Curling Irons – 1866
This week’s Throwback Thursday examines an interesting invention in hairstyle, the curling iron! In 1866, Hiram Maxim obtained the first patent for a hair curling iron. This, however, was not the first curling device. Throughout history as we see in the ancient carving and artwork left behind, ancient peoples cared about the style of their hair. It was no secret that you could apply heat to a lock of hair and shape it. The trick was not to overheat and scorch the hair. The first curlers were metal cylinders heated over an open fire and temperatures were nearly impossible to determine and control. Many of the historically popular hair styles involved curled hair. Babylonian men dyed their hair black and crimped and curled their beards with curling irons. Persian nobles were also known to curl their beards. Many cultures including the Egyptians used bronze curling tongs.
Curling irons were not only for use on a person’s actual hair; it soon became more customary and hygienic to shave one’s head and use fancy wigs and perukes. During the 17th & 18th centuries, hair dressing became a very popular profession though it typically was the styling of wigs. The wigs were worn by the wealthy elite and styled with curls using curling tongs. Marie Antoinette, Queen of France in 1770, did not like wigs and began the fashion of curling natural hair and supplementing with pre-curled hair pieces and readymade clips with attached curls.
Vintage curling irons were often referred to as curling tongs as they resemble a pair of tongs or needle nose pliers. The wooden handle of the curling iron remained a safe temperature to touch the metal end was heated and consisted of two pieces that hair could be clamped between or a single piece of metal that hair would wrap around. Crimping irons crimp hair in a saw-tooth-style iron.
Many 19th century local blacksmiths would make curling irons for the wealthy ladies in town. Antique cast iron curling irons stands attached to the gas unit on a stove. The inner metal rod would heat up and the curling tongs were laid across to heat.
Coal oil curling iron furnaces allowed women to use a curler in the privacy of their room. Coal oil was the first clean burning fuel. Brass box style coal oil furnaces were used in place of a stove. The advent of electricity brought electric curling devices. Modern curling irons are now made of a variety of materials including Teflon, titanium and other metals, ceramic, and even tourmaline.
Antique and vintage hairdressing tools are highly collectable. Rare curling tongs are worth several hundred dollars. Barbering accessories are diverse, interesting and are beautiful to display. The PAST Antique Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has antique straight edge razors, shaving mugs and more available for sale. The Razor Sharp Barber Shop exhibit inside The Gateway Museum at Nature’s Art Village has an extensive collection of antique curling irons, barber shop and hairdressing tools and supplies. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.
Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.