have to be crazy to be a miner out there".

As far as hatmaking being a "lonesome job", actually it was a big industry, not a "cottage industry". The picture you paint here, of the solitary hatter living in the back while his wife trimmed hats in the front, is historically inaccurate. Hatmaking was a huge industry, like brewing or baking or butchering, and making felt is a hairy, steamy, dusty, messy business. No way could feltmaking have taken place in the back of a genteel milliner's shop. The hatmakers would occupy a big building with workrooms and huge vats for soaking and steaming the felt, and machinery for pressing the felt into place on the hat forms, where their incessant pounding of mass quantities of felt raised clouds of dust and led to protests by their neighbors (see the French air pollution cite, above).

If you can get hold of a copy of Nollet's L'Art de Faire des Chapeaux, it has some wonderful illustrations of what feltmaking looked like in 1765. Colin McDowell's Hats: Status, Style and Glamour says:
Quote:
A workman familiar with the scenes pictured in [Nollet] would feel perfectly at home in a modern hat factory.
None of the early usages of "mad as a hatter" sound like "mad as a crazy loner". "She walked out of the room like a crazy loner..." Nope, doesn't work for me.
Quote:
...there ought to be some scientific analysis of why hatters were perceived as mad.
Coming right up. But first, here is an example of what people meant by "mad". The story of Boston Corbett, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth.

http://members.aol.com/RVSNorton/Lincoln32.html

Okay. How toxic is Mercuric Nitrate? It's pretty bad. OSHA on mercury.

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/phs8916.html

About mercuric nitrate.
http://www.jtbaker.com/msds/m1508.htm

The official Material Safety Data Sheet.
http://hazard.com/msds/mf/old/fish/dev/fa9/918

Quote:
How much is needed to drive someone mad? Could simple lack of ventilation cause concentrations to build up to levels potentially causing madness?
Answer #1--not much. Answer #2--yes, certainly.

Effects of mercury poisoning (mercurialism) on the nervous system.
http://www.worldmedicus.com/servlet/...60000.sj_viewd /
Quote:
Acrodynia
A condition seen primarily in childhood, most often resulting from chronic exposure to MERCURY COMPOUNDS which may result in ENCEPHALOPATHY and POLYNEUROPATHY. Clinical features include pain, swelling and pinkish discoloration of the fingers and toes, weakness in the extremities, extreme irritability, HYPERESTHESIA, and alterations in level of consciousness. (From Menkes, Textbook of Child Neurology, 5th ed, p603)

Neurologic disorders associated with exposure to inorganic and organic forms of MERCURY. Acute intoxication may be associated with gastrointestinal disturbances, mental status changes, and PARAPARESIS. Chronic exposure to inorganic mercury usually occurs in industrial workers, and manifests as mental confusion, prominent behavioral changes (including psychosis), DYSKINESIAS, and NEURITIS. Alkyl mercury poisoning may occur through ingestion of contaminated seafood or grain, and its characteristic features include POLYNEUROPATHY; ATAXIA; vision loss; NYSTAGMUS; and DEAFNESS. (From Joynt, Clinical Neurology, 1997, Ch20, pp10-15)
Ducky's Glossary (with some assistance from Tabor's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary :

Encephalopathy: any dysfunction of the brain. Usually means neuronal degeneration and edema (swelling).
Polyneuropathy: term applied to any disorder or affection of peripheral nerves. Same thing as multiple neuritis.
Peripheral nerves: Any nerve which connects the brain or spinal cord with peripheral receptors or effectors.
Hyperesthesia: Unusual sensibility to sensory stimuli, such as pain or touch.
Paraparesis: Partial paralysis affecting the lower limbs.
Dyskinesia: Defect in voluntary movement.
Neuritis: Inflammation of a nerve or nerves.
Ataxia: Muscular incoordination, especially that manifested when voluntary muscular movements are attempted.
Nystagmus: Constant, involuntary, cyclical movement of the eyeball. Movement may be in any direction.

So if you're suffering from a non-fatal case of chronic mercury poisoning, your arms and legs tremble. You stumble a lot. You have mysterious aches and pains. You have mood swings, verging on outright psychosis. You're constantly irritable, and extremely sensitive to touch--people tap you on the shoulder and you jump a mile. And worst of all, your eyeballs roll around uncontrollably in your head.

Your neighbors say of you, "He's crazy". After your neighbors have seen other people with these same symptoms, and most of these people seem to be hatmakers, they start saying, "He's a hatter--what did you expect? Hatters are crazy."

And, you know, I went looking for the answer to "when did they stop using mercury to make felt" and the answer is, they haven't.

http://db.rtknet.org/E1530T29
Quote:
IDENTIFICATION
Mercuric Nitrate is a white or yellowish powder. It is used in
making other chemicals, in felt manufacture and in making Mercury
fulminate.
http://www.oehha.ca.gov/air/acute_rels/pdf/HgA.pdf
Quote:
Mercuric nitrate is used in the manufacture of felt, and in the manufacture of bronze (HSDB, 1994)
http://www.geocities.com/toothk/environment.html
Quote:
Mercury Usage and discharges
Alloy; anatomical preparations; aniline red; atomic shields; barometers; batteries (mercury oxide); bronzing; canton tube; carbon black manufacturing; cardiac catherization syringe; catalysts; cement mining; chemical manufacture; china ware and porcelain; coal; coke mining; contaminated soils; cosmetics; cremation; dental practices; discharges from STP's; dyeing (color); electrical; embalming; engraving & embossing; explosives; felt hats; finger print powder; fluorescent lamps; fossil fuel power station; fuchsin; fuel cells; fungicides; gilding; glass globe coating; gold mining; gyroscopes; hardening processes; hazardous waste; hospitals; incineration of biomedical waste; inorganic chemical sector; insecticides; ion engines; iron and steel sector; jewelry; laboratory equipment; lamps; landfill gas; lime manufacturing; manicipal solid waste incineration; manometers; mercury-arc rectifiers; mercury vapor boilers; metal mining; Miller-Abbott tube; mining; motors; municipal sewage treatment plants; nuclear coolants; organic chemical sector; oscillators; paint; phanotron; pharmaceuticals; photography; pigments; preservatives; printing trades; pulp and paper; radar; radio; seed dressings; sewage sludge incineration; shooting galleries; silvering mirrors; slimicides; switches; taxidermy; thermometers; thyratron; turboalternators; welding; wood preservatives; vermicides.
And the answer to the question "when did they stop making hats out of beaver felt?" is, "They didn't."

http://www.right-angle.com/bail5xauscow.html
Quote:
5X Beaver Fur Felt. Cattleman crown with a 4" brim. Matching color leather hat band with star conchos and contrasting braid trim. Color - Black.
From the Beaver Felt cowboy hat collection by Bailey Hats.
http://www.montanasyt.com/mww9.htm
Quote:
These are the very finest 100% beaver felt hats made in America. Not 20 or 50, but 100% beaver felt.
http://www.cowboyhatstore.com/stetso...etsonfelt8.htm
Quote:
Style: CH-057 El Rey (The King)
Brim: 3 1/2" or 4"
Crown: 5"
Colors: Silver Belly, Black, White, Mist Gray
Sizes: 6 5/8- 7 3/4
Material: Genuine Beaver 200X
List Price: $1600.00
Yes, that's sixteen hundred dollars.

http://www.cow-boy.com/roundup1.htm
Quote:
Wool felt is getting better, but fur is still preferable, and beaver content improves the durability.

