8 Collections Featuring Hair as Art and Souvenir

Humans have been using hair to create jewelry and artwork for thousands of years. The practice goes back at least as far as ancient Egypt, when tomb paintings show pharaohs and their consorts exchanging hair balls as love tokens. But the practice of turning hair into art reached its zenith during the Victorian era, when locks were clipped from the living to create tokens of esteem and affection, or snipped from the dead to make mementos. During the Victorian era both men and women wore hair jewelry, which often came in the form of complicated braids fashioned into pins, rings, necklaces, bracelets, watch chains, and more. There were hair wreaths and hair paintings, and even hair sculptures; gold, jet, enamel, and seed pearls often adorned the hair to add further ornamentation. Often, hair came from a beloved family member or friend, but there was also a thriving trade in imported hair from strangers—the longer, finer, and more unusually colored the better. (Historic New England and the Massachusetts Historical Society have some great examples in their collections and online.) 

The Victorian fascination with hair was part of that era’s preoccupation with death, an ever-present threat in the days when mortality rates were high. Jeweler Karen Bachmann, a professor of Art & Design at the Pratt Institute who teaches how-to classes on hairwork at Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum, explains that the making of hair into mementos was a way Victorians coped with loss. "What interests me about hairwork is the concept of human anatomical relic as a stand-in for the entire person," she says. "Just as people have worshipped parts (bones, etc.) of saints, the Victorians held on to remnants of their loved ones by retaining pieces of their hair. In this way, the wearer could keep their loved one close—literally and metaphorically." 

Today, there are still a few places where you can see Victorian hairwork on display, and an assortment of other spots where history and culture are wound up with famous and not-so-famous tresses:

1. Leila's Hair Museum // Independence, Missouri 

For a crash course in Victorian hair work, visit Leila's Hair Museum. The brainchild of hairdresser Leila Cohoon, the museum includes a collection of more than 600 hair wreaths and 2,000 pieces of jewelry made with human hair, including bracelets, necklaces, earrings, hat pins, cuff links, buttons, and more. Cohoon says she began collecting hairwork in 1956, after falling in love with a small gold-framed hair wreath at a Kansas City, Missouri antiques dealer’s. She hasn’t looked back, and adds to her ever-growing collection by drawing on garage and estate sales, auctions, personal connections, and donations. The first iteration of Leila's Hair Museum opened in 1986 in the front of her cosmetology school, and moved to its current location in January 2005. Cohoon even gives classes on how to make Victorian-style hairwork yourself, and says she’s reverse-engineered 30 techniques the Victorians once used (she’s still working on another five). 

2. Avanos Hair Museum // Goreme, Turkey 

This may the world's only pottery center/guest house/hair museum. In a cave. As Atlas Obscura notes, "calling it a museum may be a bit of a stretch," but it's certainly a remarkable sight—an estimated 16,000 locks of hair dangle from the ceilings and walls, the oldest supposedly hung in 1979. The tendrils vary in color and size, but are all said to come from the heads of female visitors. Supposedly, a local potter started the place when a dear friend was saying goodbye and the potter asked for a souvenir to remember her by. The friend cut off a piece of her hair, which the potter ended up displaying in his pottery shop. He told the story to visitors, some of whom were moved to duplicate the woman's generosity, and the collection took off. 

3. Victoria and Albert Museum 

The Victoria and Albert Museum has an excellent collection of hair jewelry, much of it stored in a cabinet on the mezzanine level of Room 91. Highlights include a fantastic diamond-and-pink sapphire broach with a locket of blond plaited hair, a beautiful brooch made to commemorate the death of a 16-year-old who died in 1842, and a 17th-century ring with an enameled skeleton on a background of hair, made in memory of a child known only by the initials “I.C.”

4. John Reznikoff’s Collection

Collector John Reznikoff's assortment of celebrity hair isn't usually open to the public—unless the public happens to be a buyer with some seriously deep pockets. Among the strands plucked from George Washington, Beethoven, Napoleon, and John Dillinger is a clump of hair said to come from Abraham Lincoln after his assassination, and still bearing bits of his brain matter. Reznikoff estimates that the clump, kept in a special gold-and-glass case, is worth about $750,000. Not all the samples get the gold box treatment, however; most rest inside a filing cabinet, in plain envelopes alongside documentation proving their origins. 

