A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
|Dunce's Hats and Donkey Ears|
page attempts to record what is known about the origin
and history of Dunce's Hats made by folding paper.
Dunce's Hats were used in the Eighteenth Century as a
means of socially shaming children into behaving in the
way that a parent of schoolteacher desired.
Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other information that should be added. Thank you.
Dunce's Hats were often simple conical hats made of either cloth or paper / card. Sometimes they were enhanced by the addition of a pair of donkey's ears.
Dunce's Hats were often decorated with the word 'Dunce' or simply 'D'. The origin of the word 'dunce' is unknown. There are several competing theories, none of which is supported by sufficient evidence to compel belief.
The image below is a page from the Alphabet Book 'Nursery Novelties for Little Masters and Mistresses' published by Harris and Son in London in 1820. The wording at top right reads 'Dunces Corner' and 'The Cap of a Fool fits the head of a DUNCE'. Note that the hat is also decorated with the word 'DUNCE'. This image makes a clear connection between Fool's (or Jester's) Caps and Dunce Hats. This hat is clearly made of cloth.
This image showing a conical Dunce's Hat equipped with donkey ears is from Volume 1 of 'The Affectionate Children's Gift and the Good Child's Reward' by Henry Sharpe Horsley, which was published in London in 1828. The picture was included to illustrate a poem called 'The School' which included the stanza given below.
It is not clear what materials this particular hat was made from.
This engraving from 1889 by the Spanish cartoonist Apeles Mestres (1854 to 1936) shows a boy wearing a donkey ear Dunce's Hat.(Information from Juan Gimeno.) It appears to be a basic Newspaper Hat to which ears have been added by tucking them down into the brim. The ears are also presumably folded from paper.
A similar hat can be seen in this undated painting entitled 'Penitence' by the Swiss painter Fritz Zuber-Buhler (1822 to 1896). (Information from Juan Gimeno.) Fritz Zuber-Buhler seems to have worked mostly in Paris, although he may also have worked / studied in Berlin.