01 July 2011
English author Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) created the fictional character of The Hatter for his book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. Known culturally as the Mad Hatter, he attends A Mad Tea-Party and is referred to by the Cheshire Cat as mad. The colloquial phrase "Mad as a hatter" describes a crazy person but has ambiguous origins. It may relate to the hat making industry's use of mercury salts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Unaware of the consequences hatters used a mercury solution to transform rabbit fur into felt, breathing in toxic fumes in poorly ventilated workshops. Over time mercury poisoning effected the nervous system causing hallucinations, anxiety, irritability and depression; the hatters went mad.
Wearing multiple top hats, The Hatter is shown partaking in a Mad Tea-Party as illustrated by the American writer and author Blanche McManus (1870-1935), McMannus primarily authored and illustrated travel books. Fellow American illustrator and landscape painter Gertrude Kay (1884-1939) was also influenced by her foreign travels in her use of rich colors and strong compositions. English cartoonist and illustrator William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) came from a family of artists. He is best know for his drawings of eccentric machines.
Lewis may have also modeled his crazy hatter on Theophilus Carter (1825-1895) an eccentric furniture dealer and inventor who wore a top hat. Carter is remembered for inventing The Alarm Clock Bed which woke the sleeper up by tossing them into a bathtub filled with cold water.