Reznikoff buys from auction houses, small dealers, and the "occasional grandmother," according to The New York Times, but stopped buying hair from living celebrities after a deal with Neil Armstrong's barber led the former astronaut to sue. However, there's still plenty of business where dead celebrities are concerned—in 2008, Reznikoff sold a selection of Beethoven's hair to a company that turned it into a synthetic diamond, which eventually sold for $202,000 on eBay. 

5. The Japan Hair Museum // Kyoto 

Hair, fashion, and history go hand-in-hand—think of the flappers' bobs or 1960s beehives. At Kyoto's Japan Hair Museum, also known as the Japanese Coiffure Museum, 115 hairpieces provide a history of Japan through its many hairstyles, from the distant past to the product-obsessed present. Hundreds of hair ornaments and combs are also on display, although if hair accessories are more your thing, there's a museum for that too: The museum of Traditional Japanese Hair Ornaments in Tokyo. 

6. Bangsbo Museum // Frederikshavn, Denmark 

Hairwork has deep roots in Scandinavia, where poor harvests in the 19th century encouraged the rise of a cottage industry in hair art and jewelry made by country women. Known in Sweden as hårkullor, or "hair ladies," these women would often travel Europe creating hair-based handicrafts and sending the funds back home to help keep their villages afloat. They created all kinds of jewelry—brooches, rings, and watch chains—using hair provided (usually) by the customer. Men wore the hair of their wives fashioned into intricately braided watch chains, while women opted for necklaces, rings, and other adornments made from their husbands' tresses. Today, the Bangsbo Museum displays hårkullor handicrafts in a permanent exhibition that forms Northern Europe's largest collection of hair art. You can see necklaces, rings, wreaths, plaques, and most bizarrely, a pair of very hairy mittens. 

7. John Varden’s Cabinets 

In the early 1850s, John Varden was working for the National Institute for the Promotion of Science at the US Patent Office when he began collecting locks of hair for a display he would later call "Hair of Persons of Distinction." The curious framed collection included small snippets from the heads (presumably) of inventor Samuel Morse, sculptor Clark Mills, General Sam Houston, and Senators Henry Clay and Jefferson Davis, among other notables. Varden later created a second, equally large display featuring the hair of presidents from George Washington to Franklin Pierce. Both displays once belonged to the Patent Office, but now reside at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The first cabinet is notable for preserving Varden's appeal: “Those having hair of Distinguished Persons, will confere [sic] a Favor by adding to this Collection." 

8. Myrans Hemslöjd // Vamhus, Sweden 

Vamhus, Sweden may be the only place left in Europe with a thriving hairwork community. In the 19th century, village women made hundreds of trips around Europe to learn and perform the craft, and it never quite died out. If you save up your strands (and your pennies), you can order your own hairwork brooches, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, or watch chains here. You can see hairwork on display at Myrans Hemslöjd, a local handicrafts store that is keeping the tradition alive.

Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Would You Be Able to Pass a World War I Military Literacy Test?
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain

Though reading and writing might not come to mind as the first requirement for trench warfare, during the early 20th century, the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate. Thousands of World War I soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but literacy tests were included in a battery of psychological evaluations World War I recruits went through to determine their mental fitness and intelligence, as the blog Futility Closet recently highlighted.

These unconventional literacy tests largely took the form of a yes or no questions with obvious answers, according to the 1921 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Edited by pioneering intelligence-testing psychologist Robert Yerkes, who developed the military's first psychology exams for new recruits (and was also famous for his support for eugenics), the volume is a lengthy compilation of all of the methods the U.S. Army used to test the intelligence of its future soldiers. Many of these tests are now considered racist and culturally biased—some of the "intelligence" testing questions required recruits to know things like what products Velvet Joe (a figure used in tobacco campaigns) advertised—but some of the literacy questions, in particular, simply come off as weird in the modern era. Some are downright existential, in fact, while others—"Is a guitar a disease?"—come off as almost poetic.

