Monday, July 21, 2008

Interesting Artifacts

As I catalog all the many artifacts from our field session I always seem to come across something unique to myself or just unique in general. So that gave me an idea...why not blog on some of the more interesting artifacts we have found at Port Tobacco? I have covered all the basics in glass, ceramics, brick, etc. that has been found so now I am going to concentrate on the unique finds. At first I thought of blogging once a week on an interesting artifact but I'm not sure how long that can last, so instead I will blog about them as I come across them.

Our first "unique" find many of our volunteers have seen but may not know much about it. This item came out of Unit 11 in the "Native American" area of the site. I don't remember who picked it up but it was our ASM volunteer Barry who first identified it along with a secondary verification by our esteemed co-director Jim. What is it you ask? Why it's a Wig Curler of course!!

These nearly identical pieces were recovered from George Washington's Mount Vernon. See their website:

Wig curlers were popular in the 18th Century and have been found on many Colonial era archaeological sites.

From 1680 to the early 1800s, men of fashion often wore wigs of human hair, which were sometimes created from their own cropped tresses. They range in size and shape from 2 1/2" to 3" and were sometimes straight and with curved ends on some. Two different impressed intials were often common, IB or WB, neither of which were found on the one coming out of Port Tobacco.

According to Ivor Noel Hume (see the list of references near the bottom of the left column), the purpose of these curlers was almost the same as that of women's rollers today. The curls of a new wig, or of one being dressed, were rolled in strips of damp paper around the clay curlers, the weight of which served to pull the hair downward against the block over which the wig was seated. The finished curl was tied around the curler with a piece of rag, after which the whole wig was baked, sometimes in a nearby baker's oven.

Curlermaking was most likely a sideline business for tobacco pipemakers but very little is known about the process or the business in general. Archaeology has produced no small number of these items on both English and American sites but the evolution of the wig curler has become lost over time. Food for thought there.

- Peter

Reminder: Tuesdays and Thursdays are lab days at the MHT lab in Crownsville from 9-3. See you there!


Dancing Willow said...

I guess they became obsolete when curling irons were introduced ~ lol

Jim said...

Nope...they became obsolete when powdered wigs were abandoned. If jurists used them in Port Tobacco, then we might find those little buggers in relatively late deposits.