The Cooper-Hewitt Library owns many types of pattern books for architecture, textiles, wall coverings, and ornament for use by designers. Among our more unusual “how to” pattern books and trade catalogs are two recently digitized hair jewelry pattern books – The jewellers' book of patterns in hair work and Charles T. Menge's price list of ornamental hair jewelry and device work.
During the Victorian era, having jewelry made from the hair of deceased loved ones was a way of literally keeping the person with you always, even after death; it is the one of the most enduring and intimate of human relics. It is a woman's crowning glory and a precious keepsake; my mother kept locks of our hair in little boxes in a dresser drawer. Think of all the myths and stories that involve hair- Samson, Rapunzel, Lady Godiva, the short story The Gift of the Magi, by O’Henry- you can see why owning something made with the hair of a loved one would be so important in remembering and memorializing the dead. Sentimental jewelry is part of the Victorian cult of mourning that was so much a part of everyday life and customs.
Hair was fashioned into a piece that was braided, woven or otherwise worked into a form and a design. Brooches, bracelets, earrings, watch fobs, and rings could be made from hair. Not all hair jewelry was mourning jewelry; these pieces be could be made and given as tokens of affection and sentimental gifts between friends, keepsakes of your children, siblings or parents. Or they could be more intimate, private exchanges between lovers. Nineteenth century periodicals such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and other types of fancywork instructional manuals told you how to make your own hair jewelry- a labor of love for sure.
If this was too much of a challenge, you could have an item custom made for you by a jeweler or specialist in hair jewelry and have it made professionally. You could pick a design from pattern books and catalogues like these below; all you had to provide was the hair.
Companies like Halford & Young and Charles T. Menge’s would make the jewelry, providing the types of findings (component parts such as clasps, ear wires, pins, chains, etc.) that you selected from the catalogue. It was exciting to study the museum’s hair jewelry collection and connect them to some original design sources in our pattern books. You can read more about hair jewelry and the museum’s hair jewelry collection. Bracelet (r) USA, ca 1870, hair, gold, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Georgina and Louisa L. Schuyler, 1916-29-54