A long questionnaire to test literacy, including questions like 'Is coal white?'
Psychological Examining in the United States Army, Google Books // Public Domain

One test, the Devens Literarcy Test, asked recruits questions like "Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?" and "Does success tend to bring pleasure?" Another section of the test asked "Do boys like to play?" and "Do clerks enjoy a vacation?"

Other questions seem like they're up for debate, like "Are painters ever artless individuals?" and "Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?" Surely the answers to questions like "Should criminals forfeit liberty?" and "Is misuse of money an evil?" depend on the opinions of the reader. The answer to "Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?" might be different depending on how the person feels about their Congressional representative, and could surely be the spark for an hour-long argument at most dinner parties.

Still others are tests of cultural knowledge, not reading skill—a major modern criticism of Yerkes's work. Despite being arguably a pretty literate person, I certainly don't know the answer to the question "Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?" A question like "Are 'diminutive' and 'Lilliputian' nearly identical?" isn't exactly a test of literacy, but a test of whether or not you've read Gulliver's Travels, which doesn't exactly seem like a necessity for military success.

Luckily, some of the questions are pretty obvious, like "Is coal white?" That one I can answer. The full list of questions used in the various versions of the Devens test is below for you to test your own Army-level literacy.

  • Do dogs bark?
  • Is coal white?
  • Can you see?
  • Do men eat stones?
  • Do boys like to play?
  • Can a bed run?
  • Do books have hands?
  • Is ice hot?
  • Do winds blow?
  • Have all girls the same name?
  • Is warm clothing good for winter?
  • Is this page of paper white?
  • Are railroad tickets free?
  • Is every young woman a teacher?
  • Is it always perfect weather?
  • Is the heart within the body?
  • Do clerks enjoy a vacation?
  • Is the President a public official?
  • Would you enjoy losing a fortune?
  • Does an auto sometimes need repair?
  • Is it important to remember commands?
  • Are avenues usually paved with oxygen?
  • Do we desire serious trouble?
  • Is practical judgment valuable?
  • Ought a man's career to be ruined by accidents?
  • Do you cordially recommend forgery?
  • Does an emergency require immediate decision?
  • Should honesty bring misfortune to its possessor?
  • Are gradual improvements worth while?
  • Is a punctual person continually tardy?
  • Are instantaneous effects invariably rapid?
  • Should preliminary disappointment discourage you?
  • Is hearsay testimony trustworthy evidence?
  • Is wisdom characteristic of the best authorities?
  • Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?
  • Is incessant discussion usually boresome?
  • Are algebraic symbols ever found in manuals?
  • Are tentative regulations ever advantageous?
  • Are "diminutive" and "Lilliputian" nearly identical?
  • Is an infinitesimal titanic bulk possible?
  • Do all connubial unions eventuate felicitously?
  • Is a "gelatinous exaltation" ridiculous?
  • Are "sedate" and "hilarious" similar in meaning?
  • Is avarice sometimes exhibited by cameos?
  • Can a dog run?
  • Is water dry?
  • Can you read?
  • Do stones talk?
  • Do books eat?
  • Do cats go to school?
  • Are six more than two?
  • Is John a girl's name?
  • Are there letters in a word?
  • Is your nose on your face?
  • Can you carry water in a sieve?
  • Do soldiers wear uniforms?
  • Does it rain every morning?
  • Are newspapers made of iron?
  • Are "forward" and "backward" directions?
  • Do many people attend motion-picture theatres?
  • Do handkerchiefs frequently injure human beings?
  • Do magazines contain advertisements?
  • Are political questions often the subject of debates?
  • Are empires inclosed in envelopes?
  • Are members of the family usually regarded as guests?
  • Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?
  • Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?
  • May chimneys be snipped off with scissors?
  • Is moderation a desirable virtue?
  • Are apish manners desired by a hostess?
  • Do conscientious brunettes exist?
  • Do serpents make oblong echoes?
  • Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?
  • Is hypocrisy approved by honest men?
  • Is virile behavior effeminate?
  • Do alleged facts often require verification?
  • Do pestilences ordinarily bestow great benefit?
  • Are painters ever artless individuals?
