Brooch (England or United States), ca. 1837
Hair, gold, ivory, seed pearls, pailettes. Gift of Mrs. Charles W. Lester. 1960-17-2.
What is this?
Framed gold oval showing horn-of-plenty made of hair, seed pearls and pailettes and the initials "FEG". Surrounded by tightly woven brown human hair.
Why is this important?
Ornamental hair work became popular in seventeenth-century England, but reached a peak in the 1800s as part of elaborate mourning rituals. Wealthy Victorian women practiced hair work as part of their leisurely pursuits, often using locks from a deceased friend or relative to create a tangible reminder of that person. Alternatively, hair could be sent to a professional tradesman, but practitioners could be deceitful. Some tradesmen replaced human hair with sturdier horsehair or sold ready-made pieces, disregarding the original strands’ sentimental value. There were two main types of hair work jewelry: hair transformed into a picture and hair plaited into a design. This brooch, which has a matching bracelet in the museum’s collection, displays both styles: the central motif is a horn-of-plenty made of hair, secured in a glass case and surrounded by tightly woven strands. The outer hair would have been plaited around a mold, such as a knitting needle, then boiled and dried before the mold was removed and the piece was taken to a jeweler for a gold clasp and fittings. Hair work jewelry was often based on existing designs, and a form similar to this one is included in Charles T. Menge’s 1873 catalog in the museum library.
This object has been included in the following exhibitions: