Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Love Affair with Frank Palma - UPDATED (June 2013)!

I have always adored vintage hats - even before I really knew much about them or what my style was.  There was this amazing vintage clothing store in Salt Lake City called "Decades" (with the fattest, friendliest cat that looked like a walking foot stool!) that my husband and I used to go into all of the time - I actually bought my wedding dress there!  I remember that in the back of the store there was a trunk FULL of vintage hats in the ~$10 range, and every time we'd go I would buy a couple of them.  They were mostly cocktail hats from the 1950s, but there were a few felt tilts from the 1940s, and so on.  Here is one of the hats purchased from that store: a silly pink satin chapeau with lots of flowers (again, this was before I had any sense of style with regard to vintage hats)!  I eventually sold this hat to a local antique buyer here in Oregon.


When we moved (back) to Oregon in 2007, I decided that it was high time to "bring the hat back!" by leading through example.  I started out with ridiculously-awesome vintage feathered hats, and eventually realized that it wasn't so much the feathers I adored as the fake bird decorations.  There was just something so comical about having a little mock birdie peeking out from your hat!  


Enter Frankie...

I had never even heard of Frank Palma when I found my first one in August 2011 - a gorgeous example of the late 1930s/early 1940s tilt style.  It was actually miscategorized as a "Victorian era" hat on Ebay.  I adored the open stovepipe spout of the crown, and the tan birdie peeking over the brim!  I purchased it for $75, and when it arrived I fell head over heels in love with it!  Worth every penny, and still my favorite hat out of all of my Frank Palmas!

My next Frank Palma arrived in quick succession: while browsing Etsy, I saw a GORGEOUS black felt sequined tilt hat, with felt sparrows decorating the crown and sides.  It reminded me of the hat worn by Rosalind Russell in "The Women."  The hat was purchased from an estate sale near Tacoma, WA, and was currently on sale for $28.  I snatched this hat up too, and was now beginning to realize that Frank Palma was a milliner I could get on board with!

I went quite a long time after that without finding any other Frank Palmas for sale (in my price range anyway!).  He is an elusive milliner - I have been unable to find out any concrete information on him.  What I know is based off of my own observances: For starters, the man loved working with the bird motif.  Most of his hats incorporate some version of a bird.  It's actually more unique to find his hats without any bird decorations (or at the very least, without some sort of feathers!).  Frank Palma worked from at least the late 1930s - 1950s.  His earlier label is "Frank Palma Originals." All examples of the hats (that I have found) under this label have been of the toy tilt variety that was so popular at the end of the 1930s to early 1940s.

Later, in about the 1950s, he designed under label, "Star Lady," but these hats, in my opinion, do not reflect the same level of craftsmanship as the earlier labels.

The "couture" (or at least higher-end) Frank Palma hats are the "Art Berns Hats by Frank Palma," which are basically the Holy Grail of Frankie hats.  If I had to put a date on these, I would say that Frank Palma probably worked under this label in the mid- to late-1940s.  Again, this is a generic guess based on the few examples of the label that I have actually seen.  Hats of this label are incredibly hard to come by, but I am blessed to own two of them.

Every year, for my May birthday, I splurge on one amazing vintage hat.  This year, the Hat Goddess was saving something extra special for me - TWO spectacular Frank Palma hats in the space of a week came up for sale (technically three, but the third flew out of my price range at the time...I cried myself to sleep over the loss of that one (and whomever won that hat - I hope you are cherishing it as much as I would have - otherwise, you will be forever in my bad graces!!)!  You can view it HERE.).  The first, a "Frank Palma Originals" label, was another open crown (Frank Palma seemed to love working with these) felt tilt covered with black ostrich feathers, with two faux birds peeking out, and a long curled ostrich feather on the side.  This I purchased for $80, which seems to be the lower end of the going rate for this label.

The second - and my jaw dropped when I saw this hat - was an absolutely breathtaking "Art Bern Hats by Frank Palma" white-feathered uniquely-styled tilt hat with Frank's classic double-bird motif (he used this on the high-end Art Bern hats).  $100+shipping and it was MINE!  I have never been so thrilled!!  This hat is an EXACT replica (albeit different coloring) of one that sold off of for ~$875.  Personally, I like mine better...


 Now, what could be better than an "Art Bern Hats by Frank Palma" museum piece?  Oh, how about finding an ADVERTISEMENT OF YOUR EXACT HAT in a 1946 issue of Vogue magazine!!!!!

