Curling tongs – old style metal
My mother's family's original early 1900s curling tongs remained in the family, so that I have been able to photograph them.
Curling tongs also known as curling irons
These old curling tongs were all metal with two prongs. One prong was a solid cylinder and the other was an open shell such that the two fitted together when the tongs were closed.
all those that I knew as a child in the 1940s were very basic. The handles were all metal, so had to be held through a cloth while the hot tongs were being used. Some of the pictures on the internet show wooden or bakelite handles.
How to heat the curling tongs
The tongs had to be heated by any method available - in a gas ring or on the hob of a kitchen range. Being metal, they could get very hot very quickly and there was a skill to lifting them away from the heat at a suitable temperature.
How to use the curling tongs
These curling tongs could be used in two main ways.
To make a tight curl or ringlet, the end of a length of hair was gripped between the prongs of the hot tongs. Then then the tongs were rotated over and over so that the hair wound round them. After a few seconds, the tongs were opened and hey presto!
To make home-made Marcel Waves, hair was pinched into waves using fingers and a comb and the peak of each wave was crimped between the prongs of the hot tongs. This set the peaks and hence also set the waves.
Advantages and disadvantages of old curling tongs
The only advantage of these curling tongs were that there was little else at the time for anyone who wanted a quick fix for curly or wavy hair. There were rag curlers and metal curlers but they were for overnight, which rather distracted from looking attractive in bed for menfolk.
The disadvantages of curling tongs could be catastrophic, because the temperature could easily be misjudged: Too cool and the hair didn't curl and too hot and the hair burnt. Burnt hair could not be unburnt and had to grow out or be cut off.
The length of time that the tongs were in contact with the hair could also be misjudged. Even if there was no misjudgement, heat nevertheless did damage hair. So it was a risky business to use curling tongs. There was no way that they could be thermostatically controlled.