  • Do the defenders of citadels sometimes capitulate?
  • Do physicians ameliorate pathological conditions?
  • Is embezzlement a serious misdemeanor?
  • Do vagrants commonly possess immaculate cravats?
  • Are "loquacious" and "voluble" opposite in meaning?
  • May heresies arise among the laity?
  • Are piscatorial activities necessarily lucrative?
  • Do tendrils terminate in cerebral hemorrhages?
  • Does a baby cry?
  • Can a hat speak?
  • Do hens lay eggs?
  • Is a stone soft?
  • Is one more than seven?
  • Do the land and sea look just alike?
  • Are some books black?
  • Does water run up hill?
  • Are stamps used on letters?
  • Do 100 cents make a dollar?
  • Are we sure what events will happen next year?
  • Do ships sail on railroads?
  • Do stones float in the air?
  • May meat be cut with a knife?
  • Are ledges common in mountain districts?
  • Does success tend to bring pleasure?
  • Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean?
  • Is misuse of money an evil?
  • Should criminals forfeit liberty?
  • Is special information usually a disadvantage?
  • Are attempted suicides always fatal?
  • Are exalted positions held by distinguished men?
  • Does confusion favor the establishment of order?
  • Is a civil answer contrary to law?
  • Is a dilapidated garment nevertheless clothing?
  • Are textile manufacturers valueless?
  • Do thieves commit depredations?
  • Does close inspection handicap accurate report?
  • Do transparent goggles transmit light?
  • Do illiterate men read romances?
  • Is irony connected with blast furnaces?
  • Do avalanches ever descend mountains?
  • Are scythes always swung by swarthy men?
  • Do pirates accumulate booty?
  • Are intervals of repose appreciated?
  • Are intermittent sounds discontinuous?
  • Is an avocational activity ordinarily pleasurable?
  • Are pernicious pedestrians translucent?
  • Are amicable relationships disrupted by increased congeniality?
  • Are many nocturnal raids surreptitiously planned
  • Are milksops likely to perpetrate violent offenses?
  • Are "precipitancy" and "procrastination" synonymous?
  • Is snow cold?
  • Can a dog read?
  • Do houses have doors?
  • Has a horse five legs?
  • Are three more than ten?
  • Do mice love cats?
  • Does a hat belong to you?
  • Do animals have glass eyes?
  • Should fathers provide clothing for children?
  • Is it true that lead is heavy
  • Do poor men have much money?
  • Is summer colder than winter?
  • Can a horse tell time by a watch?
  • Is a city larger than a country town?
  • Does Christmas ever fall on Tuesday?
  • Do Christians often overlook faults?
  • Are difficult problems easily solved?
  • Do convicts sometimes escape from prison?
  • Should the courts secure justice for everybody?
  • Are scoundrels always intoxicated?
  • Is a guitar a kind of disease?
  • Do jugglers furnish entertainment?
  • Should we build on insecure foundations?
  • Do annual conventions take place biweekly?
  • Does persistent effort favor ultimate success?
  • Is a shrewd man necessarily admired?
  • Is manual skill advantageous?
  • Are elaborate bonnets inexpensive?
  • Are petty annoyances irritating?
  • Are false arguments valid?
  • Do you approve of ruthless massacres?
  • Do blemishes occur in complexions?
  • Is air found in a complete vacuum?
  • Do robins migrate periodically?
  • Are weird tales sometimes gruesome?
  • Do felines possess locomotor appendages?
  • Do demented individuals frequently have hallucinations?
  • Are laconic messages sometimes verbose?
  • Are perfunctory endeavors usually efficacious?
  • Would a deluge extinguish a smouldering trellis?
  • Are devastated suburbs exhilarating vistas?
  • Are "contingent" and "independent" alike in meaning?

[h/t Futility Closet]

10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

While Volkswagen has announced—for a second time—that it's going to cease production on the Beetle, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.


Adolf Hitler checks out a VW Beetle
Getty Images

It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.


Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.


A pink VW Beetle

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.


The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 


In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.


Herbie the Love Bug

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.


The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.


When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.


After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.


The last VW Bug
Getty Images

Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.


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