Saving Hair Was a Practical Practice

Photo Provided Hair receivers, like this celluloid version, are an odd bit of social history and were used by Victorian women who saved hair for use in pin cushions, pillows and hair ratts. It is shown with an antique button hook and a delicate razor, all part of a dresser set.

A friend of mine came across a “what is it” antique and called me to take a look at the strange little dish she inherited not long ago. The monogramed bowl was made of a plastic-like ivory material and seemed to go with two small tools.

When I explained to her that she had a lovely little hair receiver, she was surprised. Actually, many antique enthusiasts collect these archaic dishes that were part of a dresser set for ladies in the Victorian age. The two tools were a buttonhook and a delicate razor.

Hair care and styles have always been important to women and during the Victorian age it became popular to save hair that was collected in your hairbrush or comb and keep it for use in other ways.

For example, ladies created ratts or hairpieces that would add fullness to an updo or style, much like today’s style has included the use of a small pad to create a bump in our dos.

Another use for the hair was to create a pincushion for sewing. Of course, everyone sewed and repaired clothing, as it was much harder to purchase ready made clothes. Because hair has natural oils in it, the oils were actually a plus for the pins, keeping them sharp and speedier.

Hair was also used to stuff a small pillow or to create mourning arts and crafts. Victorians were very much into formal mourning, and using hair from a deceased member of the family to create small pieces of jewelry or framed art was a popular social activity.

The sentimental Victorians remembered their dead with the display of memorials in the home. Carefully created needlework or hair wreaths were created for a dramatic display and often include flowers and names.

Ladies stitched or wrapped the hair of loved ones around fine wire and used it to mold flowers. Most hair wreaths were in the form of a horseshoe. This horseshoe wreath was then attached to a silk or velvet background inside a frame.

Victorians were always aware of symbols and choose to leave the top of the wreath open, reaching toward heaven. One large hair wreath might incorporate the hair of several loved ones or even an entire family, church or group.

Godey’s Lady’s Books gave detailed instructions on how to create hair flowers, wreaths and jewelry during the Victorian age. Cultured pearls or seeds might be added to create a fancier look.

Hair jewelry has been around even longer and dates to the Middle Ages or before. Rings, bracelets, watch fobs, necklaces, earrings and chains are all part of the inventory of antique hair jewelry.

So you can see why hair receivers made sense. These handy dishes were created in pretty porcelain designs, cut glass, china, silver and celluloid. Some are footed. All have small holes in the middle of the lids to receive hair. These bowls were proudly displayed on the ladies dressers and were often a part of a set consisting of a brush, comb and other tools. Today they are attractive, though odd, collectibles.

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at or by writing in care of this newspaper.