Antiques Peek: January 2018

Antiques Peek: January 2018

Stylin’ Collectibles
By Jessica Kosinski

Technology is always advancing, which is why many antique technologies are now obsolete. One industry which has led to the invention of many eventually obsolete devices is the hair care industry. The hair dryers and other devices of the early days of hair care, such as curling devices, now look like strange foreign objects to many of us. But such machines should never be forgotten. After all, they were incredible devices in their times, and many of them are still collected and admired by enthusiasts today. So, in this edition, let’s take a peek at the fascinating hair care tools of yesteryear.

The Invention and Evolution of the Hair Dryer
Alexandre-Ferdinand Godefroy is credited with the invention of the first hair drying device in 1888. Similar in some ways to hair drying chairs still seen in salons today, the tool was a dome-like device which was to be positioned over a person’s head. The tool was attached to a pipe, which had to be attached to a preexisting source of heat. After Mr. Godefroy’s initial invention similar designs, including gas-powered hair dryers, began popping up, but there were still problems which hadn’t been solved. The hair drying devices had no heat sources of their own and no method of moving hot air efficiently. As such, it took a long time for hair to dry when compared to how quickly it can be dried using today’s hair drying technology.

As time marched on, people became frustrated by the limitations of those large, awkward early hair dryers with no built in heat production. Inventors began to think about changes to the existing drying devices. In the 1920s some realized that certain types of hair drying tools could be improved upon by attaching them to vacuum cleaners. Soon after that other inventors chose to try to redesign the tools themselves, making hand-held hair dryers which resemble the ones we all use today.

The 1920s predecessors of modern home use hair dryers included motors which allowed them to produce their own heat which made them appealing to those who wanted to dry their hair quickly. They also came along at a time when electric companies were strongly urging the public to use more and more electric appliances. Thanks to heavy advertising campaigns and greater drying efficiency they were quickly popularized. Over the years their designs were improved upon to make them lighter and easier to use, as well as safer. Meanwhile, Mr. Godefroy’s original design was not totally abandoned. It eventually morphed into the hair drying chairs seen in today’s beauty salons.

The History and Evolution of Hair Curling Tools
Most of us are familiar with plastic hair curlers and electric curling irons used to create wavy locks from a straight head of hair. But what many may not realize is just how far hair curling tools have come throughout history. For example, there is evidence of hair curling tongs being used by the Ancient Egyptians, as well as many other cultures. It is believed that the metal tongs were heated in a fire and then used to tug at hair, creating curls, but also creating lots of scalp and hand burns along the way. Such tools evolved slightly over time, but the method used remained more or less the same even as later as the 1890s and, in some cases, beyond.

From the early 1900s onward quick advancements were made in hair curling technology. One early patent obtained by Solomon Harper in 1920 was for a thermo hair curling tool which did not require the use of a fire as tongs once did. The “perm” machine invented by Charles Nestle in the early 1900s and the pre-World War II permanent wave machine, reminiscent of an octopus with many curlers attached to wires, were just a couple of other curling devices from the early to mid 1900s. Even as recently as the 1980s major changes were made to hair curling methods here in the United States. Around that time the curling iron was patented by Theora Stephens.

The History and Evolution of Hair Straightening Tools
On the opposite end of the spectrum, people with hair they considered to be overly curly often used various methods to try to straighten their hair. Throughout the years those methods have varied greatly. There is some debate over when straightening tools first came into use, but it is known that in 1872 Marcel Grateau invented a straightening comb which utilized rods that were heated. The heat was used to straighten the hair. Sometime between 1902 and 1906 another advancement was made when Simon Monroe invented a type of hair straightening tool which used a device with metal teeth to straighten the hair. By 1912 the first straight iron was produced for straightening hair. Over 100 years later straight irons have undergone some minor changes, but are not much different from that early device.

Today many of the devices above and similar historical hair treatment devices are collectible less for their monetary value and more for their strange designs. Many people are intrigued to see how far hair care techniques have come over the years and the unusual things our ancestors did to maintain their lovely locks. In fact, even early advertisements showing such devices are sought by hair care enthusiasts because both the pictures of the devices and the descriptions of them are captivating.

Jessica Kosinski has been a freelance writer specializing in writing short articles for 15 years. She is also an avid collector of both antique books and Star Wars memorabilia. Although she is not in the antiques industry professionally, she has learned a lot about antiques over the years by periodically helping out at her mom’s antiques shop in Greenville, NH. She currently balances maintaining the antiques shop’s Facebook page,, and working on various freelance writing assignments. She can be reached at

Antiques Peek: January 2018