X's vary from maker to maker, and they do not necessarily indicate a specific percentage of beaver fur. In the 1950s buyers thought a XXX beaver Stetson had 30% beaver fur. The ten-X model was pure beaver and retailed for $100.

However, you might see the following stamped on a sweat band: "XXXXX," "Beaver Hats," and "One Hundred Percent Imported Coney Fur." What does that mean? The X's mean nothing. "Beaver Hats" is the brand. "Coney Fur" tells the tale. Coney means rabbit. So it's a hat made of rabbit-fur felt. Unless it says "Beaver," don't assume Xs mean beaver fur. "XXX quality" and similar phrases don't count. To determine its quality, you must feel felt. Feel felt enough, and you can tell the difference between the good stuff (fine, soft, smooth) and the not-so-good (coarse, hard, rough).
Like I said, nothing holds its shape in the rain quite like beaver felt. If you want an expensive dress cowboy hat that'll keep looking nice, you go with beaver.

So that answers the question of who's buying those Ohio beaver pelts--they're not being shipped off to some dang fur-happy foreigners, they're being made into All-American Cowboy Hats.
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  #34  
Old 03-22-2001, 01:53 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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Here's the Mad Hatter. See his eyes rolling around in his head? What's he looking at? Nothing. The March Hare and Alice are looking at each other, but the Hatter's eyes aren't looking at anything at all. Tenniel is portraying what he saw in hatters, the random eye movements.

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/People/rgs/alice25a.gif

In smaller versions, the tilt of the Hatter's head towards Alice makes it look likes he's looking at her.

http://www.math.umn.edu/~rudnaya/books/Alice1.html

But if you expand it, so you can see more detail, he's not.

http://www.math.umn.edu/~rudnaya/books/alice25a.gif
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  #35  
Old 03-22-2001, 04:59 PM
Irishman Irishman is online now
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For once, I've got to say I find snopes less than convincing.
Quote:
Phrases such as mad as a March hare, mad as a buck, mad as Maybutter, and mad as a wet hen are older than mad as a hatter, leaving open the conclusion that hatter is but a variation of an existing term. (Interestingly, these other phrases pull in different directions, with mad as a March hare signifying odd or eccentric behavior, while mad as a wet hen characterizes anger.)
Sorry, I don't buy it. In order for "mad as a hatter" to be just a variation on an existing term, one would need to show some connection between the other variations, and show a tendency to fill in the gaps with new words. Given the point in parenthesis about the different variations on meaning of "mad", I think that works counter to the assertion. That suggests to me independent generation of phrases that appear similar because of the use of the word "mad", and the ambiguity by its double meaning.

Quote:
Moreover, there exists a possibility Carroll was unaware either of the mercury connection to the existing saying or was entirely unaware of the saying itself and believed he had coined it himself.
How do they justify that assertion? So what if Carroll knew Theophilus Carter, and intended to lampoon him a bit as the hatter? What keeps Carroll from doing a double word game, and putting a Mad Hatter (because hatters are all crazy) into the story, and then depicting this hatter as Carter? In fact, in the very next paragraph they say
Quote:
He loved to twist words this way and that, and encoding double and triple meanings into his work was for him part of the fun. His Mad Hatter could therefore be a caricature of Theophilus Carter, a real person of his acquaintance, while his mad as a hatter could have been a twist on the pre-existing saying, mad as a March hare.
[bolding mine]

Making a play on the phrase "mad as a March hare"? But he already has a March Hare. So he's also making a new play on the March hare? That doesn't sound credible. Why would he make 2 mad characters both based on "mad as a March hare"? It has already been shown that the phrase "mad as a hatter" was common - snopes cites two previous uses and claims as much. Yet somehow Carroll comes up with exactly the same phrase based not on a common characteristic (madders act crazy because of mercury poisoning) but purely by word play?

And the mad atter as a venomous snake is even sketchier. How can "mad as a hatter" be both a substitution for "mad as a March hare" and "mad as an adder"? One means crazy, the other means poisonous. It doesn't connect.

Sorry, this one just doesn't hold up to me.

samclem said:
Quote:
[from Thackaray]"Know it! don't I? and many more too. We were talking about it at mess, yesterday, and chaffing Derby Oaks--until he was as mad as a hatter." [snip]

So here we have Thackeray using the phrase *mad as a hatter* in 1849, and the meaning is clearly that the phrase meant someone was angry. Not *deranged*.
It's hardly clearly meaning angry. It could easily mean crazy, in the sense that "he's driving me crazy". We typically comment anything that is annoying, frustrating, and totally infuriating as driving us crazy. Clearly being mad to the point of insanity is a possible and likely usage here.

Axel Wheeler said:
Quote:
There is much debate about whether people are poisoned by mercury today;
Where do you come up with that? I don't think anyone questions that mercury is poisonous. I see stories periodically on the news about mercury in cosmetics or dishware from Mexico, and the danger. DDG has provided numerous links on the medical dangers of mercury poisoning.

Quote:
Anyway to summarize: we (some of us, anyway, myself included) want the madness of hatters to derive from mercury poisoning, but there are plenty of other reasons for the popular perception of their madness and no evidence of poisoning. A possibly salvation for the mercury theory: Did hatters actually get poisoned by mercury, and thus add to the already popular perception of their madness?
Again, I don't follow your conclusion. What do you mean "no evidence of poisoning"? There is plenty of evidence that mercury is poisonous. There is plenty of evidence that hat makers use mercury in the process. There is plenty of evidence that hat makers got poisoned by the use of mercury in their hat making process. The only thing that seems to not be explicitly stated is the specific mercury process being used by hat makers immediately preceeding Carroll's use of the phrase in his book. Given that the felting process has remained essentially unchanged (better methods, but the process is still the same), given that beaver felt required the mercury to be processed, given that beaver hats were common a lot earlier and all through the time period in question, and given that mercury has been known about and used for centuries prior to the time in question, it does not seem a leap by any means to think that mercury was in use by hat makers at the time. The lack of mentioning mercury as a hazard to hat makers by contemporaries hardly qualifies as proof mercury wasn't used, as the dangers of a lot of things (including mercury fumes) were not understood at the time.

Quote:
My point is that with dangerous materials like mercury and lead there can be a tendency even for reputable historians to jump to the conclusion that these were responsible for various social ills. Maybe they were and maybe they weren't. One way this can happen is that historians raise it as a possiblility and others repeat it as fact.
Certainly we should be aware of a tendency to leap to conclusions, and to spread misinformation via the media. And since they did not know about the hazards of mercury fumes at the time, we certainly don't have a contemporary explanation about hatters being mad because of mercury poisoning. However, it is not a large leap to reach that conclusion upon reflection. We now know mercury is toxic, in relatively small doses. We know hatters were exposed to mercury by way of their methods. Current felt making processes are most assuredly not the same - a minimum of protective gear would be required, including respirators, heavy gloves, smocks or aprons, etc. We know the effects of mercury poisoning include severe nervous disorders, affecting mobility, coordination, sensitivity, and mood (even if not directly, being on constant pain can't be easy to stay cheerful). The only thing that seems to be in question is if hatters getting mercury poisoning and thus behaving odd was the origin of the phrase, or it the phrase was coined in some other manner and just coincidentally reflected a common situation.

