(Singular nouns:  Fr-cheveu / poil; Ger-Haar Nor-hår; Rus-волос)

A. Hair"Prince of Wales" brooch (diameter  ~ 63 cm) fashioned by Sandra Johnson exemplifies the appearance of pins featuring human hair;  these brooches were especially  popular during Queen Victoria's reign.  (©  photo courtesy Sandra Johnson, from htt://

DESCRIPTION: Hair consists chiefly of keratin.  With a few exceptions, the hair dealt with in this entry is head hair -- not fur.
     Colors (natural): blonde, brunette, red, black, gray, white;  (dyed/tinted/...) whatever, including combinations, patterns, etc.
     H. & S.G.  of no consequence here
     Light transmission - semitransparent to semitranslucent
     Luster - dull to subvitreous
     Breakage - irregular to splintery
     Miscellaneous - flexible
OTHER NAMES:  None other than colloquial use of such terms as mop.

USES: During the late 1800s, especially in Victorian England, jewelry that included human hair was relatively commonplace.  Lockets, brooches and pendants with or without background designs and glass "windows" were the typical pieces (see Figure A);  finger rings featuring hair, though not common, were also made.  Today, similar pieces are still custom made (Johnson, 1998-2005).  See also the third paragraph under the Remarks subheading.

The hair, in contrast to fur, of several animals has been used in making decorative as well as functional fabrics used in such things as pillow and cushion covers and handbags.  Examples of animals from which hair has been so-used include the following: alpacas, bison, several different dogs (ranging from malamutes to poodles), elephants, horses, llamas, mice and opossums as well as sheep. Two examples are  1. "Buffalo hair or wool is useful for many things, including making rope. The wool is spun and braided to make a stretchy and strong rope. The beard ... was used for tipi decorations. The tail could be used as a fly switch, a small whip, water sprinkler or decoration on a tipi cover lifting pole." (NPS, nd). [and]  2. Elephant hair, which grows at the end of elephants' tails, has been made into rings and bracelets sold in tourist shops in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).  Combined with gold or ivory, these "hairlooms" (my  term) are even available in "up-market" jewelry shops.  Among other things, these pieces are supposed to ensure good health and protection from evil spirits. (Craig Gibson, personal communication, 2006)

C. IvoryPendant "the only one of its kind in the world.  It is made using Woolly Mammoth hair and placed atop a piece of ivory also from a Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius  Blumenbach, 1799 ?? -- see discussion under REMARKS in IVORY entry).  The hair and ivory are approximately 10,000 years old and were found in Siberia.  This was a very special project to make and I was awestruck that I could be making something from the hair and tusks of an animal that had roamed the earth 10,000 or more years ago." (Sandra Johnson, 1998-2005)   photo courtesy Sandra Johnson, from

Horse hair is the active component of most bows for violins, violas, 'cellos, and double basses, and it is said that the best  "horsehair for bows is taken from horses in northern climates [
e.g., Mongolian horsehair], since such hair provides more friction." (The Free Dictionary, 2005).

Fur, as distinct from hair -- see REMARKS --  is used for all sorts of souvenirs as well as for such things as for fur coats, stoles, etc.  An example "dear to the heart" of our daughter is a tiny seal, fashioned from seal fur, that was given her by her brother Kurt's 2nd grade teacher when we lived in Norway in the late 1950s.  


The designation hair appears to come from Old English hær.  My favorite quotation relating to hair is Shakespeare's "Why, but there's many a man hath more hair than wit."  (line by Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors -- Act 2, Scene 2). 

Hair versus Fur:  Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are said to have concluded that human head hair is different from fur because fur stops growing after it reaches a certain length whereas head hair continues to grow. To support their conclusion, they ask in a recent article in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology , "Have you ever seen a chimpanzee getting a haircut?" (Science Daily, 2004). 

Attention is directed to two bits of information in other entries:  1. BONE -- See the use of the British Ladies' hair recorded in the centered quotation given in the REMARKS.   2. HORN -- Consider the fact that rhinoceros horn is sometimes referred to as hair:  "The horn of the rhinoceros was not really a horn at all, but a collection of hairs cemented together.  It was a mere male hirsute appendage, like the beard in humans." (Ritchie, 1950, p.138)

According to Bullock (2000), "Hair jewelry, or mourning jewelry was popular from the time of the memento mori ('Remember Me') jewelry of the Middle Ages, and on through the 16th and the 17th centuries, upward through the 19th century....¶ The hair itself was used in several styles: woven as a background under a gold monogram and worn under crystal, and as such could be made into a brooch or necklace; braided to form watch chains or around a ring bezel, made into a floral funeral design, or simply a lock of the hair was enclosed in a locket or brooch."   Perhaps the most widely known example is the "Guevara Lock of Beethoven's hair," about which the following is recorded: "The original provenance of the lock of hair is clear from an inscription written on the back of the frame of the locket: 'This hair was cut off of Beethoven's corpse by my father, Dr. Ferdinand v. Hiller, on the day after Ludwig van Beethoven's death, that is, on 27 March 1827 ...  Ferdinand Hiller was a German conductor and teacher who traveled to Vienna in 1827 at the age of fifteen to visit the dying Beethoven on his death bed. ... The lock of hair stayed in the Hiller family until sometime in the 20th century. It next surfaced in 1943 when it was given to a Danish doctor named Kay Alexander Fremming as payment for providing medical treatment for Jews trying to escape from the Nazis. The lock of hair stayed in the Fremming family until it was sold at auction at Sotheby's in December 1994." (The Ira F. Brilliant Center...,2006)  Subsequently, analyses showed "that the average amount of lead in the Beethoven hair had been forty-two times the lead average contained in the controls [normal hair]" (Martin, 2000, p. 235), which led to the conclusions/hypotheses that lead poisoning probably accounted for several of Beethoven's idiosyncrasies and perhaps even his deafness.  -- One wonders what connection may have existed between the Beethoven hair investigations and the fact that Nobel Laureate-to-be Kary B. Mullis, when interviewed for Omni magazine in 1992, suggested he might start a DNA jewelry company, using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify the DNA of famous long-dead people.  AND, consider this in light of the fact that today, companies world-wide are offering a high-tech version (albeit usually consisting of buccal swabs rather than hair) of the Victorian locket containing a curl of hair from a loved one. (National Centre for Biotech..., 2006).

Pele's hair, which is rock, must not be confused as animal hair.  See Figure 56 and related text in the MIMETOLITH file on this web site.

SIMULANTS:  None, so far as I have been able to determine for its use in jewelry.

***Carbon graphite fiber is used as a substitute for horse hair in some bows for violins etc. - [Macroscopic observation usually suffices.].

Modacrylic fiber (a synthetic copolymer) -- the one widely known as Kanekalon (for the manufacturer)  is used for the "hair" of of some wigs.  It and other synthetics are used for the hair on most dolls. - [Macroscopic observation usually suffices.].

REPLICAS:  Perhaps the second item under SIMULANTS belongs here?!  

| Top | Home |

R.V. Dietrich © 2015
Last update: 28 February 2010
web page created by Emmett Mason