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SS Republic Artifact

The excavation of the SS Republic yielded a cargo of items intended for personal grooming and hygiene, including hair combs and lady's headbands made of hard vulcanite, a durable, rubber-like material. In the assortment were the remains of two wooden hair brushes, their bristles long since deteriorated in the corrosive salt water. The original bristles, now missing, were very likely made of natural boar's hair-also found on toothbrushes of the era. As noted in an early 20th-century Bulletin of Pharmacy, Hair-Brush bristles mainly come from Russia, Germany, France, Romania, Siberia and certain other parts of Europe and Asia." The document further confirms that "The source of the bristles is the hair of hogs or wild boars" some of which "grow to an immense size with a luxurious growth of bristles along the back."  Bristles from domesticated hogs were not recommended. As a general rule, "the wilder the boar, the better the bristles." Sold in casks, the manufacturers to whom the bristles were shipped then had to wash, sort and dress the bristles for their intended use.  

The price of the bristles and consequently that of the hair brushes of the era, were driven by a number of factors including the source, appearance, stiffness, length and diameter of the bristles. Some of the cheaper brushes on the market used other materials such as quills and vegetable fibers. However, these less expensive varieties wore out more readily than the brushes made with genuine boar hair bristles.

The earliest U.S. patent for a modern hairbrush was by Hugh Rock in 1854. Yet, with so little remaining of the original hair brushes shipped aboard the Republic, their origins and maker will continue to be a mystery.


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