1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Backscratcher

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BACKSCRATCHER, a long slender rod of wood, whalebone, tortoiseshell, horn or cane, with a carved human hand, usually of ivory, mounted at the extremity. Its name suggests the primary use of the implement, but little is known of its history, and it was unquestionably also employed as a kind of rake to keep in order the huge “heads” of powdered hair worn by ladies during a considerable portion of the 18th and the early part of the 19th centuries. The backscratcher varies in length from 12 to 20 in., and the more elaborate examples, which were occasionally hung from the waist, are silver-mounted, and in rare instances the ivory fingers bear carved rings. The hand is sometimes outstretched, and sometimes the fingers are flexed; the modelling is frequently good, the fingers delicately formed and the nails well defined. As a rule the rod is finished off with a knob. The hand was now and again replaced by a rake or a bird's claw. The hand was indifferently dexter or sinister, but the Chinese variety usually bears a right hand. Like most of the obsolete appliances of daily life, the backscratcher, or scratch-back, as it is sometimes called, has become scarce, and it is one of the innumerable objects which attract the attention of the modern collector.