Among the gems released into the public domain by the British Library last December is an advertisement for Batkin & Kent, Hairdressers and Perfumers of Stafford, (or Staffford – whoever proofread it probably hoped it would disappear with the next edition of the book rather than re-emerge on the internet 128 years later, but c’est la vie).
It is illustrated with the image of a man seated in a barber’s chair, undergoing the fashionable process of hair-brushing by machinery.
This attractive and somewhat intriguing advertisement has scored more than 4,200 views so far – not bad for one image among a million.
But how did this hair-brushing process work? Was it a one-off eccentricity that never caught on, or a familiar sight in every hairdressing salon?
The answer is that it became more than familiar – hair-brushing by machinery was a Victorian sensation, capturing the public imagination at a time when the mechanisation of everyday activity spoke of prosperity, progress and improvement to the human condition.
It was also a solidly British development; something that the ‘Yankees’, for all their inventiveness, had failed to come up with.