Onamental, Hair; 2004.4903.87


Onamental, Hair

About this object

Hair work, or jewelry made of human hair, was in fashion during most of the 19th century and a few decades into the 20th. It disappeared when short skirts and the bob became stylish around 1925.

There are several reasons why hair work was unbelievably popular for over a century. Human hair does not decay with the passing of time as most other materials. It has chemical qualities that cause it to last for hundreds, yes, thousands, of years. Hair has often played a part in myths and legends. The most well known is the story of Samson who was a member of a military sect, the Nazarites who believed that long hair was the source of strength. For the story look up Judges 13-16. Memorial jewelry was popular in the 16th century. In a Swedish book of proverbs one can read that “rings and bracelets of hair increase love” (Vadstena stads tankebok). In Denmark at Rosensborg’s palace there is a bracelet of precious metal with a simple braided lock of hair, a gift from King Christian IV (1577-1648) to his queen. During the following century it was common with memorial jewelry of hair, for example rings commemorating the executed King Charles I of England that circulated among his faithful supporters.

Another likely cause was the fact that many hair artists and wig makers had too little employment when the powdered wigs often worn my noblemen of the 17th and 18th centuries went out of date. Into an age of romance and sentiment hair jewelry gave these craftsmen a good income. At the start hair jewelry was usually made in cooperation with goldsmiths producing beautiful and expensive creations of hair mounted in gold and perhaps decorated with pearls or precious stones. These were naturally very expensive. Among the many famous persons who owned and cherished hair jewelry we can name Napoleon, Admiral Nelson, Queen Victoria and her large family, Christina Nilsson and Jenny Lind.

Everywhere in Europe there were workshops where these fashionable items were made. Buyers of human hair traveled about in the countryside and purchased hair from poor peasants, or tricked women into having their hair cut in exchange for some scarf, ribbon or pretty trinket. There was still a need for great amounts of hair for braids and switches that women wanted to purchase for their coiffeurs, even though most jewelry was made from a certain person’s, or a dear family member’s hair.

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