Next, I discovered that the hat band and cover could be removed, which I proceeded to do. Now that everything was disassembled, I could assess the damage.
In many cases, the crown cover cannot be removed, in which case I have had good success using a foaming rug shampoo to clean both wool and cotton. When I get really desperate, I contact my local dry cleaner, who has occasionally worked miracles.
Some caps with white leather or vinyl tops such as many European traffic police caps, can be recolored using white shoe dye if they can't be cleaned with ordinary soap and water. White cotton tops from naval caps can usually be bleached and machine-washedassuming they're not old and fragile. Always air dry to avoid shrinking.
Reshaping the frame
At any rate, when the hat fits snugly on the form, I steam the frame with a portable travel steamer. Actually, you could also use an ordinary tea kettle, but the travel steamer is somewhat easier to control. Be careful, thoughif you steam the wool crown, it may wrinkle.
The band will get fairly wet during this process, but don't worry. When it drys, the hat should retain it's new shape. If the hat band features colored embroidery, it's probably a good idea to make a test in some inconspicuous spot to make sure the colors don't run. Also, velvet doesn't always react well to the steaming process, and if you touch it when it is wet, you'll leave a mark. Generally speaking, its probably not a good idea to use steam with velvet cap bands. As far as possible, use distilled or demineralized water. This helps prevent white spotting.
Moth holes can sometimes be repaired in this manner, although generally with less success. Trackingthe thin lines eaten by the moth larvae can, however, be filled by treating the bottom of the track with thin, flexible transparent glue (for example Elmers) and filling in the track with scrapings taken from the nap of the wool. These are obtained by scraping a less visible portion of the cap with a single-edged razor blade. You fill in the track with the soft fuzz and if done well, the repair is practically invisible. Just to be on the safe side, practice with a worthless hat before attempting repairs on a more valuable item. Also, keep in mind that the scraping method requires a fairly thick wool material to work with. The very thin wool used in WWI US army hats, for instance, is not suited to this kind of repair.
By the way, if a hat shows signs of moth damage, it's often a good idea to put it in a sealed plastic bag along with some mothballs for about three weeks to thoroughly fumigate it before letting it join the rest of your collection.
Next, I had to determine what the badge was made of in order to polish it. I gently tried to remove the dirt and tarnish with silver polish, since the badge looked as though it might have been silver plated. This didn't work, which indicated that the badge was nickel-plated. Brass polish took off the dirt and restored the shine. I discovered that there was gray paint in the crevices to give the badge more depth. Naturally, I preserved this "antiquing." I then polished the edges of the cockade and the side buttons.
Usually, badges require little or no attention and some collectors think its a sin to polish silver badgesjust as coin collectors will not shine silver dollars. However, I personally don't see that tarnish on a badge adds anything of value. In fact, most of these badges were polished by their original owners when cleaning their uniforms.
Just because silver and brass is old, there's really no reason not to polish it. After all, most folks wouldn't dream of putting tarnished silverware on their dining table, no matter how old it was. Please note, however, that some badges for British caps were purposely allowed to tarnish to prevent sun reflections if the hat was to be used in the trenches or other hazardous duty areas. It would probably be wrong to remove this tarnish.
If there's a lot of dried polish and other gunk stuck in the crevices, this usually means that the badge can and should be polished. I let the badge soak for about 15 minutes in soapy water to soften the dirt and then use a toothbrush to clean things up. After repolishing a badge, I generally wash it again to remove any polish I may have added. I then do the final polishing with a dry dish rag or paper towel.
The exceptions to the rule are gilt badges since the gilding is easily polished off if you're not careful. About the best you can do is to wash a gilded badge in lukewarm water with a little dishwashing detergent. Sometimes gentle rubbing with a little diluted lemon juice will help brighten the gilding. Make sure to wash off all the lemon juice afterwards or damage may result.
In most cases, its not possible to remove a badge without bending the small prongs with which it is attached. If you prefer not to remove the insignia, its usually possible polish parts while they are still mounted. Simply slip a piece of thin cardboardlike a file cardbehind the object to prevent the surrounding cloth from being soiled. If you cut slits in the cardboard for the prongs, you should have no trouble slipping it in behind the entire badge.
In some cases, the visor has been badly scratched or otherwise damaged. It is possible to repolish a visor (even a plastic one) with Kiwi shoe polish. I use the old Army "spit and polish" technique, putting on a fairly thick layer of shoe polish and working it into the cracks with a rag dipped in water. This will often work miracles. If you polish with a nylon stocking, the heat from the nylon will actually fuse the polish to the visor. The shine is exceptional!
The Argentine visor had two problems. First, the silver bullion decorations were green with oxidation. Second, the edge of the visor had some nasty chips.
The second problem was the easiest to fix. I simply took some thick black enamel paint and filled the holes. I then wiped the edge with my finger to remove any paint that had run onto the undamaged surface. This repair is virtually invisible.
Under normal circumstances, I dont mess with tarnished bullion. However, in this case, the damage was worse that I was willing to accept. Chats with my local uniform maker, Carl Seifert, and a curator at T°jhusmuseet (the Royal Danish Military Museum) yielded an interesting "trick of the trade"paint it. Apparently this is widely practiced if bullion decoration has been damaged.
To do this you need four things: a very fine camels hair brush, some high-quality metallic paint of the correct color(turpentine-based), a steady hand and outstanding eyesight. The idea is to carefully run thin paint between the bullion threads, finishing off by brushing across the strands so that the paint doesn't fill up the tiny spirals in the individual threads. This is an exacting process that can take several hours, but I think the results are often worth it. The Argentine visor was restored in about an hour and a half, since this was a fairly straightforward pattern. I used my finger to burnish the tops of the threads, which removed some of the "newness" of the repair. I work under a magnifying glass to see what I'm doing. If things look OK under the glass, they invariably look GREAT when viewed normally.
Occasionally, navy caps have visor decorations made out of solid brass wire. These can be carefully polished with Brasso and a cotton swab. Just be careful not to get polish on the surrounding felt, or youll end up with a white spot that's nearly impossible to wash off.
Keep in mind the concept of reversibility. Painting the bullion is NOT reversible, so think twice before touching up a rare or historically important cap. Also, beware of ordinary caps with silver bullion that have been upgraded to general rank with a coat of gold paint. Ive seen several WWII German caps that have been doctored in this manner.
I then straightened the pins on the metal items with needlenosed pliers, and reinstalled the parts on the cap, though without bending the pins into their final position. I then remounted the chinstrap.
When everything was lined up and adjusted to my satisfaction, I bent the pins to fasten everything permanently. Since these pins are quite fragile, it's not a good idea to bend them more than absolutely necessary. A "dry run" is therefore a good ideaand by installing the chinstrap before fastening the buttons, I made sure that there was ample room behind the buttons for the thick braid.
And that, my friends, was that. Hope you like the results.