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Cap

Cap

  • Place of origin:

    London, England (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1500-1550 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Knitted wool, felted

  • Museum number:

    1570-1901

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 62, case 8

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This closely knitted woollen cap or coif would have been very warm and waterproof, protecting both the neck and ears with flaps. It may have been worn by a mature man, as shown in the drawings of the artist Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543).

A large number of 16th-century knitted caps, most of highly fashionable shape, have been discovered in Greater London in building sites. The location of the finds, allied to the fact that the caps are knitted, suggests that they were not intended for the upper strata of society, but rather for the middle classes.

This was found with eleven other caps in an old building in Worship street, London. All twelve caps were acquired by the museum in 1901.

Physical description

Closely knitted cap or coif in black wool. It is deep at the back, the crown is flat and there is a lappet at each side connected by a tape for passing under the chin.

Place of Origin

London, England (possibly, made)

Date

1500-1550 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Knitted wool, felted

Dimensions

Diameter: 26.88 cm, Height: 16.5 cm

Object history note

This cap was part of lot 89 of the sale at Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge on 19 November 1901 of the collection of the late Mr James Smith of Whitechapel (relevant papers RP/1901/36361, plus catalogue, can be found on the Sotheby's Nominal file MA/1/S2595/1).

Historical significance: In England the manufacture of caps was of sufficient importance to merit control by Act of Parliament from 1488 onwards. The 'Cappers Act' of 1571 stated that every person above the age of six years (excepting 'Maids, ladies, gentlewomen, noble personages, and every Lord, knight and gentleman of twenty marks land') residing in any of the cities, towns, villages or hamlets of England, shall wear on Sundays and holidays (except when travelling), 'a cap of wool, thicked and dressed in England, made within this realm, and only dressed and finished by some of the trade of cappers, upon pain to forfeit for every day of not wearing 3s. 4d.'. This act was intended to keep domestic production alive, as caps were outmoded by this date and there was a danger that a fall in demand for them would have a detrimental effect on the makers. (From Statutes at Large, vol vi, p 288, quoted in Textile History, vol 1, 1971; article by S M Levey: Illustrations of the History of Knitting Selected from the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum).

Historical context note

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543) depicts similar caps or coifs in drawings of the 1530s, worn in particular by older men. They may not therefore have been high fashion.

Knitted or felted caps were designed to be warm and waterproof, some protected the neck, some had ear flaps and many were trimmed with ribbons to imitate expensive silk versions. Wealthy Londoners wore fashionable European bonnets / caps of silk velvet decorated with ostrich feathers, aglets and brooches.

The heavy felting of the knitted caps gave them a similar texture to velvet. Wool takes colour easily so these caps were often dyed in strong colours such as red and black which were fashionable at the time. A large number of 16th-century knitted caps, most of highly fashionable shape, have been discovered in Greater London in the early 20th century during building works. The location of the finds, allied with the fact that they are knitted, suggests that they were not intended for the upper strata of society, but rather for the middle classes.

Descriptive line

Closely knitted black woollen coif with neck and ear flaps, London, early 16th century.

Production Note

Found in an old house in Worship Street, London.

Materials

Wool

Techniques

Knitting; Felting

Categories

Archaeology; Clothing; Fashion; Accessories; Hats & headwear

Collection code

T&F

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Qr_O124661
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