Creepy or Cool?  Victorian Hair Work



The above illustration comes from a book titled Self-instructor in the Art of Hair, written by Mark Campbell in 1862.


Hair work was a popular activity for middle class Victorian women.  Although the history of hair work dates much further back, Queen Victoria popularized the art form in the mid-19th century.  Hair as a medium was ideal because of its strength and longevity (Egyptian mummies have even been found with hair intact!).  It is also an inexpensive and renewable resource.  Both jewelry and wreaths were popular forms of hair work; some examples from HSMC’s collection are below.


This brooch is an example of palette work, which is created by laying hair on a flat surface and gluing it into designs or scenes.  The swoop you see in the brooch is an example of “Prince of Wales feathers.”



This watch fob and earrings were made on a table, as exhibited in the first illustration.  Table work is braided or woven into strands, which could be solid or hollow.

DSCN2193  DSCN2195

These hair wreaths would usually be made from the hair of the artist’s family or friends.  The differing colors show how many people gave their hair to the project.  In displays like this, hair does not need to be very long, only a few inches, allowing almost anyone to donate their hair to the cause.  The wreaths are made with an underlying system of wires supporting the hair wrapped around it.



In the hair work discussed above, the hair for the designs would probably come from living persons.  Mourning jewelry was also made from the locks of a deceased loved one.  This again can be traced back to Queen Victoria.  After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, she wore a lock of his hair in a brooch over her heart for the rest of her life.

Eventually professionals began cropping up, offering their services to a customer, who would then only need to choose a design and supply the hair to be used.  In the long term, commercialism was the downfall of hair art; because of its personal nature, it could not be mass-produced.



Read more about HAIR WORK in HSMC’s next newsletter!

SynChronological Chart

In going through our collection of atlases, volunteer Steve Pavlik found this amazing chart of history.  “Adams SynChronological Chart or Map of History” is an example of the popular “stream of time” charts of the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.  These charts show history as a river with each nation as a tributary.   Most such charts are the size of wall map, but Sebastian C. Adams’s chart is nearly 22 feet long!


Time is marked along the bottom of the chart, with red vertical lines indicating each 10 year period.  Each nation or people is represented by a different  stream.  In the ancient world, each monarch is given a different color.


The stream of history is surrounded by illustrations of buildings, events, and historical people.


Adams’s history is based in part on the work of Bishop James Ussher of Ireland who, in the seventeenth century, had calculated the date of creation based on the date of the death of Nebuchadnezzar II and the lifespans of the early prophets as October 23, 4004 BC.  Ussher’s chronology was often included in editions of the King James Bible, and so it was well known in the English-speaking world.

067                     073

As various nations conquer each other, their streams run together.  The image of the Roman Empire show this nicely:


And here is the break-up of the Spanish Empire with the independent countries of the New World branching off.

Admas chart Spain

At the end of the chart he provides this excellent illustration of the growth of the United States.

Admas chart US

Rich in detail, it’s easy to get lost in the panels of Adams SynChonological Chart, so here’s on more piece to admire.


Genealogy fraud


Currently at the Historical Society, I’m cataloging our collection of several hundred family histories in order to provider better access to our members and patrons.  In the course of the project, I noticed something interesting.  About twenty family histories were written by the same man, J. Montgomery Seaver.


Seaver’s photograph appears at the beginning of each book, along with a few pictures of illustrious members of the family.  These photographs are followed by “The Battle Hymn of the [family name].”  The lyrics to each one is a little different.

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The main part of the book consists of lists of prominent people with the family name and genealogies that usually link the family to King Edward I of England or William the Conqueror.


In 1930, Seaver was charged with fraud by the Post Office Department.  Apparently, he picked 49 common last names (the “best” families, as he called them) and sent post cards to everyone in the phone book with those names.  The hardcover, cloth bound books cost $10.00 apiece.  We don’t know what happened to Seaver, he might have been convicted, acquitted, or bargained his way out.  His books are still widely cited by researchers, but here at HSMC, we’ve decided to put a disclaimer in the books about the suspected fraud.

It looks like Seaver was out to make money, but other frauds are caused by family legends or the honest hopes we all have to inherit a fortune.  A famous legend concerns Anneka Jans, an early settler in New Amsterdam.  This article from our archive tells of a family in Lansdale that claimed to be her descendants.


Many people claimed descent from Anneka Jans and sued in the hope of claiming part of a Manhattan real estate fortune.  The real Anneka Jans did own about 62 acres of modern Manhattan (though not the land Trinity Church is on), but she was not the granddaughter of a Dutch king (the Netherlands didn’t technically have kings in the 17th Century).  She was from what is today Norway.  A good account of the legend and facts can be found here.

Have you come across any hoaxes or frauds?  Have you discovered any family legends that turned out to be false?  Tell us about them in the comments section.


Ukrainian wax-resist Easter eggs, or pysanky, come from a long-standing tradition. They began as pagan symbols before Christianity was prevalent in Ukraine. Once Christianity spread (988), egg designs were adapted to suit the new religions themes. Triangular designs represent the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity. Fish designs are also popular. Other designs may be dependent on the recipient. Historically, completed eggs were traded between relatives and friends, like a valentine. Eventually these eggs were kept as decorations in Ukrainian homes and barns.


The eggs were traditionally dyed with products found in nature. Organic material like onions, horns, and seeds were used to make yellow, dark red, green, and black. The process starts with a raw egg, which will last forever if the shell remains intact. Then a kistka, or a stylus, is used to apply melted beeswax on the surface of the egg. The kistka is filled with wax and then held above a flame to melt. Lines are drawn around the circumference of the egg as a template on which to create a pattern. The egg is first dipped in the lightest dye, and then more wax designs are added over it. The process is repeated with each color, from lightest to darkest. Once the darkest color is applied (usually black), the egg is held in the flame of a candle. This heats the wax, which can then be wiped away. Finally the eggs are baked in the oven to set the color, and then covered in varnish or lacquer to make them shine.


These are certainly more work than dipping eggs into PAAS!





There are many legends concerning the origins and importance of the pysanky.  They are believed to protect a home from fires, to help find demons, and to improve fertility.  The are many legends concerning the Virgin Mary carrying eggs at the crucifixion.  One legend says that the fate of the world depends on the continued practice of pysanky.  If people should ever abandon the tradition and evil creature will encircle the world. (Eggs Beautiful: How to Make Ukrainian Easter Eggs by Johazna Luciow, Ann Kmit, and Loretta Luciow)

These eggs were created by Mary Ann Freeman and donated to the HSMC by Barbara Makar.