The ad came up for auction shortly after I purchased my birthday hats - it was as though the Hat Goddess was throwing in a bonus for me!  (THANK YOU!!)  The even more awesome part is that this advertisement also helps date this hat to the mid-1940s!

I figured my good luck was over for another year, until lo and behold, in a little antiques store in Arkansas, I found another...(thank God for Google!)...

(Photo courtesy of the FABULOUS people at Vern's Junk & Disorderly)


Probably, hands down, one of the most awesome-to-the-extreme Frank Palmas - Hell, BIRD HATS! - I have ever seen!  This hat is a bit more of challenge to date, but my guess on time period would be mid- to late-1940's (as in 1946-1948).  Apparently, I was the first customer for this store, and they hadn't even had a chance to get a PayPal account set up before I swooped in and started bugging them about the hat (Like I said: the nicest, most patient sellers in the world!).  After about two weeks getting PayPal set up, figuring out shipping, and actually getting the hat shipped out via UPS, I thought I was finally going to get my July reward (I should preface all of this with the fact that the hat - at $250, the most expensive hat I have ever purchased! - was a reward to myself for all of the hard work with our B&B this month.  I worked a 21-day stretch with only two real days of rest during the entire time, often pulling 18 or 19 hour days!)!!  Until, that is, I checked the tracking on July 20th, and read the lovely update of "Train Derailment."  For anyone who had UPS packages going through that portion of Montana, you can relate to what a cluster that fiasco was.  UPS really needs to work on their communication skills, because it had SO many customers needlessly in an uproar!  Most of the packages (mine included) were on trains that ended up being delayed because of the wreck blocking the tracks, NOT (as most of us initially supposed) because our package was part of the wreck.  The problem was, the only information to be found about the train wreck was a tiny two paragraph or so blurb about it, buried deep in the internet.  In the beginning, I thought that my package was on the train that wrecked, and I admit the thought of this lovely hat ruined made me cry as though my heart was broken!  When I finally realized that my hat had escaped unharmed, and was merely delayed, I then realized I had a new problem - the extreme summer temperatures!  We were having a terrible heat wave, and high heat wreaks havoc on those old millinery glues.  Time hadn't been kind to the hat already, but when I received it, I could see already that the glue had disintegrated and I had some repair work to do.  The seller had warned me about this in advance, and most of the feathered hats this old generally require SOME work.  So, when I first opened my package, I spent a good 15 minutes carefully regluing feathers on.  The good news is that the felt base was in excellent condition, and the feathers are all there, just loose in spots.  My husband picked me out an amazing 1940s one-piece dress with peplum train at a local antiques store to wear with my lovely chapeau, and here is the end result!:


Killer combo, if I do say so myself!  ;)

UPDATE as of 12/4/12: And the hat collection continues to grow!...I picked up an exact replica (in grey) of the ostrich feather Frank Palma Original tilt hat on Ebay.  Had to reglue feathers onto the faux birdies, but it's still in fabulous condition!

Also scored my third AMAZING Art Bern Hats by Frank Palma tilt with the classic double faux birds on it.  Love the over-the-top rooster tail feathers cascading down the side.

March 2013 Update:

Quite a while back, as I was trolling the internet for hats, I came across an old Ebay listing for a Frank Palma hat (with original hat box!) that had sold a mere month before I purchased my first FP hat!  Talk about breaking my heart - this amazing faux bird tilt hat sold with only 3 bids for a grand total of $28+shipping.  I can't believe I missed this!!  I bookmarked the page, and occasionally went back to the link so I could drool over the picture.

There are two interesting points about this hat: 

(1) It is unique in that it reflects something I've never seen before: a "Frank Palma Original" on a white feathered, gilded double faux bird hat.  The only other examples I have seen of this style of FP faux bird hats have always been under the higher-end "Art Bern Hats by Frank Palma" label.  Based on my experience, the "Frank Palma Original" label is earlier than the "Art Bern" label.  So, to me this demonstrates the interesting idea that perhaps Frank Palma began designing these higher end double faux bird hats under his own label first, and then was picked up by Art Bern to continue the design under the more "couture" label later...

