Thursday, December 3, 2020

Victorian-Americans Cure Baldness and fight gray hair by Kristin Holt


Kristin Holt | Victorian Americans Cure Baldness and fight gray hair

by Kristin Holt
USA Today Bestselling Author
of Sweet Romance set in the American Old West


Everyday ads insisted products gave the user the elusive beauty required for happiness.


Fascination with Hair

Nineteenth century Americans were every bit as obsessed with beautiful, plentiful hair as they were with fashion. A tidy, comely appearance mattered in society, especially to the middle- and upper-classes. Hair qualities announced your character to everybody. Ladies cherished their "crown of glory."

Notice how this 1851 advertisement plays on this Victorian attitude:

Kristin Holt | 1851 Advert from The new Orleans Crescent newspaper: "Use it if you want to marry."


Vintage books of etiquette underscore the necessity of looking one's best. But women faced a Victorian standard of beauty-- one that had distinct ideas about what made a female marriageable, beautiful, and attractive. Men cared, too, about presenting an appealing visage. They cared so much, the "hair" industry imported tons of literal hair.

Notice how this ad plays to that Victorian desire to retain one's beauty:

Kristin Holt | Pease's Renewer for Men, Pease's Philcome for Ladies: Preserve Your Beauty. No Dirt. No Smell of Sulphur. Advert from The Buffalo Courier of Buffalo, NY on January 1, 1866.


To Victorians, beauty meant well-coifed tresses, curls, professional ladies' hairdressers, barber shops, false hair pieces (including saving fallen hair to make a "rat"), and avoiding the curses of suntan and freckles.



A casual perusal through vintage newspapers emphasizes the importance of beauty to our Victorian-era predecessors. Adverts presented a full head of hair as beauty personified. Promises of youth regained, with all the possibilities of love and happiness.

As more and more lotions, potions, dimple-making contraptions cropped up, marketing became king. Newspapers, periodicals, and magazines emphasized ways and means to ensure and retain beauty, especially if one must buy it.


Electric Hairbrushes

Static Electricity?

Dr. Scott's Electric hairbrush became all the rage in Great Britain after the Queen procured one for herself and one for Prince Albert. (I seldom include newspaper ads published outside the United States' 19th century; note the flags on the following two images.)

Kristin Holt | Dr. Scott's Electric Hairbrush: Produces permanent electro-magnetic charge, acts immediately upon ahir glands and follicles. Published in The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper of London, England on August 20, 1881. Note the Queen's endorsement.

As always, Victoria's influence upon Americans would prevail: enter an American look-alike, a hairbrush that produces an electro-magetic charge. Would that be simple static electricity?


Kristin Holt | Electric Hairbrush from Foshay and Mason, Americans. Advertised as: A Miracle Cure for ALL that ails; "Produce a permanent electric current which acts immediately upon the hair glands. It will cure nervous or bilious headache in five minutes; will remove dandruff; prevent falling hair and baldness; cures diseases of the scalp; arrests premature grayness; makes the hair soft and glossy, and will produce a rapid growth of hair on bald heads when the glands are not totally destroyed." Published in Albany Democrat of Albany, Oregon on October 8, 1880.


Commercial Products: Early 19th Century

I was surprised to discover the adverts for hair-loss prevention tonics as early as 1821. Such advertisements grew in popularity throughout the century, continuing well into the 20th.


Kristin Holt | Balm of Columbia by John Oldridge, advertised in The National Gazette of Philadelphia, Penn. on December 28, 1821.

By 1826 a list of nearly twenty agents throughout Philadelphia were listed in advertisements, with “agents to be appointed throughout the United States.” [The National Gazette of Philadelphia on July 12, 1826] The brand spread into New York, where The Evening Post (New York City) ran advertisements that summer. In 1827, Oldridge’s Balm of Columbia advertised heavily in Kentucky Reporter of Lexington. By 1828, Balm of Columbia was popularized in The Charleston Daily Courier (Charleston, North Carolina, June 23). Growth spread, showing up in Sentinel and Democrat of Burlington, Vermont in November (29th) of 1833.


