Go to any hat shop or westernwear store and look around. You’re bound to come across a bevy of hats with different “X” ratings. XXX quality. 10X beaver. But what does it all mean?
I sell a lot of vintage hats and a question I get all the time is, “What would you estimate the X value of the felt as?” It’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.
X value depends on age
Over the years, there has been significant “X Value Inflation”. An example: In the 1930s, Stetson’s top of the line X value was a 5X. 5X got you an undyed pure beaver hat of the highest order- the kind of hat given as presentation pieces, and selling, when new, for about eight times (or more) what a standard fur felt Stetson would have run. These days, Stetson’s comparable offering would probably be the 100X El presidente, which retails in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars. It’s not that the hat is 20 times better quality than their old top of the line, it’s purely inflation.
And if you compare apples to apples- the same manufacturer with the same X rating, but from different years, you may be in for a shock. I have had 7X Stetsons from the 1950s which have beautifully dense and soft to the touch felt, and 7X stetsons from the 1970s which are rough and porous.
X value depends on maker
The X rating system is not consistent maker to maker. A vintage XXX Stetson is not the same quality as a vintage XXX Resistol is not the same quality as a vintage XXX Portis. Some makers used Xs, others used Stars, but the idea is the same. For a given year and a given maker, the system can be useful. A new 10X is a better and more expensive hat than a new 3X from the same maker. But with no real industry oversight, no “Felt Hat FDA” to answer to, there’s nothing to prevent a company from putting forward a hat of inferior quality and marking it 3X to go up against 3Xs of other companies. To defend against this “X Undercutting”, other companies have to raise their X values to reflect what other companies are making, and next thing you know, you get sometimes extreme, and uneven inflation.
Another high priced example: Stetson’s thousand dollar offering is a 100X. Larry Mahan’s thousand dollar offering is a 500X. Is the Larry Mahan a better hat? Maybe, maybe not. Is it 5 times the quality of the Stetson, and therefore are you getting some kind of amazing deal on it? No.
X value depends on product lineup
Stetson makes hats marked 2X all the way up through 1000X. What does Stetson have to say about what their X’s mean? Not much at all. The X value really depends on what a particular company decides to mark the bottom and top qualities as, and then how they decide to break that down.
X value depends on marketing
2X beaver quality? That sounds okay, right? Must have some good beaver content in it. Well- no.
2X beaver can be a completely wool hat depending on the company and year. No beaver content, no fur felt in it at all.
X value is different straw vs. felt
You can buy a 10,000X Straw cowboy hat new for under $200. Not that it really means a whole lot in felt, but as both felt and straw hats use an X rating system, it would seem that it’s the same system. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s a different system, equally arbitrary, and equally meaningless outside of individual product lines.
The X system can be useful in some ways, though. If you’re buying new from a particular maker, you can use it to compare models. Similarly, if you know how to accurately date vintage hats, you can use it somewhat similarly. But generally speaking, when buying vintage hats, it’s more of a distraction than an asset when talking quality, especially for beginner collectors, people who buy primarily modern production hats, or people with a background in western hats.