A hair receiver can be identified by a finger-wide hole in the lid, through which hair is poked. They can be round or square in shape, and some are footed. Made of a variety of materials, including glass and in later times celluloid, some of the prettiest examples are of porcelain.
Although rare today, the hair receiver was a common fixture on the dressing tables of women from Victorian times to the early decades of the 20th century.
Its purpose was to save hair culled from the hairbrush and comb, which were used vigorously on a daily basis. The hair could then be stuffed into pincushions or pillows.
Since hair was not washed as often as it is today, oils were frequently used to add scent and shine to hair. The residual oil made the hair an ideal stuffing for pincushions because it lubricated the pins, making it easier for them to pierce material.
Small pillows could be stuffed with hair, which was less prickly than pinfeathers.
But possibly most important, hair receivers made the creation of ratts possible. A ratt (sometimes spelled rat) is a small ball of hair that was inserted into a hairstyle to add volume and fullness. The ratt was made by stuffing a sheer hairnet until it was about the size of a potato and then sewing it shut.