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August 29, 2011

Human Hair Jewelry

Filed under: Our Favorite Things — Lori Williamson @ 9:36 am

Hair work jewelry originated in France and England in the 1700’s, evolving from the craft of wig makers.  Initially, the jewelry functioned as a mourning memento and was a common funeral gift in the 18th century.  Rings, brooches, necklaces, watch fobs, earrings and much more were crafted from the lock of a loved one.  In the mid-1800s, the craft found its way to the United States including the growing metropolitan centers of Minnesota.  Often, jewelry stores would have an in-house hair weaver while the jeweler would create the gold fittings.   As the jewelry became more popular, it was also created at home as a woman’s parlor craft similar to knitting and crochet.   In  1867 Mark Campbell,  a hairwork distributor with outlets in both Chicago and New York, published the Self-Instructor in the Art of Hairwork, which advertised instructions on how to make hair jewelry of every description.  Campbell’s book helped make hair jewelry an accessible craft.  With a few home-made tools such as a braiding table with a rotating disc, lead weights, and simple forms such as a rod or pencil, anyone could make hair jewelry.  Today, many excellent examples of hair jewelry are preserved in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections.  A few were made from the hair of, or worn by, such well known Minnesotans as Josiah Snelling, Alexander Ramsey, and William Watts Folwell.

Hair necklace

The above watch chain is made of brown human hair in a square chain braid and twist chain braid.  First, the hair is cut, massed in a bundle, and washed with soda to remove the grease.  Groups of hairs are separated to make strands that are attached to metal weights to prevent tangling.  The hair strands are then braided in a pattern around a form.  This watch chain was probably braided around a wire, tubing, or a pencil.  Once braided, the hair was boiled for 10 minutes to set it.  After drying and cooling, the form was carefully removed and gold findings were attached.

Hair brooch

This brooch is crafted with blonde and brown hair in an open lace braid.

Hair bracelet

This is a loop and button clasp bracelet made with blonde and brown hair.  The blonde buttons and beads were made by rolling scrap paper into a form around which hair is wound.

Laura Marsolek, Collections Intern

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5 Responses to “Human Hair Jewelry”

  1. Glenna Jo Christen Says:

    I’m sure others have told you that the top “necklace” is actually a watch chain. Is the bottom bracelet Swedish or at least Scandinavian? It looks like the style of hairwork they do there

  2. Shhh Says:

    The top One is indeed a Victorian necklace. Watch chains have a different clasp and the fob is at the end.

    Glenna Jo Christen reply on February 13th, 2012:

    Later watch chains may have had different clasps and the fobs at the end, but this one looks to be mid 19th century or a bit before. It is missing the jump ring to attach it to the watch, not an unusual occurence.

  3. amanda kiger Says:

    does any one know a place that will make a hair bracelet? I have a friend that has hair from a friend that died of cancer and would like to have a bracelet made

  4. lonna Says:

    If you ever want something made I do it for a small fee. I take pay pal and I am very very detailed in what I do. Hope you got your bracelet made for your friend

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