Just did some fact checking. Like I was a proper writer or something.
It turns out I wasn’t even sure if a hatter was a milliner or not. Like, was the mad hatter (apparently just the hatter in the books) actually a hat maker or not? Did we ever see him make a hat? I’ve certainly seen him portrayed as something resembling a journalist in one interpretation. But of course, the little white card in his hat is the price of his hat (presumably for sale, though if you buy it he’ll simultaneously be a better hatter (if sales figures are your metric) and less recognisable as a hatter).
But we don’t see him make any hats.
So it’s probably just a pun (of sorts) on the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’. Alice and co call him a hatter because he is mad (and has a hat). It makes sense.
But why is anything as mad as a hatter? What made the hatters mad? Everyone needs a milliner, right?
The internet remains unyielding. There’s a theory or two, but the evidence is circumstantial and so unsuitable for vigorous phrasal etymology (there’s a real word for this probably, but fuck it, I like my word).
Let’s get rid of the more boring theory first. It’s possible its a variant of ‘mad as an adder’ as in ‘mad as a snake’. My favourite ‘mad as a..’ phrase is ‘mad as a balloon’ or occasionally ‘mad as a bag of hammers’. The truth is, that it doesn’t matter what you say after ‘mad as a..’ it works out for the best ‘as mad as the last remaining rolo’; ‘as mad as a jam sandwich on fire’; ‘as mad as a hatless agrophobe’.
And there’s no textual evidence for the phrase ‘mad as an adder’ to predate ‘mad as a hatter’.
So that’s bullshit.
What’s more exciting is the quicksilver hypothesis (dramatic, huh?)
Millinery used to be somewhat more dangerous than it is now. Hat makers often used mercury in their hat making. Mercury is ludicrously poisonous, but dreadfully in vogue for much of the 17th century at least. I don’t know how the hell you use liquid metal to make a hat better but apparently that’s what they did (to be honest, it’s ‘liquid metal’ which just sounds cool, even before you look at it, you can hardly blame them).
So the quicksilver turned the hatters mad (symptoms of mercury poisoning alledgedly include shakiness, aggression, mood swings and so forth, this actually explains why all the ‘natural philsophers’ of the book I’m reading on the birth of science are utterly insane, so everyone’s winners here).
Milliners of today almost certainly don’t use mercury. But they may still be mad. A good kind of mad though. Hats today are either mass produced or OTT. This is good.
Hats and fascinators and exotic headgear of all varieties should be encouraged. Fuck boring hats from factories, get something insane and customised.
Keep it up, hatters.
Illustrated my Adam.