(2) The original selling price of this hat reflects the trend of how sometimes being an open source of pictures and information can come back to bite you in the wallet!  When I first began collecting Frank Palma hats, I paid anywhere from $28-$75 for them.  After my first few hats, I began blogging heavily about them, sharing pictures on vintage hat enthusiast forums, and trying to share what limited knowledge I had on this milliner.  Suddenly, the prices began climbing, and some of the hats began slipping through my hands because competition grew fierce and prices even fiercer.   From July 2011, general Frank Palma prices went from under $100 to on average $250 in 2012 to $361 in 2013.  While I am thrilled to share my love of this milliner with others, and provide a base of knowledge for those researching him, I have to say another part of me is a tad annoyed at how it's made it actually more difficult for me to continue collecting the hats.  Ah well...

 When this particular hat came up for auction a 2nd time, I stumbled upon it through mere chance, and my gasp of shocked delight was loud enough to bring my husband over to investigate!  I knew this hat was meant to be mine!  But I also knew it was going to cost me dearly...

I did end up winning it (ironic side note: the seller actually used my blog/webpages as a source of information for the listing's description of the hat!), and the hat came with the original hat box as well!  Unfortunately, this hat is in the worst shape of any of my Frank Palmas.  It's in the worst shape of pretty much all of my other faux bird hats, to be exact.  It was obviously well-loved and very improperly stored in high temperatures.  The hat is incredibly soiled on the inside, and will need a gentle cleaning.  The glue has yellowed all over (and therefore yellowed the feathers), and ALL feathers on the hat body were loose.  Due to the high-temp storage, touching the feathers caused them to begin to disintegrate.  I do believe that I will eventually end up having to remove them all and replace them at some point, which absolutely breaks my heart.  The only positive is that, for whatever reason, the birds and feathers covering the birds are all in excellent condition (now explain that to me?!).  All that being said, I feel that I have the ability to restore this hat to its former glory.  I have logged hours and hours of experience repairing/restoring vintage faux bird hats, so I feel pretty confident at this point that I can do a good job.  This hat demands nothing less than perfection in restoration!

Long story short: in spite of it's many flaws & ridiculously high price, this hat is absolutely amazing!  It is stunning in an over-the-top manner I had yet to see achieved by a "Frank Palma Original" label.  I love it, and I do not regret for a moment purchasing it!  It was meant to be mine.  I was given a 2nd chance...

May 2013 Update:

And my amazing birthday luck strikes again!  I thought that the ridiculously over-priced tilt hat was going to be the only Frank Palma hat I would get this year (*sniffle*)...but lo and behold, ON my actual birth date, there was a birdie hat that was meant to be my birthday present!

(Are you ready?!)

It's an EXACT replica of the hat that sold off of for roughly $800!  I paid $80...teehee!  (That may very well have been the first time, since I started collecting, that I managed to score a Frank Palma hat for under $100!)

Later this year, I found an amazing 1940s black felt and sequined bandeau-style Frank Palma Originals hat with faux bird and feathers!  Very unique and lovely!


So that about sums up MY portion of the Frank Palma love affair!  There are currently about three hats out there (non-bird hats, FYI) for sale with the "Frank Palma Originals" label.  There is also an "Art Bern Hats by Frank Palma" available for $875 on  

Further examples of privately-owned Frank Palma bird hats can be found below:

You can see another privately-owned black felt & sequined Frank Palma tilt (as well as a few of my own Frank Palma's!) here at the Hatatorium

I invite anyone with any additional information on the milliner Frank Palma to please contact me through the blog!  Also please note that I do love to purchase Frank Palma hats, so contact me through the blog if you have one you would like to sell!


Janey said...

Goodness!! This is all so fascinating! You certainly have a glorious collection and I would love to be keeping my eye out for other creations for you if I stumble across them. Being a fellow Oregonian and all! We gotta stick together! ;)

Thanks for including me and I am terribly sorry about the delay!


Anonymous said...

I can't believe I found this. I am Frank Palma's niece. He is my mothers oldest brother. The family is originally from Brooklyn. The "shop", which the whole family worked in was in Manhattan. I would love to have one of these hats. Hope to hear from someone.

Apothecary Inn said...

Thank you so much for contacting me! I am very much looking forward to learning more about my favorite milliner! I responded to you using the email address provided above. Please let me know if you received it.

Thank you in advance!


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for all the FP info--am trying to get bio info on him as part of a fashion show description. Have a lovely black felt/sequin/feather fascinator that I am trying to date--from your info I am guessing late 30's early 40's -thanks again Linda at NowandZen

Apothecary Inn said...

Glad that my blog post has been helpful, Linda at NowandZen! Please contact me if you should ever decide to sell your Frank Palma hat.

Pamela Hill Lappin said...

Amazing collection. Your depth of knowledge about Palma is very inspiring.