Why did people save hair in the 1800s?
In modern times we memorialize our loved ones by saving old photographs, holding onto their jewelry, or keeping their ashes in an urn. But, according to Artsy, before we had photographs of people to remember them by, people often saved their hair.
It was impossible to save someone’s rotting flesh before modern preservation techniques were developed, plus it’s pretty disgusting. So hair was the only part of the body that one could keep. Human hair can retain its color and texture for years after someone has passed, so it's a durable material to turn into remembrance art.
“The keeping and saving of hair for future use in jewelry or other commemorative craft (such as wreaths) was common,” Karen Bachmann wrote, according to Artsy. The practice was common in Victorian England and it was brought across the pond to America’s frontier.
“The Victorians were also famously sentimental,” Joanna Ebenstein, founder of New York’s Morbid Anatomy Library and Gift Shop told Artsy. “Hair art, which could be used to commemorate the living or dead beloved, perfectly merges the fashion for mourning and sentimentality."
TikTok user Christina Dyer, who runs The Dyer Ghoul House, which specializes in gothic content, went viral recently after a video she shared on the platform received more than 1.9 million views. The video shows her opening a book from the 1800s that she had purchased, only to find around eight folded pieces of paper with names and dates containing pieces of hair.
"I pretty much have a whole family!" Dyer wrote in a subsequent video.
Question is what do i do with them? #victorianhair #victorianmourning
A lot of people thought the hair was taken for nefarious reasons. "Me thinking it’s trophies from a serial killer in the 1800s," ultraoldsoul commented.
However, multiple people remarked that it was a common practice for people to save their loved ones’ hair and turn it into a keepsake. "That was a common thing to do in that times, to preserve that person's memory, or they gifted a piece of their hair as a sign of affection," Jennifer Marie commented.
After the video went viral, Dyer shared another one showing what she planned to do with the hair. “I was drawn to a lock of the mother's hair, so of course I framed it," Dyer wrote. In the video, she shares a frame with "Mother 1862" written on it. "Now I need to decide what to do with the others," she adds.
Replying to @she_horror Update! 🕊 #victorianmourning #victorianhair
After finding the hair, Dyer did some research and discovered the names of three of the people whose hair was in the book.
"Here are three of the people whose hair I found inside the antique book," she wrote in a follow-up video. The good news was that they all lived long lives for the era. “Walter died aged 78, Constance 77, and Lawrence 57. If my sources are correct!” she wrote.
Replying to @elviratsquirrel Constance is a beauty. 🕊 #victorianmourning #victorianera #victorianhair
It’s tantalizing to wonder if the people whose hair she found have any idea where their last mortal remains turned up. However, they probably would have a really hard time understanding the internet and what it means to “go viral.”
The wonderful thing is that—although some may find it a bit morbid—Dyer is treating the hair with respect, just as the person who placed it in the book intended. Plus, it’s always wise to curry favor with the dead.