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hair receiver / hair-receiver

Any container for the storage of strands of hair, usually from combings, to be used in the construction of hair pieces or hair jewelry.

Cash for Hair. I wish to procure hair for making up and will pay cash for good clean combings or cuttings, dark preferred. Mrs. S.A. Burd. — De Smet News, 1910

Laura Ingalls Wilder writes in These Happy Golden Years that Mary Power wore a switch. Since Ma was also saving her hair combings, it is suggested that Caroline Ingalls may have also worn one at some point (unless she was saving her own hair to make a switch for one of her daughters, or maybe for Pa, if he was prone to getting his hair shorn off by mice in the night).

From Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1879, a pattern for a “Case for Combings,” or hair receiver, is shown at right. According to the magazine: This pretty and useful ornament is for a dressing-table, or bureau, made of perforated cardboard, the back is eleven inches long and five inches deep and about thirteen inches wide, so that it forms a pocket on the lower part open at the bottom; these are ornamented with a design in colored zephyr, and trimmed around with quilled satin ribbon. A silk bag is fastened below this: inside of the whole case a bag of oil silk is fitted so as to protect it from being soiled. As almost every lady keeps her combings to make up in extra braids, puffs, etc., this will be found both useful and ornamental.

There were many different kinds of hair receivers, from an plain envelope or pasteboard box to elaborate china and silver containers with a hole in the lid through which to poke the hair. The navigation button is of a green glass hair receiver, part of the collection of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Pepin, Wisconsin. Laura doesn’t give much of a description in The Long Winter of the one she made for Ma, but in her Hard Winter manuscript, there is a tiny bit more detail. Laura wrote that it was made of cardboard that had been embroidered and covered in cross-stitch. It had three flat sides and when Ma hung it at the corner of her mirror, one of the sides would be flat against the mirror’s surface.

That’s not much to go on, but I picture three triangles joined to form the sides of a tetrahedron, open at the top or fourth side. If you do a Google image search for “hair receiver,” you will see several that are of a similar shape. What do you think Ma’s hair receiver looked like? Here are a couple of period magazine instructions about making a hair receiver out of heavy paper or cardboard; note that a rolled rectangle or square can be flattened so that it has “three flat sides,” as Laura described.

hair receiver / hair-receiver (TLW 18)