Duck Duck Goose, I've just got to say you've gone the extra mile on this one. You rule! Have you considered boxing this up and sending it to snopes? I think they could stand a new review of the topic, in light of your efforts.

But I do have one quibble with you - looking at the illustrations I can't tell if the Mad Hatter's eyes are rolling around or not. Sorry.
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  #36  
Old 03-22-2001, 09:22 PM
Johnny Angel Johnny Angel is offline
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waterj2 wrote:

http://www.snopes2.com/spoons/fracture/hatter.htm

This is a particular sticking point of mine, because I wrote into the Snopes message board about their entry for "Mad as a Hatter" a long time ago. I have photocopied references, I even got copies of their sources (really, their one source, since one of them cites the other). I had every bit of evidence I needed to point out that their argument contradicted demonstrable facts. After two years of basically being ignored, I checked their "Mad as a Hatter" page to find that it had been changed slightly. The status had been changed to "undetermined" and they still cited the same "`mad' meant `venomous'" argument that I feel I had thoroughly debunked, though this time they used weaker language. Now they've downplayed that argument even further, but still cite it.

This issue has already been very nicely handled in this thread, so this isn't much of a contribution, but just because I've been sitting on this so long, I'm going to reproduce my Snopes post, which is less thorough than Duck Duck Goose's contributions, but nonetheless quite conclusive where the "`mad' meant `venomous'" argument is concerned:

Quote:
The case against the story that `mad as a hatter' referred to the mind-corroding effects of the mercury used in the making of hats boils down to two points:

1) An alternate explanation is given that `hatter' is a corruption of `adder' and that mad meant `venomous.'

2) The story is discredited by pointing out that at the time Carroll (who is credited with coining the phrase) wrote Alice in Wonderland (in 1865), the word `mad' did not mean `insane,' but rather, "violent, furious, angry, or venomous."

For the first point, I concede that there is a viable alternate explanation. I think it's a less likely one, but it's no more conclusive than the mercury story. Plus, it depends on an assumption that I find questionable, that the `h' was added where the pattern in english is for h's to be dropped. It has happened before, like in the word `heretic' which was `eretik' in middle english, but that was really just a dropping of the h-sound in the Greek `airetikos, which was presumably later corrected. Do you know of any other case where English has added an h rather than dropped one? Without corroboration, it seems unlikely.

As to the second point, it's pretty clear that if `mad' ever meant `venomous' that was secondary to its meaning as `insane.' In fact, I suspect that to the extent that it meant `venomous' it was referring to a capacity to make others `mad':

The word mad, according to The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (third edition revised with addenda) comes from the Old English `gemaedan', meaning "to make insane." The Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Toller, T. Northcote) defines `gemaed' as "troubled in mind, mad." Neither mentions `venomous,' except in the sense of "rabid."

The Middle English Dictionary (Kuhn, Sherman and Reidy, John) defines mad as "out of one's wits, demented, crazy." It too includes the sense of rabid, as in a `madde dogge,' but again this is a secondary meaning.

We know the word referred to insanity in Shakespeare's time (late 16th century) because Polonius explains Hamlet's behavior to the audience as such: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it."

Tennyson in the mid-1800's wrote, "...to hear a dead man chatter/ Is enough to drive one mad." Around the same time, Dickinson wrote "Much sadness is divinest sense/ To a discerning eye;/ Much sense the starkest madness."

In our modern usage, the word more often carries the sense of anger, but even now we recognize that it also means craziness. It seems clear to me that there was never a time when `mad' did not mean `insane.'

So, the word did mean `insane' at the time that Carroll wrote. Plus the claim that Carroll was making a word game out of an expression that was originally, "mad as an adder" is undermined by the fact that the term "mad as a hatter" was used at least twice before: Thackeray's _Pendennis_ (1894) and Thomas Haliburton's _The_Clockmaker_ (1837) (this information is from the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson). The expression was already probably already in circulation in Carroll's time and the March Hare at the tea party was obviously a play on "mad as a march hare" which is also an expression meaning `insane,' not `venomous.'

And whereas there are citations for the expression `mad as a hatter' I can find no citations where someone has actually used "mad as an adder."

What with the claim that `mad' did not mean `insane' clearly wrong, and the transformation of `adder' to `hatter' being questionable, I think the mercury story has the better claim to The Inference to the Best Explanation (tm).

James "the Wet Hen didn't make it to the tea party" Fassler
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  #37  
Old 03-22-2001, 10:00 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Jim said
Quote:
What with the claim that `mad' did not mean `insane' clearly wrong, and the transformation of `adder' to `hatter' being questionable, I think the mercury story has the better claim to The Inference to the Best Explanation (tm).
I beg to politely differ.

I think the better claim is that the expression evolved from/or along with such expressions as *mad as a buck* , *mad as a marsh hare*, *mad as a wet hen*, *mad as maybutter*, etc., all of which were precursors, one as early as the 16th Century. I think the sheer number of similar expressions counts for something. It wasn't like the phrase mad as a ...... was just invented around the 1830's. It wasn't.
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Old 03-22-2001, 11:14 PM
Johnny Angel Johnny Angel is offline
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samclem wrote:

Quote:
I think the better claim is that the expression evolved from/or along with such expressions as *mad as a buck* , *mad as a marsh hare*, *mad as a wet hen*, *mad as maybutter*, etc., all of which were precursors, one as early as the 16th Century. I think the sheer number of similar expressions counts for something. It wasn't like the phrase mad as a ...... was just invented around the 1830's. It wasn't.
But `mad as a hatter' is a fairly curious addition to that list. Why should a hatter in particularly be called `mad'? Did they also say, `mad as a baker'? `Mad as a blacksmith'? `Mad as a cooper'?

This curious expression is still curious, even though the first three words have been used in a lot of other expressions. The mercury theory explains it, though certainty has not been attained. An alternate theory, that `hatter' is a corruption of `adder', is viable, but not compelling. It might be more compelling if someone could dig up an actual use of the term, but so far it appears to be mere speculation that `mad as an adder' was in circulation long enough to be corrupted, and even if could be shown that it was used, that doesn't make that explanation any closer to certainty than the mercury theory.
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Old 03-23-2001, 06:35 AM
waterj2 waterj2 is offline
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Several points to mention here:

From DDG's reasons that Thackrah may have failed to mention mercury poisoning:

Quote:
2. Maybe they didn't understand yet that mercuric nitrate had toxic fumes. They may have thought that since you didn't immediately fall over dead upon sniffing mercuric nitrate, that meant it wasn't toxic.
This seems doubtful, as I recall having run across references to mercury miners working lessened hours due to poisoning.

Quote:
3. Maybe back in the 1830s in Britain they weren't concerned with invisible air pollution yet. There was an increasing emphasis overall on fresh air, good ventilation, and exercise (see Thackrah's advice to the girls to get more fresh air), but maybe they didn't really understand that something you couldn't see or smell in the air could actually be bad for you. They could legislate against bad smells because those are hard to miss, but invisible, odorless fumes might have escaped their notice.
Given what I saw about Thackrah, this also seems unlikely. Apparently, he was specifically looking for things of the sort. It is possible that he was still inclined to only look at pollutants that could be noticed, but certainly he would have seen the effects. Well, most likely.

