Harlene for the Hair

5th December 2014 — 15 Comments

When I was a rather inexperienced detectorist and found my first gold stater, I simply thought, “That looks rather nice,” and stowed it away in the pocket of my jeans.

The use of the word ‘first’ suggests that there may be more. I live in hope! With the benefit of hindsight and if a second is ever found, a ‘detector dance’ will be executed and the precious coin placed carefully in a plastic bag. It will then be snugly inserted between two layers of foam in an old baccy tin and carefully tucked in the zipped compartment of my finds’ pouch. Then I’ll phone Securicor to escort me home. If I want to show anybody in the field, it’ll take more extracting than an over-packaged Tesco tea bag.

Aye, that all comes with experience and learning. Even though I exaggerate a tad, you will understand my meaning. Another early find, a small glass bottle with metal stopper, was rather mundane – so I thought! It was put in the hedge out of harm’s way and on subsequent visits to that field, just ignored. I can’t explain why, but I eventually retrieved it and what an interesting find it has proved to be . . . but more about that later.


Harlene Bottle © JW

The point being made in this introductory section (and not very well) is that when we start detecting, all finds, whether gold or glass should be regarded as interestingly significant in their own way and should be treated as such. Don’t discard ANYTHING until your knowledge has increased and you are absolutely 100% sure that it is the dross you originally thought it was.

Although it embarrasses me to relate the tale now, I confess to discarding a large fragment of Roman La Tène brooch thinking it as just another piece of old metal; so I do speak with some authority on the subject. And I can tell you that searching for the story, the history behind that glass bottle, has given me as much pleasure as learning about Tasciovanus, Celts in the South East and gold staters. But first, let’s whet our snake oil sensibilities on learning about some familiar but worthless preparations peddled as the cure for many ills . .


Stopper © JW

Renowned Baldness Remedy

The bottle I found was from pasture that had been producing quite a lot of Georgian and Victorian coins, pin-pointing had been easy and holes were relatively small. So, I suppose I was rather fortunate to unearth it all in one piece, complete with stopper (shown above), but at that stage, I wouldn’t have been too disappointed. After all – it was just a plain glass rectangular bottle about 5 x 2 x 1” with HARLENE FOR THE HAIR inscribed on the cap and imprinted along the narrower side. I wanted to know more.

As you know, Google is sometimes a wonderful friend for those bereft of ideas and keen to know more. So, among the many references, I learned that a chap called Edwards traded from High Holborn in London in the late 19th and much of the 20th century selling this ‘great hair producer and restorer’.

His advertisements grandly said that his product was ‘under the Royal Patronage’ of HM The Queen of Greece, HRH the Duchess of Sparta, HRH Princess Hohenlohe, HIH the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin . . . and several other doubtful sounding royals.


Gascoigne, Bamber. HistoryWorld. From 2001, ongoing. http://www.historyworld.net

I must admit that the claims for this ‘World – Renowned Remedy for Baldness’ were so convincing. Being myself follically challenged in this hirsute world, I was beginning to lament that the bottle was now empty. However, I was gratified to see that Edwards did his bit for the Great War. In 1915 he was giving free bottles away to all those people asking themselves the question: Does war, and particularly the nervous strain and worry of the war, affect my hair? There was even a ‘Harlene Hair Drill Manual’ telling those with impoverished hair exactly how to carry out ‘a simple and delightful toilet exercise’ whilst using the product. Even my fertile imagination failed to conjure up anything remotely sensible on that one!

Edwards resorted to giving the product away because an analysis of patent medicines by the BMA three years earlier found Harlene to be mostly 93% water and 6% alcohol. Knowing that suggests that drinking it may have been a better way of enjoying the product. What a waste, plastering it on your head! Harlene proved to bebe a good example of the snake oil salesman’s art!



In 1912, the Australian Parliament published a series of articles entitled: Secret Remedies – What They Cost and What They Contain, which were analyses of patent medicines by the British Medical Association. They found Harlene to be about 93% water and 6% alcohol.1% contained ammonia, and traces of other ingredients. 


October 27 2013

AlanAlan Warner had a day out detecting with Central Searchers. He didn’t find a lot, but one item he unearthed threw up a couple of surprises.

Alan, aka QM, is a regular reader of this blog and a moderator of the popular British Detecting Forum. The picture on the left (sorry Alan) was taken by another occasional subscriber and Administrator on the same forum, Jammy Johnny. Alan said:


I first thought that what I had dug up was one of those ointment tubes for cows, but this was larger with writing around the rim. Many people would have discarded this piece of lead as scrap and binned it, but i like to research my finds no matter how unimportant they look.

When I got back to the snack van a group of us decided to do a on the field research. After about four others looked at it and had their say, it was decided that it said HARLENE for the HAIR.

Then suggestions were made. Was it an item from a hair dye or hair remover. We couldn’t leave it there so via a mobile phone it was good old Mr Google to the rescue … and it turned out to be HAIR RESTORER.

What i had found was the middle section, minus the screw on cap and the lower cork stopper. When i got home a googled a picture for an image of the bootle, as they are a collectable item, and it took me to John’s Blog. Here’s the stopper I found:


At a central Searchers dig Alan was chatting to a guy called Nathan who said that he had found the bottle. And here it is on Alan’s mantelpiece … presented by Nathan!



Based on an article previously published in 2012



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15 responses to Harlene for the Hair

  1. You have taken some D&A samples of it John and replicated in your laboratory ,,you had such lovely hair as a boy !!

  2. I’ve found bottles like that here in Australia, but inscribed “Koko for the Hair” on both stopper and bottle. They date from around 1900-1930.

  3. hi John I do have a update on this but I’m off to work now so it will be late tonight that I will be able to have time to follow on …by the way …ive still got no hair

  4. Glad you did this post John, i found a piece of a cap, now i have seen your bottle stopper, i now can ID what i have found, love your write ups keep up the good work Stephen Padley Wolverhampton

  5. First time i have seen QM without his white hat. This brings up two questions. How did you manage to get that picture and how does he keep it white? My detecting hat is covered in mud.

  6. hi ya mate …that picture was taken when my buddy Jammy Johnny came and stayed for the weekend with his wife and son and I took them on a tour of London …that was taken on the underground platform ….now how do I keep my hat so clean …easy ….I don’t let anyone touch it lol …john I have made a wood stopper for the top piece to fit the bottle

    • I have not been able to get on many digs since the bowls season has finished, so not seen you for a while. I will try to get to the Christmas dig but have not got the energy to dig.

  7. I agree with your philosophy about discarding objects. Occasionally you can do this by mistake. In the Summer I had found an 18th Century silver brooch, which I stored away in my pocket. Normally when I have pockets full of scrap I automatically take them home for disposal. On this one specific day for some strange reason I emptied one pocket into the hedgerow. Unfortunately I also accidentally discarded the brooch. Despite several return visits, detecting in the brambles and nettles, I have been unable to retrieve it. Hopefully a lesson learned!

  8. My OH found one of these bottles along the West Somerset Railway, where he works on the Permanent Way. He often finds interesting bottles etc. Judy

  9. I have just found a harlene for the hair bottle whilst digging in charing kent no lid though.

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