I spotted this unusual pocket watch chain and fob at a recent estate sale. The previous owner had it tagged “furry watch chain” which I thought was a hoot since I recognized the weaving as human hair. When I purchased it, the lady at the desk asked me if I knew what it was and when I gave my response, the young boy behind me in line wrinkled his nose and went “EWWWW!”
His expression of disgust is quite understandable since this is no longer a common practice and certainly not considered attractive in today’s jewelry world. But back in the mid-late 1800s, it was quite desirable. The height of hairwork’s popularity was in the mid-nineteenth century when it was made both commercially and by “loving hands back home.” Instructions could be found in several publications including Peterson’s Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book. You could find fittings in Sears catalogs up until the early 1900s.
Ladies would keep a hair receiver on their vanity and brushing was done every night and morning with the strands found in brushes placed into the open-topped container.
It was quite interesting to learn that brown is the most common, blonde and white hair quite rare. But even rarer is red hairwork. That is due to two reasons: redheads are in the minority and red hair was often attributed to women of ill repute! (I hope my dear sainted mother is not reading this because she often proudly colored her hair red!)
Another interesting fact is that the value of hair jewelry is not especially in the findings with gold only slightly more costly than gold-filled. Instead, the value is in the intricacy and workmanship of these Victorian mourning hair braids.
Some pieces are actually quite lovely, if you give them a chance. This pair of hoop earrings has hairwork acorns inserted in the center. Must have taken a long time to make these. An example of a set with white hair was found in my jewelry book and quite frankly, I would be happy to find and wear these! Of course the “appraised” value of $3,000 would make me even happier!
So if you are out and about and come across this unique type of jewelry, try to get over your thoughts of distastefulness and instead recognize its potential value and all the time and handiwork that went into it.