This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Hair Manufacture. The various uses to which hair of different sorts is applied are familiar to every one. To prepare the curled hair for stuffing cushions, pillows and mattresses, short horse hair is carded between "teeth" or combs, beaten in a heap with a cane; curled and twisted round a cylinder of wood in cold water, then boiled and heated in an oven. It is then opened by partial uncurling in an opposite direction, and towzled or picked into curling pieces, by which operations they acquire a remarkable springy quality. Short white horse hair from the mane and tail, is used for brushes. Hair of medium length is spun into clothes-lines and woven into filtering bags. Long white horsehairs are used for violin bows and fishing lines. At some of the industrial exhibitions there have been displayed, from Russia, bowls, dishes and plates made of hare and rabbit hair, felted into a tough layer and varnished; they possess something of the appearance of papiermache. For various purposes in arts, the hair of the camel, badger, sable, hog, cow, dog and other animals is used. But by far the most valuable kind is human hair. The making of wigs, perukes, beards, whiskers, switches, moustaches, eyebrows, chignons, bangs, etc., constitutes a trade in itself, in which many ingenious processes are involved. The best false hair comes from France, where it is sold by the gramme at prices which vary according to quality and color. The most expensive false hair is the silver white variety, which is in great demand and very difficult to find. This is due to the fact that men grow bald, in a majority of cases before their hair reaches the silver-white stage, and women, whether bald or not, are not disposed to sell their white hair at any price. They need it themselves. Still, women growing bald must have white hair to match the scant allowance advancing age has left them. The chemists have taken the matter in hand and are able to produce, by decoloration of hair of any color, a tolerable grade of white hair, which however, has a bluish tint - not at all approaching in beauty the silvery softness of hair which has been bleached by nature. False hair of the ordinary shades is obtained in two ways. The better and more expensive kind is cut directly from the heads of peasant women, who sell their silken tresses sometimes for a mere song and sometimes for a fair price, according as they have learned wisdom. Every year the whole territory of France is traveled over by men whose business it is to persuade village maidens, their mothers, and their aunts to part with their hair for financial considerations. These men are known as "cutters," and there are at least five hundred of them in the country always going from house to house, from farm to farm, and through all the villages in all the departments, seeking subjects for their scissors. A good cutter averages from two to five heads of hair a day, and he pays from 40 cents to $2 for each. It is estimated that a single head of luxuriant growth weighs about a pound. The false hair thus obtained - at the cost of the tears and regrets of many foolish maidens - is the finest in the market, and sells for an exaggerated price, which puts it beyond the reach of the ordinary purchaser. Besides, it is evident that the supply of genuine "cuttings" must fall far short of the demand for false hair. So the major portion of this wavy merchandise is obtained from the rag-pickers. These busy searchers of ash heaps and garbage barrels collect every day in the cities of Paris and London alone at least a hundred pounds of hair which some hundreds of thousands of women have combed out of their heads during the preceding twenty-four hours. This hair, all mixed together and soiled, one would think beyond redemption, is sold to hair cleaners at from $1 to $1.50 a pound. The cleaning of this refuse hair is an operation which requires careful attention. After the hair has been freed from the dust and dirt and mud it is rubbed in fine sawdust until it shines once more with its pristine gloss, and then the process of sorting is begun. In the first place, skillful hands fix the individual hairs in frames with the roots all pointing the same way, and then they are arranged according to color. Finally, when a sufficient number of one color have been obtained (nor is this number so immense as is commonly supposed) they are made into the beautiful braids which are shown so seductively in the the window of fashionable coiffeurs. It is said that the "cutters" of France have plied their trade so industriously that at present it is hardly possible in the whole republic to find a woman who will sell her hair. The business has been done to death, and now the enterprising dealers in false hair are sending their representatives through Switzerland, Belgium and Norway convassing for unsophisticated lassies who will be robbed of their hair for a few pieces of silver.