Have you ever been to an antique shop and seen beautiful silver and gold topped bottles of all shapes and sizes and wondered what they were used for?
Towards the end of the 18th century, dressing cases were manufactured for gentleman to accompany them on their travels. They would contain bottles and jars for colognes, aftershaves and creams as well as essential shaving and manicure tools.
By the early Victorian era, ladies also began to travel and the dressing case started to become known by the more feminine term ‘vanity box’.
The contained a wide range of bottles and jars as well as a tools. Some would have held a cake of soap, long ones held ladies hair pins, small ones would hold beauty spots and patches and the larger ones held the creams and potions that a lady would use and need when she travelled. Some would contain her favourite perfume and smelling salts. One of the most interesting containers for needleworkers are those with a hole in the top of them, they are called “Hair Keeps”. Although rare today, the hair keep or receiver was also a common fixture on the dressing tables of women from Victorian times to the early decades of the 20th century.
Its purpose was to save hair culled from the hairbrush and comb, which were used vigorously on a daily basis. The hair could then be stuffed into pincushions or pillows. Since hair was not washed as often as it is today, oils were frequently used to add scent and shine to hair. The residual oil made the hair an ideal stuffing for pincushions because it lubricated the pins, making it easier for them to pierce material. Small pillows could be stuffed with hair, which was less prickly than pinfeathers.
But possibly most important, hair receivers made the creation of ratts possible. A ratt (sometimes spelled rat) is a small ball of hair that was inserted into a hairstyle to add volume and fullness.
The ratt was made by stuffing a sheer hairnet until it was about the size of a potato and then sewing it shut.
A hair receiver can be identified by a finger-wide hole in the lid, through which hair is poked. They can be round or square in shape, and some are footed. Made of a variety of materials, including glass and in later times celluloid, some of the prettiest examples for the dressing table are made of porcelain.
We would like to thank Sandra’s sister Marylyn for sharing part of her collection of silver top bottles. Marylyn started her collection in the early 1980’s. Everytime she went to London she would take one back to Australia. She loves going to the Antique Markets in Portobello Road and Camden Passage.
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