Obscene Popularity

Hall’s Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer

Kristin Holt | Victorian-Americans Cure Baldness and fight gray hair. Photo of Antique Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer as sold by WorthPoint. See link to WorthPoint's site.
Image from WorthPoint.

Kristin Holt | Victorian-Americans Cure Baldness and fight gray hair. Photo of Hall's Hair Renewer Vegetable Sicilian as sold by WorthPoint. Photo courtesy of Worthpoint. See link to sales page.
Image from WorthPoint.

While some labels remained within a matter of miles of origin, others became nationwide sensations. One most-popular hair-grower advertised for more than twenty years. Highly branded ads appeared in newspapers from New York to San Francisco, Indiana to Florida, Montana to Texas. That brand: Hall’s Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer.


Kristin Holt | Victorian-Americans Cure Baldness and fight gray hair. Photograph of advertisement card for Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer: "Restores Gray Hair to its original color and prevents baldness."
Vintage Ad for Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer. Image: Digital Commonwealth

Kristin Holt | Victorian-Americans Cure Baldness and fight gray hair. Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer advertised in The Frankfort Bee of Frankfort, Kansas on September 12, 1879.

Advertisement for Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer: "Saved Papa's Hair from turning gray, and falling off, and will save yours. Keeps the scalp healthy."
Image: Courtesy of Boston Public Library; No copyright restrictions

Vintage Ad: Hall's Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer: "Thickens the growth of the hair, prevents baldness, cures dandruff, and restores gray hair to its original color and beauty."
Vintage Ad Art available for sale on Amazon

A Popular Brand -- Still for sale

Would you believe it if I told you that a Victorian-era hair restorative is still available for sale? I'm not talking vintage bottles, but the modern, updated, stuff.

Kristin Holt | Barry's Tricopherous, established 1801: "Guarranteed to restore the hair to bald heads and to make it grow thick, long and soft." Advertisement Card from Victorian era. Image courtesy of Pinterest (see link)
Barry's Tricopherous Vintage Ad: Courtesy of Pinterest

Kristin Holt | Prof. Barry's Tricopherous Or Medicaed Compound "For Restoring, Preserving and Beautifying Hair, eradicating scruff and dandruff, and curing diseases of the skin, glands, and muscles, stings, cuts, bruises, sprains, etc., etc." Advert from New York Daily Herald of NY, NY on May 9, 1849.
Barry's Tricopherous Advertisement, 1849. Note the many letters of endorsement.

Barry's Tricopherous (and another) is available on Amazon presently:

Splash In The Pan Brands

While Hall’s Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer enjoyed nationwide sales through several decades, other brands appear to have been only sold “locally” and for much briefer periods of time.

Here are a few:

Kristin Holt | Boyle's Hyperion Vegetable Hair Fluid, advertized in The Washington Union of Washington, District of Columbia on May 14, 1848.
No matter how many bottles sold (do you believe the "more than two million" claim?)...
Kristin Holt | Packard's Great Regenerator: Reproducer of the Human Hair. More than two million bottles have been sold. Advertised in Vermont Phoenix of Brattleboro, Vermont on August 21, 1858.
 Kristin Holt | 1 of 3: Dozens of Brands of Hair Restorative products on the Victorian-American market. Bogle's Hypersion Fluid (1849), Jones' Coral Hair Restorative (1851), and Mrs. Hyatt's Victor Hair Restorative (1877)

Kristin Holt | 1 of 3: Dozens of Brands of Hair Restorative products on the Victorian-American market. Curtis's Cure for Baldness (1859), Tricopherous by Clirehugh Hair Cutter (1840)

Kristin Holt | 1 of 3: Dozens of Brands of Hair Restorative products on the Victorian-American market. Jayne's Hair Tonic (1841), Attn: Gray, Bald, and Red Heads (1846), and Benton's Hair Grower (1886)

Some of the above "lesser-known" brands were available in the American West. Note the one in St. Louis and another in Kansas. These were not alone. Note the following, available in the West:

Kristin Holt | Gay's Celebrated Cure for Baldness, available in Concordia, Cloud County, Kansas. Advertized in The St. Joseph Gazette of St. Joseph, Missouri on February 25, 1876.