So if Thackrah's book with the unwieldy title contains references to hatters, and does not mention any madness, and indicates that the carrotting agent was something other than mercury, and no more reliable source can be found to indicate that mercury was used at the time, that would cast a pretty substantial cloud of doubt on the mercury poisoning theory. I'm still waiting to see if the hatsUK forum people reply to me to provide an authoritative answer on whether mercury was used at the time. That would pretty much render Thackrah irrelevant.

As for some of Axel's ideas:

Quote:
Actual hatter poisoning -> public perception of hatters as poisoned by mercury -> public perception of hatters as mad
It is incredibly improbable that people would have really cared that hatters were being exposed to harmful levels of mercury vapor before noticing the symptoms.

Quote:
No poisoning -> public perception of hatters as poisoned by mercury (because of mercury scare) -> public perception of hatters as mad
But we know that hatters were later victims of mercury poisoning, which would be silly if people were that scared of mercury. Also, I don't think the public was terribly aware of the dangers of mercury.

Quote:
No poisoning but other odd hatter behavior (see below) -> public perception of hatters as mad
This just seems contrived after the fact to get around thinking that hatters acted mad due to mercury poisoning. Plus, what DDG said about the other odd behavior.

Quote:
A few hatters poisoned but mostly other odd behavior -> public perception of hatters as mad, but no one knows why
As before, the "other odd behavior" seems hardly convincing, while what is known about mercury poisoning is a far more satisfying explanation.

Quote:
I am beginning to suspect that whether or not mercury actually made hatters mad, the public perception of madness did not seem to involve mercury.
That's because, at the time, mercury was not known to be the source. Mercury did make hatters mad, but all the public saw was the mad hatters, and they really didn't know why. I don't understand why you expect the people in 1830's Britain to be educated in the effects of mercury poisoning and in the fact that mercury was used by hatters.

Quote:
Anyway to summarize: we (some of us, anyway, myself included) want the madness of hatters to derive from mercury poisoning, but there are plenty of other reasons for the popular perception of their madness and no evidence of poisoning. A possibly salvation for the mercury theory: Did hatters actually get poisoned by mercury, and thus add to the already popular perception of their madness?
There is evidence of poisoning. We are only lacking evidence that it occurred as early as 1837. Just because no one knew that mercury was the culprit at the time does not mean that we can't look back and see reports describing various symptoms, connect that with the chemicals that hatters would have been using, and make an accurate diagnosis. At the time, knowing far less about mercury, the public, and probably even doctors, couldn't. Actually, I think it's fairly common that we now can theorize on the causes of supposed madnesses of the past, for example, St. Vitus' Dance.

Quote:
My point is that with dangerous materials like mercury and lead there can be a tendency even for reputable historians to jump to the conclusion that these were responsible for various social ills. Maybe they were and maybe they weren't. One way this can happen is that historians raise it as a possiblility and others repeat it as fact.
Given that hatters used mercury as late as the 1940's, when it was banned, I think it's pretty certain that mercury poisoning was having a noticeable effect on hatters. If you're going to argue "maybe the reputable historians are all wrong" you need more than "we can't really be sure".

Quote:
Moreover, there exists a possibility Carroll was unaware either of the mercury connection to the existing saying or was entirely unaware of the saying itself and believed he had coined it himself.
So, Snopes is suggesting that perhaps Lewis Carroll made up a phrase that had been in print for twenty years, but that he had never heard of, that also happened to accurately describe a real situation? Sure, it can't be entirely ruled out, but neither can demonic possession.

As it stands, the mercury theory stands far ahead of the adder theory. The only weakness in the mercury theory is that it has not been established that hatters were using mercury in the 1830's, but the competing theory is just as weak, since (according to Snopes) "I can find no citations where someone has actually used "mad as an adder.""

Quote:
I think the better claim is that the expression evolved from/or along with such expressions as *mad as a buck* , *mad as a marsh hare*, *mad as a wet hen*, *mad as maybutter*, etc., all of which were precursors, one as early as the 16th Century. I think the sheer number of similar expressions counts for something. It wasn't like the phrase mad as a ...... was just invented around the 1830's. It wasn't.
I agree a little bit, but I think it's far more likely that people filled in the blank with things they thought were mad than just random things that would later appear mad entirely by coincidence. Most likely, "mad as a hatter" arose sometime in the early 19th century (perhaps earlier) as a variant on that theme, based on the fact that hatters seemed mad.

OK, I'll stop now, because I think I'm perhaps being a little repetitive.
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Old 03-23-2001, 07:30 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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The missing link, it seems to me, is the question: when was it known that mercury poisoning caused the various symptoms described in DDG's post above?

My reconstruction of what we've got so far: the phrase "mad as a..." was certainly in common use for a long time, right up there with "wise as a [owl, fox, pope...]" or "stupid as a [mule, post, George Bush...]" Such expressions have been around for centuries.

At some point (1700s, I think we've established?), hatters started using mercury to cure beaver felt. This produced mercury poisoning and symptoms (the shakes, among others, and mood swings) that were noticed as common amongst hatters. ASIDE: Note that many of the symptoms are physical behavioral symptoms, that could easily have been classified as insanity (as opposed to coughing fits, for instance, that might have been viewed as disease.)

IN ANY CASE, the cause (mercury poisoning) was not known at that time. Thus, the expression, "mad as a hatter" arose in the early 1800s. The term "mad" certainly meant insane, and the distinction between violent temper (mad/angry) and mood swings (mad/insane) was probably not made.

Carroll therefore took a reasonably common expression and made it into a character, as he did with "a cat can look at a king" and the March Hare and the poem about the knave of hearts stealing the tarts, etc. Carroll was probably unaware of the mercury connection -- I think he was taking a popular expression that he thought amusing. If he had thought there was a serious pollution-related illness, I doubt he would have worked it into his story for children. There are certainly death-jokes in the Alice books, but they are fairly subtle rather than overt. And there are no jokes (IIRC) about crippling diseases.

Since Carroll's time, we have learned that the cause of hatters' shakes was most likely the mercury poisoning.

This seems to me to be what all the evidence indicates. The alternate expressions "mad as an adder" have some plausibility, but the sequence I've just outlined has a very high plausibilty, internal consistency, and is consistent with external evidence.

I'm a great admirer of Snopes, but I think they blew this one.
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Old 03-23-2001, 09:39 AM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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To clarify one thing first: They stopped using mercury to make hats in the U.S. in 1941, but they must still be using it elsewhere. Stetson must be getting their beaver felt from somewhere. From Leonard Goldwatter's article.

http://h%2ddevil%2dwww.mc.duke.edu/oem/hatters.htm
Quote:
On December 2, 1955 the New York Times ran a full-column story, with a dateline from Danbury, Connecticut and headlines: "600 Hatters Mark 1941 Nitrate Ban." The story notes that "The occasion was the 14th anniversary of the outlawing of the use of nitrate of mercury in the hat industry." This notable event had come to pass since "On December 1, 1941, the United States Public Health Service brought an end to mercury's use by hat manufacturers in 26 states through mutual agreements."
Quote:
originally posted by CK:
The missing link, it seems to me, is the question: when was it known that mercury poisoning caused the various symptoms described in DDG's post above?
Note: The following is from an anti-amalgam website, but I don't see any reason to quarrel with its historical facts.
http://www.garynull.com/Documents/me...algams.htm#1-9
Quote:
Tales of mercury's damaging effects date to ancient Roman and Spanish history, when imprisoned slaves who worked in mercury mines suffered from acute symptoms of fatigue, dyspnea and epigastric pain on their first day. As time passed, they developed other highly common symptoms of mercury poisoning. These included lesions of the nervous system such as erethismus mercurialis (moodiness and other mental disturbances) and tremor mercurialis (involuntary, choreatic shaking movements).
Interesting to note that even today, we still say someone has a "mercurial" temperament, to mean someone with mood swings.

