Friday, February 3, 2012

The hair receiver: a rat's companion

Source: The Victorian Trading Company

Several of you lovely readers expressed interest in my technique for making an all-natural hair rats, so I thought I would write a follow-up post on the issue of where to store the hair you are collecting.

Hair Receiver from 1902; Source:

During the Victorian era, a common fixture in a women's toilette or vanity was the hair receiver, a round container with a hole in the top that could be made of porcelain, glass, metal, crystal, or some combination of these. The hair left on a brush or comb would be collected and pushed into the finger-sized opening.

Art Deco Hair Receiver; Source: eBay

When the container was full, the contents could be removed by lifting the lid.

Celluloid receiver from the 1920s-1940s; Source:

While now relatively unknown, receptacles for old hair were used through the 1950s and 1960s.

Source: Maine Maritime Museum

In the German-speaking world, the hair receiver went by the name Haardose.

German porcelain receiver; Source: Cheri Shops Vintage

Hair receivers took forms other than this, in which case they were often called a "catch-all". We see some forms in Volume 35 of the American Agriculturalist, published in 1876:

Source: Google Books

The text even includes instructions on how to make the version depicted in Figure 3:

Source: Google Books

You can also find excellent instructions for cloth catch-alls/hair receivers in the book School Sewing Based On Home Problems by Ida Robinson Burton and Myron G. Burton, published in 1916 by Ginn and Company. An electronic version is hosted at


I was surprised to learn while researching this topic all the other uses people had for human hair back in the olden days. The Maine Maritime Museum website mentions two possibilities:

"Hair receivers...have finally disappeared from dresser tops, but these containers with the round hole in the lid were a common Victorian fixture. Combed-out hairs were kept for both stuffing pincushions (hair oils lubricated the pins), or for fabricating supplemental hair pieces (ratts) that enhanced the ‘big hair’ effect."

(That the natural hair oils were an asset in making a pincushion would have never occurred to me!)

On this same website you can also find examples of brooches and wreaths made of human hair:

Source: Maine Maritime Museum

Source: Maine Maritime Museum

Look at how the wreath in that second photograph is woven from hair of many colors, from blonde, to brown, to grey.

Mourning brooch with hair; Source: The Hair Archives

Michal Warner in his article on Victorian hair from The Hair Archives notes a number of other items that could be made from the the hair saved in a receiver:

"Once enough hair had accumulated, it could be used to construct rats, or could be woven or plaited and put into lockets, left visible through cut-glass windows of a brooch or even made into watch chains, bracelets or jewelry."

What is even more astounding is that there are still those who work to keep this tradition alive. The Victorian Hair Artists Guild boasts a number of talented members interested in the medium of hair. One artist associated with this group does not limit herself to working with human hair:

Brooch of woolly mammoth hair and ivory by Sandra Johnson

To close, I would like to suggest you take a look at an article by Mike McLeod from the Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine entitled "Hair Receivers: Secret Beauty Aids of the Past". I found it to be an excellent but concise summary of information on receivers, rats, and hairstyles with a fascinating foray into Phrenology. Although I remain unconvinced that the voluminous hairstyles of the Victorian period and the use of hair rats were connected in any meaningful way to the contemporary interest in this pseudoscience, I did find the discussion fascinating nonetheless.

Source: Wikipedia


  1. Great post! Never seen a brooch or pendant with hair, very interesting!

    1. Thank you. The amount of variety and detail in the hair art I encountered researching this post blew me away.

  2. very interesting post :-)! I guess you speak German (because of "Hausfrau") so - schöner Blog :-)!

  3. I've been interested in hair jewelry, heard about it as mourning jewelry. Love the article. Hope to see more.


The Hausfrau eagerly awaits your thoughts.