How many collectors out there have vintage caps with broken visor boards (the proper term for the piece of cardboard inside of the brim/bill)? I'm sure there are many. It's a problem many vintage cap collectors face. They get very brittle with time and if you try to bend it at all, even on accident, it cracks with a very loud "pop" or crumbles like a cookie. In my own collection I have a several vintage New Era caps that are in mint condition except for one fact: they have broken visor boards. I had heard from another collector that in the past New Era repaired broken visor boards. I now know that indeed they do (at least when it comes to caps made by them), but there are many catches. I will explain in detail.
On Monday, August 9th, 2010 I called New Era to ask this question. After calling many numbers, going through robot operators and pushing buttons, I got through to New Era's corporate office. After being on hold for 10+ minutes, a very nice lady answered the phone and I told her about my broken visor board problem. She said that they could fix the problem, however New Era DOES NOT REPAIR USED CAPS. The reason is this: New Era's seamstresses are unionized and the unions will not allow them to work on used caps, my guess is for health reasons. I said that was fine as a few of mine are unworn and in new condition. She simply told me that it sounds like an "easy fix", and my instructions were to ship them to the New Era factory in Buffalo, NY, with all of the materials and a letter explaining what I wanted them to do.
I chose three caps from my collection that represented three different variations of vintage New Era caps. First, a 1974 - 1979 San Diego Padres cap with a leather sweatband. I had already partially disassembled the cap and removed the visor myself in an attempt to see if I could repair it on my own. Second, a 1981 - 1986 Seattle Mariners with a cloth band. Third was my 1975 - 1978 Boston Red Sox, also with a cloth band, as well as horsehair backing, satin taping, and a more squared-off shaped visor, the kind that was later more common on snap-back caps used for spring training. I had a San Francisco Giants cap in bad shape that had an identically shaped visor and sent that with the caps in fear that New Era no longer has visor boards in that shape, and it's a good thing because it turns out that was the case. Here are the photos of the exact caps I sent:
That same day I dropped them off at the post office, and I got a confirmation number so that I could make sure the package arrived. On Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 they returned to me. Here are the results:
The Padres cap's visor was perfect. The sweatband and it's tags however, appear to have been removed from each-other at some point. They were reattached, but the tags are now in rough shape. The front of the sweatband also appears to have melted somehow. I will write to New Era to see if I can find out how/why it happened.
The Mariners cap was completely flawless. However, changes to major parts of the cap were made. A COMPLETELY NEW sweatband was placed on the cap. The original LOT/PRICE size tag, and the "Official Licensee" MLB tag were salvaged. Much to my surprise, the original New Era manufacturers' tag was replaced with a new one! Also, the backing under the front panels was replaced. My guess is the sweatband and backing were damaged while taking the cap apart.
The modern tag looks out of place, no?
The new backing.
I was right about the Red Sox cap's visor. The replacement I packed with it was used, and the fabric was sewn onto the visor using the current-style. It also received a new sweatband with a modern manufacturers tag. The original horsehair backing was left in place (thank God!).
You can see the difference in where the seams went onto the visor!
The new tag.
My thoughts are that while I am a little upset that my caps are not not 100% original anymore I am happy that they are finally in one piece again. I am grateful to New Era for doing this for me. They didn't have to, especially free of charge (yes, you heard me, FREE!!!). How many companies of their size do this kind of stuff? Probably not very many. I now have some unique pieces of head-wear that you can't walk down to your local sports apparel store and buy.
Now you are left with a choice: What means more to you? You cap being 100% original but with a broken visor board, or a replaced visor board but a new sweatband and possibly new backing? It's really up to you.
If you try doing this and you are disappointed with the results or never get your caps back, don't blame me. Other collectors have told me that they called New Era and were told that they do not repair caps for individual customers. DO AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!
How about used caps? Well, I tried taking a used cap to some local seamstresses and apparently they need a special machine just for caps to remove everything. I tried contacting other cap companies and I have been met with a resounding "no" even when offered money. I will let everyone know if I find anyone that can repair used caps.