Hurstville Museum & Gallery has recently undertaken an audio descriptions project for a number of collection items to help increase the accessibility of the collection. This entry is part of the project.
During the Victorian era jewellery made from human hair became both fashionable and popular, a way to remember loved ones. Queen Victoria, who mourned the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861 for 40 years until her own passing influenced this trend by wearing a locket of Albert’s hair around her neck. Wreaths, brooches, pendants and bracelets were all made of human hair. They blended sentiment and emotion as well as reflecting family connections and relationships, through remnants of those who had gone.
Although memorial hair jewellery had existed since the Middle Ages, it flourished during the Victorian era as a private craft and was commercially made. The Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier in 1873 noted that ‘hair, the imperishable of all component parts of our mortal bodies, has always been regarded as cherished memorial of the absent or lost…the manufacture of jewellery and ornaments in hair must be one of the most interesting’ . By 1876 the book Self-Instruction in the Art of Hair Work, Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, Braids and Hair Jewelry of Every Description was published in the USA, with over 200 pages full of illustrations and instructions detailing the creation of objects and jewellery from human hair. Locks of hair could be woven into a variety of patterns by professional hair weavers, but many pieces were made at home using instructions provided in books, fashion magazines and periodicals of the day.
By the end of the 19th century, the fashion for mourning hair jewellery waned. Changes in decoration and fashion along with a reduction in high mortality rates, the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 , coupled with ‘new theories about hygiene’, which meant that hair work was seen as unsanitary, meant that this unique style of jewellery lost its popularity.
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 Little, B., ‘Trendy Victorian-era jewellery was made from Hair’, National Geographic (on-line), https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/02/160211-victorian-hair-art-work-jewelry-death-history/#close
 ‘Hair jewellery’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_jewellery
 ‘Hair jewellery and ornaments’, Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier , Fri 29 Aug 1873, p. 2 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/63619632?searchTerm=hair%20jewellery
 Burgess, A., ‘ The intricate craft of using human hair for jewellery, art and decoration’, https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/intricate-craft-art-human-hair-jewelry-mourning-braid-mutter-museum
 Cavo, A. and Schuring, N., ‘Identifying hair work and mourning jewellery’, https://www.antiquetrader.com/collectibles/identifying-hairwork-mourning-jewelry  Little, B., ‘Trendy
 Victorian-era jewellery was made from Hair’, National Geographic (on-line), https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/02/160211-victorian-hair-art-work-jewelry-death-history/#close