Note: the following is from a "do it yourself" alchemy website.
http://www.triad-publishing.com/PON-safety.html
Quote:
The effects of mercury exposure have long been recognized as hazardous. In Austria, where cinnabar was mined extensively, miner exposure was recognized as a hazard and the number of days per month that miners could work in the mines was limited. This information was recorded as early as the mid 1600’s. The United States government recognized mercury and its compounds as an industrial hazard in the 1800’s. [note: in the late 1800s--see Goldwatter, below] A mercury compound was then used in making felt hats, and hat making was recognized to be a hazardous occupation [again, in the late 1800s]. The saying, "mad as a hatter" came into being because chronic exposure to mercury and its compounds leads to emotional instability.
And back to the amalgam website.
http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Me...alAmalgams.htm

Quote:
A more recent example of mercury's dangers comes from the British hatmaking industry of the late 19th century. At the time, the expression "mad as a hatter" characterized workers who used mercury compounds in the shaping of felt hats. The workers exhibited unusual shyness, mood swings and a dwindling intellect, all symptoms of severe mental retardation. But these dangers were recognized for three-quarters of a century before the use of mercury in the U.S. hatmaking industry was banned in 1941.8
From Goldwatter again.
Quote:
First among the major studies of mercury poisoning in the American felt-hat industry was that made by Dr. J. A. Freeman of New Jersey and reported in 1860. Freeman's findings were confirmed in a report published by the Board of Health of the State of New Jersey in 1878 (Dennis). In 1910, under the aegis of the Women's Welfare Department of the New York and New Jersey section of the National Civic Federation, Mrs. Lindon W. Bates, assisted by Miss Florence Roehm, undertook a survey of industrial mercury poisoning in the New York metropolitan area. The results were published in 1912 (Bates). Dozens of cases of severe mercurialism were found among hatters, a state of affairs which was confirmed by the New York City Department of Health in 1915 (Harris).

Additional reports on the health of hatters appeared during the 1920's, notably those of Alice Hamilton (1922a, 1922b), Wade Wright (1922) and the United States Public Health Service (Neal et al. 1937, 1941).
Figuring backward from 1941, three-quarters of a century puts it at 1866. So people may have known that mercury ore and elemental mercury were poisonous, and they may have known that hatters all behaved oddly, but it wasn't until the last quarter of the 19th century that folks finally put it all together and fingered mercuric nitrate as the specific culprit responsible for making hatters act crazy.

It's worthwhile to note that they started using mercury in dental fillings in the early part of the 19th century, so the image of "mercury" as "toxin" couldn't have been universally recognized, certainly not to the degree it is today.

http://www.garynull.com/Documents/Me...alAmalgams.htm
Quote:
Mercury got its start in the dental industry in 1826, when a Paris dentist combined it with silver, copper and other metals to create a paste. Seven years later, two brothers in New York City with no dental training began to promote mercury as a cheap alternative to gold fillings. By the end of the 1830s, mercury amalgam's use was commonplace in the U.S. Not only was the material cheap and durable, but it also required less time and skill to place than the trickier gold fillings.

When the American Dental Association formed in 1859, it...defended the use of mercury amalgam, helping to establish it as a popular dental filling by the end of the 1800s.
So you tell me. Was it all a giant conspiracy somewhere to keep those hatmakers making hats using mercuric nitrate?

Or was it just that they didn't realize that mercuric nitrate, as opposed to cinnabar ore or elemental mercury, was so toxic until the 1860s? After all, silver nitrate is a different kind of substance from silver ore and elemental silver. Maybe their chemistry wasn't advanced enough to realize mercuric nitrate could be toxic, too.

Or maybe they did know but they just brushed it aside as unimportant, until the big "social conscience" era of the late Victorian period. Maybe some people knew perfectly well that it was dangerous to use mercuric nitrate to make felt, but hey, it's a job, you know? It was dangerous to dig coal for a living--you got black lung. It was dangerous to make pottery--you got potter's silicosis. Tannery workers could get anthrax. I would say the vast majority of people simply ignored the whole problem of "mad hatters".

And I think the answer to CK's question would be, "Officially, not until the last quarter of the 19th century", which was well after the phrase "mad as a hatter" was in common usage.
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  #42  
Old 03-23-2001, 10:11 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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<< "Officially, not until the last quarter of the 19th century", which was well after the phrase "mad as a hatter" was in common usage. >>

... and after Lewis Carroll penned his famous character.
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  #43  
Old 03-23-2001, 10:51 AM
Manda JO Manda JO is online now
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Normally I try not to clutter up a thread with ass-kissing, but I have to chime in and say that you have all impressed the hell out of me here. (Not that impressing me, in particular, is signifigant, but I thought you might like to know that oyu do have an audience).
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Old 03-23-2001, 03:51 PM
Irishman Irishman is online now
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Another hazardous job that was ignored - seafaring. Seaman running large sailing vessels were at high risk. Climbing rigging 150 ft into the air without any safety gear, during storms and high winds, sliding down lines instead of climbing down, carrying water in kegs for months, so long it grows green things and teems with life. Eating stale biscuits stored so long they hatch weevils. And that's without considering the conditions of war, with cannon fire. (We all know war is hazardous.) Yet it was done, it was a career for some people, and in time of war there was a very strong draft that consisted of grabbing able bodied men off the street and sticking them on a boat against their will. (England in the Napoleonic era.) Who cares what drives hatters mad, they make hats, that's all that matters.

samclem said:
Quote:
I think the better claim is that the expression evolved from/or along with such expressions as *mad as a buck* , *mad as a marsh hare*, *mad as a wet hen*, *mad as maybutter*, etc., all of which were precursors, one as early as the 16th Century. I think the sheer number of similar expressions counts for something. It wasn't like the phrase mad as a ...... was just invented around the 1830's. It wasn't.
You're begging the question. So what if versions of that saying were in common parlance? So what if they took the common phrase and substituted a new antecedent. The question is why did they pick hatters? What made hatters a good choice to be "mad as a"? Look at the previous expressions. While I don't know what a maybutter is, much less why it's mad, the buck and wet hen and marsh hare are all explainable by looking at the behavior of the stated animal. So what about hatters is mad, that they would make a logical extension of the common saying? Being a variation on a common phrase does nothing to explain why that particular variation developed.

Johnny Angel, good response on the "adder" version.

"I'm mad as a wet hatter in march with a hare down my pants, and I'm not going to take it any more!"
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  #45  
Old 03-23-2001, 07:10 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Cites from the OED....

Since it was my day off, I went to the library. Read the OED. Curiouser and curiouser as they used to say.

I personally agree that the *adder* suggestions don't sit well and aren't correct.

