A Hairy Endeavour: Identifying Objects of the Past


As the Collections Manager at WDHM, it is my job to look after and care for the very sizable collection of artifacts and treasures that make-up our museum. This involves maintaining the current collection through preventive conservation, regular monitoring of items, exhibits, and storage areas, and continual upkeep of our digital database that holds all our artifact information. This can be exhaustive, but rewarding work, to say the least! As I am also responsible for any incoming donations of artifacts, it is important that I learn all about “old” items, to be colloquial.  Sometimes, it can get just a little bit…hairy!

As a child of the late 1980s, I am less familiar with common devices of the early decades of the twentieth century. Working as Collections Manager has certainly shaped my knowledge of pioneer life and I am continually learning about tools of my predecessors. One day while working in the vault, a very peculiar item crossed my path and, I’m afraid, I had no idea what it was or what it could possibly be used for!

The appearance of it was common at first glance; a round ceramic container with a lid. That seems totally normal…but the lid had a round hole directly in the centre. I started surmising what this container could have represented.


From the WDHM Vault: The artifact in Question...

The container was among a set of other toiletries, so I figured it had to fall into a category we refer to as “personal artifacts.”  Our collections database identified this item as a ‘Hair Receiver.’ Great! Wait, what is a hair receiver?!

A hair receiver is a trinket women would use to store the hair removed from the brush after a good hair brushing, an important task for the Victorian woman! Our French ivory receiver indicates that women still used these into the 1940s. The hair that would collect in the brush would be removed and pushed through the central hole in the lid of the container. The container would be emptied once full and the hair would be used for many things. Gross! Our current generation would probably be quite disturbed by this, but utilizing all things (even hair) for many purposes was a common practice in history.

The twenty-first century woman’s solution to lost hair storage. Photo courtesy of http://www.theeverydaymomma.com/2013/11/five-on-friday.html

The hair could be used for stuffing in pin cushions and pillows, props and additions for up-dos for the ‘modern woman’ and, even, used for jewellery and art. Waste not, want not!

Hair receivers, like most of a woman’s accessories, could come in many varieties – ceramic, glass, plastic and even textile material as a decorative bag!

In our collection here at WDHM, we have a ceramic (pictured above) and textile hair receiver (pictured below), and a plastic French Ivory receiver that you just might find if you visit our Children’s Legacy Centre. We look forward to hairing from you!

Hair Receiver in the WDHM Collection






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