Friday, May 15, 2009

Eighteenth Century Wig Curlers

Wig curlers, also know as bilboquet or roulettes in the eighteenth century are recovered in some abundance from urban sites dating between c. 1700 and 1780. These wig curlers were excavated from 712 Arch Street Philadelphia as part of the Metropolitan Detention Center Project (36Ph91) by Louis Berger and Associates. They were dumbbell-shaped and made of Kaolin like clay. Interestingly, newspaper was sometimes wrapped around the curler along with the hair and in some cases actual news print is still evident on the clay. Great care should be taken in examining such pieces prior to washing to protect any existing print.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .


  1. How are the curlers held in the hair while "drying"? Is the hair wet when wrapped?

  2. Judy, thanks for your excellent question and for checking out our blog. In looking for a response we consulted Ivor Noel Hume "A guide to Artifacts of Colonial America". Hume describes wrapping the wig hair around the curler in strips of damp paper, newspaper was sometimes used for this. The curl was secured to the wig curler with a piece of rag. The weight of the clay curler would pull the hair down over the section being curled. Curlers came in several sizes to allow for variation in size and tightness of the curls.Wigs were then baked after rolling to set the curl. Evidence of newsprint that was transferred onto the clay rollers in the baking process, has been recovered in archaeological excavations.

  3. Although I have found lots of beautiful gold jewelry & other treasures, my all time favorite find was a simple curler for a man's wig. I found it while diving in zero visibility water in the Ashley River near Old Fort Dorchester. I was grouping blindly on the bottom when my hand closed around the artifact. From its distinct shape (about three inches long and bulbous at each end), I knew instantly what it was and it gave me a real sense of contact with the past. The early 18th century wig curler was made of fired kaolin (pipe clay) and had little if any value, but to this day I treasure the memory of finding it.