OED cites: 1607, *mad as Ajax*
1732, *mad as Ajax*
1609, *mad as a weaver*

The interesting one, of course, is mad as a weaver. Here we have a profession used in an expression indicating perhaps craziness, but I am not familiar with literature indicating weavers were unusual. (Well, there was that Silas Marner thingy, but....).

So I offer this as evidence to bolster my statement
Quote:
I think the better claim is that the expression evolved from/or along with such expressions as *mad as a buck* , *mad as a marsh hare*, *mad as a wet hen*, *mad as maybutter*, etc., all of which were precursors, one as early as the 16th Century. I think the sheer number of similar expressions counts for something. It wasn't like the phrase mad as a ...... was just invented around the 1830's. It wasn't.
This, of course, doesn't mean that mercury compounds weren't used before the 1840's nor does it mean that hatters weren't acting funny before that time. It just removes statements such as
Quote:
But `mad as a hatter' is a fairly curious addition to that list. Why should a hatter in particularly be called `mad'? Did they also say, `mad as a baker'? `Mad as a blacksmith'? `Mad as a cooper'?
and
Quote:
I agree a little bit, but I think it's far more likely that people filled in the blank with things they thought were mad than just random things that would later appear mad entirely by coincidence.
from the argument.

I personally think the evidence shows that people stuck into the phrase Mad as a .... about anything they damn-well pleased. And, IMHO, they came up with the phrase *Mad as a Hatter* some goodly time before the 1830's.

About the only thing that will help solve this now is a cite in the literature indicating that mercury compounds were in use in the hat industry prior to the 1840's-50's or a cite indicating that hatters exhibited symptoms of mercury poisoning prior to the 1850's, whether in England or the US.
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Old 03-23-2001, 08:27 PM
waterj2 waterj2 is offline
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I personally think the evidence shows that people stuck into the phrase Mad as a .... about anything they damn-well pleased. And, IMHO, they came up with the phrase *Mad as a Hatter* some goodly time before the 1830's.
What evidence? Just because once a phrase was used 200 years earlier that you can't connect to any obvious madness? Don't tell me that you now won't let up until we examine the weaving industry of the early 17th century.

The only reason to suspect that hatters had coincidentally stopped using mercury for the period of time when the expression was coined was that Thackrah doesn't mention it. We have accepted that mercury was used earlier and later than the early 19th Century. It strikes me that the idea that hatters stopped using mercury, and then were coincidentally fingered as being mad for no real reason, and then started using mercury again should be eliminated by Occam's razor. The other explanation is obviously more satisfying, due to the lower number of inexplicable coincidences involved.
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Old 03-23-2001, 09:27 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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We have accepted that mercury was used earlier and later than the early 19th Century.
You have accepted that. I have seen no evidence that this is true.
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Old 03-23-2001, 09:49 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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I would ammend my statement above to say: I have seen nothing concrete to indicate that mercury was used in the hat industry earlier than the 19th Century.

Sorry. Not trying to be argumentative. Just hoping for facts.
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  #49  
Old 03-24-2001, 10:47 AM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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Quote:
I would ammend my statement above to say: I have seen nothing concrete to indicate that mercury was used in the hat industry earlier than the 19th Century.
Okay, my Final Answer is going to be that I think it's definitely documented as far back as the 17th century, but with some quibbles, mainly, that I don't agree with Alice Hamilton that it was an exclusively Huguenot secret process. I think she got her dates right as far as the documentation, but I think she bought the pretty story about fleeing Huguenots and secret processes (see below). I am assuming that she's using Weiss as her source.

"Secretage" on Google. The only places it appears are Goldwatter, and on a website quoting heavily from Goldwatter, and in the Webster's Dictionary from 1913. The only Google hit for "composition water Huguenot" is Goldwatter.

Leonard Goldwatter thinks Alice Hamilton is wrong. So I went looking for Alice Hamilton. Short answer--she was a very serious person.

http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/bi...amilton-a.html
Quote:
Alice Hamilton (1869-1970)
Alice Hamilton, the founder of occupational medicine, first woman professor at Harvard Medical School and the first woman to receive the Lasker Award in public health, was born in 1869 in New York, New York, U.S.A and raised in Indiana....In the typhoid fever epidemic in Chicago in 1902, she made a connection between improper sewage disposal and the role of flies in transmitting the disease and her findings led to reorganization of the Chicago Health Department.
[In 1910] She looked at the hazards posed by exposure to lead, arsenic, mercury, organic solvents, as well as radium, which was used in manufacture of watch dials.
So, parenthetically, it wasn't until 1902 that they figured out the typhoid/sewage/flies connection, and it wasn't until 1910 that they really started looking at mercury as an industrial hazard, and it wasn't until 1925 that she published her book.

Leonard Goldwatter, on Alice Hamilton.

http://occ-env-med.mc.duke.edu/oem/hatters.htm
Quote:
According to Hamilton, the process of treating the fur with mercury nitrate, the so-called secretage, "...has been traced back to the middle of the 17th century when it was a secret in the hands of a few French workmen, evidently Huguenots; for at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 when the Huguenots fled to England, they carried the secret with them, established the trade there, and for almost a century thereafter the French were dependent on England for their felt."
I disagree with this, that "France was dependent on England for their felt for 100 years", because I have two books on the history of hats right here, and neither of them mentions this. It would be hard to miss, a whole French industry dependent on John Bull for their raw materials for nearly a hundred years. As a matter of fact, both books mention how pleased the French hat industry was to start receiving beaver pelts from French Canada, because this meant that they were no longer dependent on beaver pelts from English traders in the New World.

Goldwatter disagrees with Hamilton because, he says,
Quote:
This statement is difficult to reconcile with that which appears in Diderot's encyclopaedia published in 1753, to the effect that in preparing fur for making hats "...the pelts are rubbed with an acid solution before the fur is removed...."
As already discussed, mercuric nitrate is formed by the combination of mercury and nitric acid, so it isn't totally incorrect to refer to it as an "acid". Although, as I was working on this, I realized that it's possible that what he's actually saying is, "The French were not dependent on England for their felt, because Diderot says they rubbed the pelts with acid." He's disagreeing with Alice that the mercury process was a secret known only to those Huguenots who fled to England, that beaver feltmaking disappeared from France when the Huguenots fled, and I would agree with him (see below).

And he also disagrees with Alice Hamilton because, he says,
Quote:
It is also at variance with an account of secretage given by Lee (1968) in which he states that the process was introduced into England from Frankfurt around 1870.
As already discussed, Lee could have been either referring to a slightly different felt-making process, or he could simply have been wrong. Like I said, Alice Hamilton doesn't sound like someone who would have her facts wrong on something as basic as a date--in 1925, when she wrote her book, she'd been working on the problem of industrial hazards for 25 years. If I had to choose between Lee and Hamilton, I'd pick Hamilton, especially because I have no idea who Lee is. To find out the cite for Lee for the Goldwatter article, you have to e-mail whoever posted the article, and I'm not that interested, frankly.

