Valentine’s Day falls on Feb. 14, and along with the Roman Goddess of Marriage, Juno, the holiday honors the Christian martyr, St. Valentine. Persecuted by the Roman Emperor in A.D. 273, St. Valentine enjoys a legacy that has been carried on by lovers — young and old — for centuries.
St. Valentine’s day is celebrated by gifting flowers, sharing love symbols and sending romantic cards. While St. Valentine presented the flowers from his garden to young lovers in an effort to promote the Catholic sacrament of matrimony during his lifetime, the February holiday that bears his name has sparked the exchange of various artisan works.
During the Victorian era of the late 19th century, Valentine traditions existed that prompted loved ones to share homemade baked goods and handcrafted keepsakes. Since the way to someone’s heart is really via the stomach, Victorians on Valentine’s Day showed loved by giving items that were useful in the kitchen. The Victorians said “I love you” with gifts of decorative ceramic rolling pins, pie plates and hand-painted, decorated china.
From heart to hair
Although the Valentine’s Day card remains the most recognizable of the lover’s offerings, Victorian gifts from the heart — and the head — were the most desirable.
One such gift was an item that would assist in making handicrafts: the hair receiver. Today, antique hair receivers range in value from $15 to $500 for specialty examples. A hair receiver, a small ceramic bowl with a hole in the top where women saved their hair, was a common dresser accessory in the Victorian era. After accumulating a good amount of locks, the hair would be used to make a hair object. These receivers would be used to save brushed hair for use weaving hair pictures, hair bracelets, hair lockets, hair chains, hair watch fobs, etc. Today, the popular hair crafts made from all of this saved hair are hard to find.
Intricately woven hair crafts became love gifts from circa 1850 to 1910. Hair jewelry was most commonly used for sentimental remembrances and as gifts. On Valentine’s Day, women believed that giving their beloved a hair bracelet or hair watch fob would serve as a love charm and ensure a long and happy relationship. Many Civil War soldiers had such items and many are found by relatives alongside of military memorabilia.
Blonde or brunette?
One of the most beloved Valentine antiques is the coveted hair picture. Hair pictures were devotional objects coveted by families for generations. Accompanied by a hand-written inscription, hair pictures are fascinating mementos. Some of the most common Victorian Valentines featured the symbolic lover’s rose or a bouquet of forget-me-not flowers to remember the dead made from the hair locks of one’s beloved.
With values in the $1,000 to $5,000 range, framed Victorian hair pictures grew from loving pictures to fine memorials. Images made of hair related to the lover’s lifestyle, his or her occupation, military service or hobbies. Hair pictures made of woven hair depicted intricate landscapes, family homesteads, military symbols like rifles or sea anchors, bicycles and still lifes of favorite fruits or flowers documenting the bounty of a couple’s love or a life well lived.
If you are looking to collect a hair receiver, hair picture or piece of woven hair jewelry in the form of a watch fob or locket, look for pieces that are in period frames and in very good condition.
Lori Verderame is an antiques appraiser, nationally syndicated columnist and author, and award-winning TV personality with a doctorate in the field. She presents antique appraisal events, keynote speeches and lectures to worldwide audiences. Visit www.DrLoriV.com. Follow her on Facebook.com/ DoctorLori or call 888-431-1010.