Thanks to Ashley Rogers who sent this question: “I work in a historic home where I wrangle a corps of 30 volunteers, and keeping their wandering myths in line is a full-time job. I’ve gone through your site, and to my knowledge, I haven’t found anything about hair receivers. This is a contentious collection piece in my museum, because just like at most historic homes, many of my docents tell visitors that hair receivers were for gathering hair with which to make hair art. Bunk, I say! And here’s why: the hair that came off of a brush would be too tangled and broken to make fine hair art with. Also, hair art is so often associated with Victorian mourning practices that very often these pieces were made from locks from the deceased. Where do you weigh in on this issue? I’d love to see it covered, if the mid-to-late Victorian Era is not too far past your preferred time period.”
You’ve answered your own question so nicely, Ashley, that I consider this a “guest blog.” I can only add to your conclusion something that I located in the library, something you may well have seen: THE ART OF HAIR WORK (1989), which reprints Mark Campbell’s 1875 book plus excerpts from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine. These pages show how to make numerous braid patterns and jewelry, specifically rings, necklaces, and bracelets, from hair. But all the hair is to be purchased from suppliers or, less commonly, cut from the head of a loved one, living or deceased. A nice thick, long strand is required, not broken, short, single strands collected from from a brush or comb. Those could not be gathered into a hank of hair suitable for jewelry-making.
So what happened to the hair in hair receivers? This tangled mess of hair could be saved until there was enough to stuff in a tiny pillow for use as a pin cushion or into a hairnet to make a ratt, a ball of hair that could add height or fullness to one’s hairdo. “While some say that hair saved in receivers was also used for hair jewelry, love tokens, and mourning mementos, Lori Verge, curator of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland, states those items required straight, not tangled hair. She believes that women used cut hair (rather than combed out hair) for those purposes. Ms. Verge also reports that her grandmother used a hair receiver as late as the 1950s.” (www.go-star.com/antiquing/hairreceivers.htm) Also see http://www.hairwork.com/remember.htm (the official Victorian Hairwork Society website) for an article by Susan and Jim Harran for Antique Week, Dec. 1997.