Goldwatter goes on to say,
Quote:
The latter [referring to Lee's saying that the secretage process wasn't introduced into England until 1870] is in consonance with Thackrah's failure to include mercury poisoning in his description of hazards in the British hat industry in the early part of the 19th century.
As already discussed, there are several good reasons why Thackrah might not have mentioned mercury poisoning in his book.
  • He might not have covered hatmakers and feltmakers, only milliners, who as already noted, would not have come into contact with mercuric nitrate.
  • He might not have noticed the peculiar behavior of hatters, it being something so obvious that it wasn't worth mentioning.
  • He might not have been aware that this peculiar behavior could have an organic cause.
  • He might not have been aware that mercuric nitrate was the culprit responsible for the peculiar behavior of hatters.
Goldwatter again.
Quote:
The complete story of the process of secretage has been difficult to ascertain, particularly for the period between the middle of the 18th and the middle of the 19th centuries. Some features are well documented while others are not. That the Huguenot hatters left France around 1685 is well established (Unwin 1904; Kellogg 1925; Cunningham 1897; Smiles 1868; Weiss 1854; Erman and Reclam 1782-94).
So it's clear that some Huguenot hatters left France around 1685, presumably taking their skills with them. However, hatmaking never was, and never has been, an exclusively Huguenot trade. Just because we're talking about a French Huguenot trade secret here, doesn't mean that other hatters in other places didn't also have the "secretage" information. And not all the Huguenots left France in 1685.

Goldwatter again.
Quote:
In commenting on this, Weiss [1854] says:

The manufacture of hats, indeed, was one of the finest branches of business with which the refugees endowed the English. In France, it had been almost entirely in the hands of 'the Reformed.'
Note the words "almost entirely" here. I infer that other feltmakers knew the "secret", too.
Weiss again.
Quote:
They, alone, possessed the secret of the composition water,
Weiss has not proved this. This is his personal unsupported assertion.
Quote:
...which serves for the preparation of the rabbit, hare, and beaver skins, and they alone furnished to trade the fine hats of Caudebec, so much sought after in England and Holland.
AFAIK, mercuric nitrate was only used on beaver fur, not on rabbit and hare. Also, Weiss seems to be implying that the "fine hats of Caudebec" were the only "fine hats" to be had. This is manifestly untrue. In a big booming era of capitalism, such as was taking place in the 17th and 18th centuries, there would have been many people with a market niche for "fine hats". And since the finest hats were made with beaver felt, and since beaver felt works better and looks nicer when processed with mercuric nitrate, I infer that all the other purveyors of fine hats were also using mercuric nitrate.

Weiss again.
Quote:
After the revocation, [the Revocation of Nantes, 1685] most of them retired to London, taking with them the secret of their art, which was lost to France for more than 40 years.
Again, note the words "most of them. I infer that some of them were left behind, in full possession of the "secret.
Weiss again.
Quote:
It was not until the middle of the 18th century, that a French hatter named Mathieu, after having worked long in London, stole the secret, which had been imported by the refugees, took it to his own country, generously communicated it to the hatters of Paris, and founded a large manufactory in the Suburb of Saint Antoine.
We have only Weiss' unsupported personal assertion that the secret had been imported by the refugees. This seems to imply there were no beaver feltmaking establishments in Paris before Mathieu got there, which I believe is not true.
Quote:
Before that fortunate theft, the French nobility and all those who prided themselves on the elegance of their dress, wore none but hats of English manufacture, and the cardinals of Rome, themselves, sent for their hats from the celebrated manufactory of Wandworth, which had been established by the refugees.
Just because certain French nobles preferred hats from a certain factory doesn't mean that fine beaver hats weren't available anywhere else. This makes for a pretty story, but I don't think it's true. The only Google hit for "Wandworth Huguenot" is Goldwatter's. If it did exist, it wasn't famous enough for anybody else to have it posted on the Web.

Leonard Goldwatter again.
Quote:
This account by Weiss, which is entirely credible, has often been quoted and, no doubt, the quoters have in turn been quoted, as evidence by the variations which have appeared.
Just because something has been widely quoted by others doesn't mean it's true. I'm beginning to wonder if Goldwatter (and Hamilton) had ever heard of "urban legends", and the concept of the "factoid". It's axiomatic, here at the Straight Dope, that just because something is widely quoted by others doesn't make it true.
Quote:
What is not clear is the fate of felt making in England after M. Mathieu absconded with the "secret."
Goldwatter seems to be implying that beaver feltmaking in England went to hell in a handbasket after Mathieu took the "secret" back to France. In order for this to be true, Mathieu would have had to have been the only living person in England who knew the "secret". I seriously doubt whether this could possibly be true. Feltmaking and hatmaking, as already discussed, were huge industries. What--only one man, all up and down the length and breadth of England, knows the secret of the "composition water", and when he goes back to France, the secret goes with him? I don't think so.
Quote:
Thackrah's failure to note the occurrence of mercury poisoning in the early 1800's in England adds support to the assertion that mercury carroting was introduced, or rather, re-introduced after 1830.
No, sorry, Leonard, it "doesn't add support to the assertion." We've already discussed several times why Thackrah might not have mentioned mercury poisoning in his report.

You know, I've got two books on the history of hats from the library here on my lap. One is The Mode in Hats and Headdress, by R. Turner Wilcox, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959. The other one is Hats: Status, Style and Glamour, by Colin McDowell, Rizzoli, New York, 1992. Neither one of these books mentions an exclusive Huguenot/hatmaking connection. The McDowell book has an entire chapter on hatmaking, feltmaking, beaver, mercury, etc. and it doesn't mention anything at all about a "Huguenot trade secret". He does, however, have this to say:
Quote:
... But when the process first began in Europe, in the late Middle Ages, the fur normally used was beaver, and the best quality hats were always made from beaver hair. In fact, in the past, felt hats were known as "beavers". Beaver hats were prestigious objects, costly and precious--and worn only by the rich. By the end of the fourteenth century, they were being widely manufactured in the Low Countries: there were hatter communities in Louvain, Liege, Bruges, Brussels and Ghent. From there the trade spread to Spain, where felt hatmakers began to settle in towns evacuated by the Moors. Beavers were produced in Alicante, Seville, Cadiz and Malaga. Felt hat manufacturing reached London by the end of the fifteenth century and appeared in North American almost a century later.
As already discussed, we know that they had access to mercuric nitrate in the fourteenth century, and we know beaver felts better with mercuric nitrate. So why is it such a stretch to believe that back in the fourteenth century, somebody experimented with mercuric nitrate on beaver felt and a whole new process was born?

And I think I see where Weiss might have gotten the idea that beaver feltmaking was a Huguenot trade. Holland in the 16th century was a hotbed of the Reform movement, but just because a lot of "Reformed" people lived there, and just because there were a lot of hatmakers there--
Quote:
http://www.thehatsite.com/felt.html
Beaver felt hats date back as far as the 14th Century with the majority of production being based in Holland and Spain.
--and just because a certain percentage of them were "Reformed", doesn't make hatmaking a "Reformed" trade. It's worthwhile to note that the Low Countries belonged to Spain until 1713, when they were handed over to Austria.

