Topic: A Lethal Weapon

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Protesting her innocence Minnie Dean was executed on August 12, 1895 for murdering a baby in her care. Folklore soon sprang up that her victims numbered well over 20, and an often repeated tale was of babies concealed in hat boxes and the use of a hat pin as a murder weapon.

Hat pins were regarded at that time as secret weapons used by women for both defence and confrontation. America introduced laws to limit the size of hat pins amidst fears that Suffragettes would violently use them to further their cause.  In October 1896 a strange story appeared in The Bay of Plenty Times of a cow killed by a woman’s hat pin to the heart.

While pins can be traced back to the 1400s their rise as a fashion necessity emerged in the late 1800s as the size of women’s hats grew. In the Victorian and Edwardian eras wearing enormous and elaborate hats required them to be securely fastened to a lady’s head to avoid public embarrassment. Three to six hatpins were usually needed to keep them steady.

The pins themselves were not only functional but highly decorative. Often made of silver they featured shell, ivory or ceramic ornamentation. Pearls, gems and precious stones were also popular. Famous makers such as Charles Horner were highly desirable. Less expensive pins were made of nickel or steel and had bone or Bakelite decoration. The Tauranga Heritage Collection has over 50 hat pins including several attributed to the Horner factory.

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