Dropping hundreds of dollars on a musty old hat from eBay would be a reason to swear off late-night online shopping for most people.

But when Calgary Stampede historical specialist Cassandra Cummings held her breath before clicking her mouse on a $1,699.99 US ($2,120 Cdn) bid back in August, it was a serious decision — the culmination of days of research.

The felt hat was a big purchase for the non-profit organization — one that Cummings says allowed her to bring a part of Calgary's history back home to Stampede Park.

Cummings told the Calgary Homestretch Thursday the hat is believed to have belonged to Clem Gardner, one of the original cowboys from the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. 

"It is an important, tangible piece of Calgary's history," she said.

"This is a cowboy, who's really important, local to Calgary, wearing this hat 100 years ago almost, bucking broncos and all those sorts of things."

Clem Gardner

Clem Garnder wearing a cowboy hat in an undated photo from the Glenbow Archives. (Glenbow Archives)

Gardner competed at the Stampede from 1912 until 1944. He was honoured for being the best all-around cowboy and the one who contributed most to the rodeo's history.

Cummings says the brown felt hat is possibly made of beaver pelt. It has a silk ribbon wrapped around it with a bow, and it looks a lot like hats Gardner is pictured wearing in archival photos. 

Clem Gardner cowboy hat

This brown felt hat is possibly made of beaver pelt. It was manufactured by Hamley & Co. in the 1920s. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

Cummings spent six days researching the hat's provenance: contacting the seller, visiting the auction house to review the records from when it was originally sold and calling a man in Vancouver who originally put the hat up on the auction block.

She discovered that Gardner's widow gifted the hat to a neighbour, whose son eventually put it up for auction.

Clem Gardner hat note

A note accompanying the hat says it was acquired from the widow of Clem Gardner. (eBay)

Cummings also reached out to the hat's manufacturer, Hamley & Co., which has been based in Pendleton, Ore. since 1883. The company's owner verified it was one of their hats from the 1920s and pulled up an original catalogue to prove it. 

"It hasn't had too many owners, there weren't too many links in the chain, so it was easy to follow, but it did take a bit of time," she said.

The hat arrived in the mail on Monday. The Stampede has yet to decide where it will be displayed. 


With files from the Calgary Homestretch