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107329.html
Quote:
. In the 16th century, Belgium, with most of the area of the low countries, passed to the duchy of Burgundy and was inherited by Charles V, who incorporated it into his Holy Roman Empire. Then, in 1555, the low countries were united with Spain. By the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the country's sovereignty passed to Austria.
And actually, Huguenots started leaving France much earlier than the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

http://www.ukans.edu/heritage/cousin/huguenot.html
Quote:
The mass exodus of Huguenot immigrants from France to Geneva, Amsterdam, London, and other places started in 1572 after the "St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre" on 24 August.
http://www.home.aone.net.au/mclark/huguenot_history.htm
Quote:
Huguenots were prohibited from joining some trades and professions, and excluded from public office...severe restrictions were put on Huguenots practicing medicine and law...
Isn't it reasonable to suppose that being barred from the safer trades, they took up the more dangerous ones, like hatmaking? But hatmaking would have been taking place for nearly 200 years before the Huguenots got involved. It's a bit of a stretch to assume that they would have walked in, cold, and suddenly pioneered a technique for making better beaver felt by using "composition water", or mercuric nitrate. Much simpler to believe that they just copied what other hatters were doing.

http://www.ls.net/~newriver/va/manakin.htm
Quote:
Refuge in Great Britain was sought by the Huguenots early in the sixteenth century, and in the latter decades of that cycle, emigration thither steadily increasing, had contributed immensely to the constituent population and useful citizenry of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, comprising all ranks, from the peasant to the noble-artisans, cloth-makers, lace-makers, silk-weavers, glass-makers, printers and manufacturers.
http://www.orange-street-church.org/...-rearguard.htm
Quote:
As a result, the refugees who arrived here brought little material wealth, having escaped with just what they were able to carry away. But they brought their skills and crafts and these were invaluable, both to themselves and to the country of their adoption.

Previously, wool had been produced in Britain and sent over to the Continent to be dyed and woven into cloth. Attempts had previously been made to persuade dyers and weavers to settle here and a few had already done so. Now these people came over in large numbers and set up their trades. In 1561 a large number of Flemings landed near Deal and also near Sandwich and were given assistance. Others landed at Harwich, Yarmouth, Dover and other places. Many moved on to London, Norwich, Maidstone, Canterbury and other centres.

The immigration from various parts of France and Flanders continued for many years. Cloth-makers came from Antwerp and Bruges, lace-makers from Cambray, glass-makers from Paris, stuff-weavers from Meaux, shipwrights from Dieppe and Havre. Steel-makers from the neighbourhood of Liege started the manufacture of steel at Newcastle and Sheffield. Potters from Delft instituted pottery. Many merchants set up business in the City of London and prospered. It will be of interest to British Israelites to learn that Flemish weavers settled at Glastonbury in 1549.
So they did other things besides hatmaking. And just about all these trades have some degree of industrial hazard. Goldwatter, and Weiss, make it sound like hatmaking in England for that time period was an exclusively Huguenot province, and it wasn't. Huguenots did other things, and other people besides Huguenots made hats and felt.
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  #50  
Old 03-24-2001, 04:12 PM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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I had to go to the library anyway.

From The Huguenots: Fighters for God and Human Freedom by Otto Zoff, translated by E. B. Ashton and Jo Mayo, Kingsport Press, 1942.
Speaking of French Protestants (Huguenots):

Quote:
Protestants founded the great merchant firms of La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Dieppe, Nantes, Calais, and Rouen. They established the big textile mill in Abbeville, the biggest in France, employing 1200 workers, and the smaller ones in Reims, Rethel, Mezieres, and Caudebec. They developed the silk industry of Lyon, the paper factories of Auvergne, the tanneries of Touraine, the iron foundries of Sedan, the weaving mills of Gevaudan, the lace-making plants of Paris.
Of Huguenot refugees in the late 17th century:
Quote:
In Germany, the refugees found permanent homes chiefly in the Protestant principalities along the Rhine and in the Mark of Brandenburg, the nucleus of future Prussia...The Huguenots who stayed in Germany--their number has been estimated at some 30,000--created the entire German textile industry, besides developing the manufacture of ceramics and paper, and the printing trade.
Quote:
To England came a much larger number than to Germany--about 60,000 of whom more than one-third remained in London.

<snip>

Now, under William [of Orange, who became king of England in 1688], the French immigrants at last were allowed to show what they could do. Their methods of producing silk, linen, batiste, carpets, and paper were so highly perfected and so astoundingly modern that it became a sought-after distinction for English boys to be taken into their shops as apprentices.
Quote:
The largest number of refugees came to the Netherlands--about 100,000 all told...Here, again, paper and hat manufacturing, printing, and the ceramic industry were the principal beneficiaries of the Huguenots' arrival.
Of late 17th century Huguenot refugees in America:
Quote:
When they did not succeed in raising grain crops, the English colonists gave them credit so that they might try their hands at more accustomed pursuits, such as viniculture, tailoring, shoemaking, or the silk industry.
Quote:
But whatever pursuits they followed, these noblemen, bankers, tanners, hatmakers, physicians, printers, vintners, factory laborers, weavers, and musicians, they never abandoned the first principles of their ancestors: to let their faith, and their generous philosophy with its libertarian and egalitarian ideas, guide their daily lives..
Textiles in general get the biggest mention from Zoff, and special note is made of the big textile factories. Silk is specifically mentioned 3 times, weaving twice, lacemaking once, linen and batiste both mentioned once.

Papermaking is mentioned four times.
Printing is mentioned three times.
Ceramics is mentioned twice.
Banking (merchants) is mentioned twice.
Vintners are mentioned twice.
Tanners are mentioned twice.

Then there's "other": Iron foundries, tailoring, shoemaking, making carpets, physicians, factory workers, musicians. I'm not sure how to interpret the reference to "noblemen".

Hatmaking is mentioned twice, the same as tanners, vintners, ceramics, and banking. Feltmaking is not mentioned at all. I am going to infer from this that the Huguenots were not particularly famous for making either felt or hats, and certainly that they didn't have a lock on the market for fine beaver hats, utilizing a "secret process" that made their hats come out so much nicer than anyone else's.

Zoff also mentions, almost in passing, that the Huguenots brought to their adopted countries "not alone experience but trade secrets heretofore jealously guarded for France."

A Google search under "trade secrets Huguenots" turns up a website for women watchmakers of the 17th century that refers to an article by a Mr. Baines from 1960, which quotes George Trevelyan.

http://members.aol.com/donnl/filles.html
Quote:
the article by Mr. C. C. Baines finally came to hand. The rest of this story is based primarily on his article in the March, 1960, issue of Antiquarian Horology , and bits and pieces gathered from further research. Quoted material is from Mr. Bainesą article.
Quote:
The English historian George Trevelyan wrote [on the subject of Huguenot refugees in England]: łThe sum of human misery thus wantonly brought about is horrible to contemplate. In the course of years some hundreds of thousands succeeded in escaping, mostly into EnglandŠ A large proportion were artisans and high-class merchants who brought to the lands of their adoption trade secrets and new production methods.˛
There is no key given to the footnotes, so I have no idea where Trevelyan said this. Google doesn't bring it up.

However, as the White Oak site points out, "trade secrets" may have just applied to different methods of blocking the felt into shape. It seems clear from their website, at least, that treating the beaver fur with mercuric nitrate took place as standard operating procedure.

http://www.whiteoak.org/learning/furhat.htm
Quote:
Step 3: Shaping and Finishing
It seems that there were different steps used by different Hatters at this point. The differences may have been part of "trade secrets" or simply differences in the way individual Hatters liked to finish their work. There are some basic techniques they probably all used.
So. This whole thing, of relying exclusively on one authority for a particular fact--Goldwatter for one thing, Hamilton for another, Weiss for still another--is starting to give me the Straight Dope Fight Against Ignorance Willies. Normally, if I can't find it posted in at least 2 places on the Web, I ignore it. It's "unproven". But this...

My family thinks I've flipped.
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