Anyone who knows me knows that you CANNOT keep me out of an antique shop. I must enter any and every antique shop I find. Most of them unfortunately resemble a dusty garage sale with employees that know little to nothing about what they’re selling, but in a select few, with an eye for antiques, you can find some amazing treasures!
I was recently exploring an antique store I’d never been to when I found it. A treasure I’ve searched long and hard to add to my collection. An authentic hair receiver.
So what exactly IS a hair receiver? Well, in the Victorian era, you would find them on a lady’s dressing table next to her comb or brush. They are tiny pots with a hole in the lid where a lady would deposit the strands of her hair that had been pulled during brushing.
Why did they do this? Many historians (including myself) believe that in some instances, the received hair was used for hair art and jewelry! Some critics of this suggest that this could not be the case, as the techniques used required untangled hair with strands of the same length. As a hair artist, I can say that although MOST of the techniques require cut hair that cannot be used upside down, I know of and have readily practiced two techniques that are extremely conducive to using this type of hair. Pulverized hair uses hair that has been cut very small for a rough, texturized appearance, and sepia painting is created by pulverizing the hair to a fine powder and creating paint with it. With this in mind (and having personally used brush hair for some of my own work) I have EVERY reason to believe that this was a Victorian practice.
Now keep in mind that the Victorians fetishized hair and incorporated this obsession into many aspects of their lives. They would seldom let hair go to waste, so woman from this era would get rather creative in finding other uses of their hair. One practice was to use the hair received as stuffing for a pin cushion or other decorative cushions and pillows, as the hair allowed for an alternative stuffing to pinfeathers which were often scratchy.
Not only was hair important when it was cut, but Victorian ladies often would spend quite a bit of time on glamourous hairstyles rather than makeup as a fashion statement. Impressively voluminous wigs were worn by men and woman alike in attempt to increase beauty, but these were purchased and made from someone else’s hair. Amongst woman in particular, naturally large hair was a point of pride.
Wow, history really DOES repeat itself!
As massive amounts of hairspray and styling gel were not exactly easy to come by in the 1800’s, woman would need to resort to other means of making their hair look large. One practice was to use hair from the hair receiver to stuff and sew shut a hair net. These were called ratts (spelled either with one t or two) and would be inserted under a layer of hair to artificially inflate the hair. Although if one was asked outright if it was their own hair? “Why, yes! It IS my own hair!”
Some things just never change.
Now, after having gone on a tangent, allow me to return to the hair receiver I purchased. Unfortunately, the woman at the store didn’t have any specific details on the hair receiver, so my everlasting curiosity for the story behind old items sent me hunting for information.
Initially, the appearance and weight had me wondering if it was made of aluminum which was valued above gold back then. Upon inspecting it further, I found a stamp on the bottom of the pot. Drawing from my past research, I recognized it as a silver hallmark. Silver hallmarks have been used for centuries as a means of identifying the purity of silver and branding the manufacturer or silversmith.
This particular one easily states that it is quadruple plate. Quadruple plate quite deceptively does not mean it was plated four times. What it actually means is that it uses four times the amount of pure silver as standard silver items (Standard amount was 2 troy ounces of pure silver).
I had been aware that quadruple plated silver was very high quality and in demand for hollowware during the latter half of the 1800s and less commonly in the first few years of the 1900s, so this gives us a general basis for our time frame. The design surrounding a “w” is clearly the maker’s mark, but it was not a maker I was aware of.
GOOGLE TO THE RESCUE! It is not a quick process, but if you need to identify a marking on an antique, there are plenty of data bases you can find which will provide picture examples of maker’s marks. These websites are normally organized alphabetically, so if you have the mark rather than the name of the manufacturer, you might end up searching for a while.
After hours of looking myself, I finally found what I was looking for! This design is the hallmark of a company called E.G. Webster & Son. From online research, I was able to learn that this company opened in Brooklyn, NY in 1886 and was sold in 1928.
So now, we get to fantasize about how this Victorian memento came to be in my possession. How many people have owned it over the years? How many woman have put their hair in here, and what have they used the hair for? How did it travel from Brooklyn, NY to Independence, MO, and what other stops has it made on the way? We’ll never know the whole story, but it’s sure fun to think about. Wow I love history.
Your History Hunter,