The Policeman’s Legal Digest / A Walk Through the Penal Laws of New York (1934)

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7 Responses

  1. Steven Lubet says:

    How would one go about manufacturing a “second-hand hat”?

  2. Matt says:

    I was going to rent an apartment in New York and loan it out to an assemblage of anarchists who wanted to put on some unpublished operas, but now I know better.

    But what I really want to know is, what would it meant to “manufacture second hand hats”? I can see what it would mean to _sell_ second-hand hats, but I would have thought that if you’d just manufactured the thing, it would be a first-hand hat. Did “manufacture” have some special older meaning then?

  3. Matt says:

    Ah- I hadn’t read the comments before. I see I’m not the only one with this question. Kyle- you must solve this mystery for us, preferably before I go to bed so that I don’t spend all night thinking of it and being unable to sleep.

  4. Kyle says:

    Matt and Steven:

    It appears that in 1933, the New York legislature passed a law that added section 438-A to the Penal Law, which provided in relevant part:

    Manufacture and sale of used or second-hand hats.

    1. Any person who shall manufacture, sell, trade or offer for sale any used or second-hand hat shall affix or cause to be affixed conspicuously and securely in such a manner that it cannot be easily detached by any person, a label upon which shall be printed in the English language the name and address of the manufacturer and the words “used hat” or “second-hand hat.”

    2. Any manufacturer, retail dealer or other person who shall make, offer for sale, trade or sell any such hat shall cause a sign of such size that it may be legible from a distance of at least thirty feet reading “used hats” or “second-hand hats” to be placed in a conspicuous place at the location where such hats are manufactured, sold, traded or offered for sale.

    3. Any person, firm, corporation or association, or its officers or agents who or which shall violate any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.


    This offense was moved over to the General Business Code in 1965, and was repealed in 1996. So it’s now safe to sell second-hand hats without conspicuous signage. Connecticut had a similar law on the books for a while, which kind of makes more sense (given Danbury’s interest in promoting sales of new hats), but that law also has been repealed.

    Helpfully, the New York Times ran a brief story on what I’ll call the Hat Act upon its enactment. The story recites a sponsor’s assertion that one out of every seven hats being sold in New York City was an old hat made to look like new. According to the sponsor, the hats were being purchased for 5 to 10 cents each, then boiled in ammonia to give them that just-boiled-in-ammonia shine.

    Diving a bit deeper, it looks like concerns about bad hattery weren’t the exclusive province of state legislatures back in the day. I came across two other New York Times stories regarding the scandalous second-hand hat trade. Both stories (one from 1933, another from 194) describe FTC orders that directed specific hat companies to stop labeling their old, used, and second-hand hats as new.

    If you’re intrigued — and why wouldn’t you be? — there’s a lengthy description of the first of these orders in “Cites Renovators of Old Hats Here,” The New York Times, July 24, 1933, at 9.

  5. Matt says:

    Thanks, Kyle. It seems, then, that “manufacture” here meant something like “refurbish”. I wonder if you could have called them “certified pre-owned hats” and got away with it. Now, though, I might well try boiling some of my old hats in ammonia, if I can get enough ammonia and get the windows opened wide enough before my wife comes back into town…

  6. mls says:

    The descendants of those diabolical second-hand hatters are probably now on the streets of New York selling illegally large sodas.

  7. Steven Lubet says:

    And all along, I assumed that a second hand hat had something to do with a very accurate watch.