We get asked frequently about the Indiana Jones Raiders Poet blocks and the various circulating myths and misinformation surrounding the iconic hats provided by Herbert Johnson for the original trilogy films. We would like to address these frequently asked questions as follows...
I heard the original Raiders Poet block had been lost, is this true?
We are aware this myth has been widely perpetuated and that this requires some unpicking and explanation as to what the Poet block actually is and the history of Herbert Johnson’s manufacture and production of hats.
Firstly what is the Poet?
The Poet is a name the Herbert Johnson brand coined to describe it’s popular classic styles harking back to the early 20th century. It described a strong crown shape, usually rather straight sided and tall, often twinned with a medium to wide brim. Although it became a signature model for Herbert Johnson it was never actually patented and was certainly not exclusive. The crown shape is actually widely used by hatters and is a common classic shape known and used throughout the industry. Herbert Johnson merely gave it a unique style name as the brand used the shape so frequently. After all a classic never goes out of fashion and the Poet styles have been a popular staple in the Herbert Johnson ranges over the decades.
Secondly the hats made for the film Raiders Of The Lost Ark were indeed the Poet model but with some additional adjustments made such as changing out the ribbon band and altering the brim dimensions. Spielberg wanted a classic early century style for the character of Indiana Jones so it was not merely happenstance that brought him and Harrison Ford into the London Herbert Johnson shop in search of this classic style. At the time of Raiders, Herbert Johnson were buying in batches of styles seasonally from their trusted manufacturers. Herbert Johnson was not alone in that the brand outsourced the manufacturing of their hats to a variety of large hat manufacturers in tandem with hats made or trimmed in-house. The Raiders hat’s origin was a Poet model which was on our shop shelves directly from one such manufacturer. This model was then adjusted by our sales manager Richard Swales before sending the entire season’s stock of them to the film studio for Raiders. Five hats were for Harrison Ford and the remainder for the stunt team.
It being common practice to outsource manufacture and the Poet block being a widely used block shape then, it was straight forward to order in hats to our specific design from larger manufacturers each season. As a buyer we will choose the open crown shape itself, the felt quality and colour, the trimming levels, everything! A sample would be approved and a shipment agreed on. Popular models would get reordered or adjustments made or new suppliers brought in to improve on quality or cost. These manufacturers all have their own sets of blocks. The buyer at Herbert Johnson would design the ranges with the manufacturer and in this instance they would choose the matching classic shape we called the Poet. All the manufacturers we used had their own sets of blocks just as Herbert Johnson had our own block sets for in house. No blocks exchanged hands because they had no need to due to the Poet actually being a universal classic shape. Herbert Johnson’s in-house Poet blocks have never been lost, just in storage whilst the brand changed ownership and went through periods of time where there was no in-house hat making. The blocks that formed our hats for us over the years were not owned by us ever. So as you see the ‘lost block’ myth is a romantic notion and not based in reality.
So why did the Indiana Jones hat change for TOD and then again for Crusade?
Whilst we don’t have an exact timeline of issues that were influencing the buying decisions back in the 1980’s and 1990’s what we do know is that there were many large changes both internally and financially. The shop address changed several times while London rates went sky high and many London businesses struggled to keep going. A sense of survival kicked in which would have very much affected business decisions and suppliers. Richard Swales had been an almost constant throughout. Sadly he is no longer with us and thus unable to confirm further details. By the time of TOD we were using Borsalino to supply our range of men’s fedoras. This history of changes may explain the resulting differences in the models purchased for the subsequent films we supplied.
So how do you know you have the correct Raiders Poet shape today?
In a nutshell - through research! Since our current Master Hatter took over as department manager in September of 2017 she has made it her mission not only to return Herbert Johnson’s in house craftsmanship to the very highest quality but also bring research, authenticity and transparency at the forefront of everything her department does. Honouring the great heritage of the brand is paramount. She began with researching the most famous Herbert Johnson hat of all, the Raiders Poet. It was of the utmost importance for us here at Herbert Johnson to confirm the crown shape for Raiders and return to using the accurate Poet block shape once again. We have gone to great lengths to study many vintage Herbert Johnson Poets. We were very fortunate to find several examples that have never been shaped and remain pristine and preserved in open crown state. We are confident the shape we use today is an absolute match for Raiders and now boast a remastered graduated set from size 54cm up to 64cm.
Research never stops and we are continuously seeking to fill in the gaps in the adventure, our history and produce the most accurate, authentic hats as a result.