Kristin Holt | "Mme. C. Francois treats diseases of the scalp, and by using her Hair Tonic prevents the hair from falling out, and cures Baldness. Cures Guarranteed." Advertized in St. Louis Globe-Democrat of St. Louis, MO. February 13, 1876.

Kristin Holt | "Ayer's Hair Vigor, for Restoring Gray Hair to its Natural Vitality and Color," advertised in the St. Joseph Gazette of St. Joseph, MO on February 25, 1876.

Ayer's Hair Vigor was far from a flash in the pan. Note this 1876 ad (above) in Missouri. Twelve years later, the same product is still advertised in Kansas:

Kristin Holt | "Ayer's Hair Vigor has long held the first place as a hair dressing". Advertised to prevent baldness, cure humors in the scalp, and give hair a beautiful gloss. Advertised in The Topeka Daily Capital of Topeka, Kansas on July 16, 1888.

Common Promises Among Labels

Cures Baldness!
Cures Dandruff!
Contains No Poisons
The Genuine Article - Infinitely better than inferior products
Restores youthful color
Prevents hair from falling out
Grows new hair (only where nature intended)
Provides gloss and shine
Strengthens hair, allowing it to grow to astounding lengths
Thickens hair
Cures any disease of the scalp
Kills any microscopic germs inhibiting the growth of hair

and, if one believes the artwork: restoration of YOUTH:

Kristin Holt | "Free Cure for Baldness: Trial package of a Remarkable Remedy..." advertized in The Times-Democrat of New Orleans, LA on March 26, 1899.

Quinine? Cocaine? Magnetic Fluid?

Oh, the creativity Victorian salesmen employed to sell hair products.


Kristin Holt | J and E Atkinson's Quinine Hair Lotion advertised in Memphis Daily Appeal of Memphis, TN on May 28, 1879.

Cocaine, in a hair preparation? Cocaine-- "to strengthen the hair and render it dark and glossy." Oh, and cures baldness and eradicates dandruff. We already have cocaine at the dentist, cocaine in Coca-Cola, cocaine in patent medicines, and now cocaine in a hair specific.

Kristin Holt | Burnett's Cocaine Embellishes and Strengthens Hair, Cures Dandruff and Baldness. Advertised in The Montgomery Advertiser of Montgomery, Alabama on February 15, 1883.

Kristin Holt | Dr. Schiller's Magnetic Fluic - for restoring the growth of the Hair &c., advertised in Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express of Buffalo, NY on March 11, 1848.
Magnetic fluid?

Maybe you don't have to buy a potion...

Make your own

Kristin Holt | 1 of 3: A simple hair restorative preparation to cure baldness -- alcohol and pine shavings. Advertised in Salina Daily Republican of Salina, Kansas on June 18, 1897.

Kristin Holt | 2 of 3: A simple hair restorative preparation to cure baldness -- alcohol and pine shavings. Advertised in Salina Daily Republican of Salina, Kansas on June 18, 1897.

Kristin Holt | 3 of 3: A simple hair restorative preparation to cure baldness -- alcohol and pine shavings. Advertised in Salina Daily Republican of Salina, Kansas on June 18, 1897.

WHY did False Advertising Sell so much?

That's the question.

Today's doctors and scientists have remarked upon Victorian-era potions for hair restoration, growth, renewal, and more. Quite frankly, these expensive bottles didn't work. I highly doubt the electro-magnetic hairbrushes did anything more than any old boar-bristle brush.

Why did so many people flock to buy alcohol, water, and coloring in bottles?


What do you think?

Do you see parallels in today's hair-care product market?

Please scroll down and comment.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian Shaving: Part 1

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Kristin Holt | Styling Ladies' Hair, American 19th Century

Kristin Holt | Victorian Bad Hair Day, a.k.a. Turkey Gravy Mistaken for Hair Oil


From Kristin Holt

USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt writes as a contributor to Sweet Americana Sweethearts

Historical Articles by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt


Copyright 2020 Kristin Holt LC

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