Portland inventor's hair appliance touts curls without heat

BY TERRY MAURER, WHAT'S IT WORTH?March 9, 2014 

In today's What's It Worth? we investigate an item that isn't in use today, but has to do with something we all do pretty regularly.

Think haircut.

Q. We acquired this metal hair waving comb recently and it looks terrific as a display item in our styling shop. Someone provided us with a copy of the actual patent design. Other than that, we don't know much; the instructions are missing. Is something like this of interest or value -- except maybe to barbers or salons? -- Chuck in Kennewick

A. Stylish hair has been an important part of fashion since well before Cleopatra ruled Egypt. Women (and men) have gone for beehives, bobs, bangs, chignons and D.A.'s for centuries. The list of styles ranges from Afro to pageboy to waves.

And curls. Curled hair styles of one kind or another have been popular for a very long time.

This tool -- designed for home use -- is a curling comb, also called a hair waving comb.

The inventor was Rollin W. Woodruff, a Portland man also credited with inventing a shower head water valve mixing device.

Woodruff's grandson -- named Rollin and also an inventor -- lives in Portland.

He told us his grandfather took on a partner after the waving comb was patented in 1943, opened offices in downtown Portland, manufacturing and selling the Life Wave Comb.

"They were successful to start," he said. "Then, there was a problem with the partner, who allegedly ran away with all the money." After that, Rollin said his grandfather didn't have sufficient capital to continue and the business folded. "I don't think he ever made a lot of money from any of his inventions," he told us.

The Life Wave Comb was advertised as using no heat, no chemicals, no electricity and no steam. The instructions touted it, saying, "At last, you can comb deep, lasting waves into your hair." It promised "Glowing, enduring wave, plus hair health through proper scalp stimulation."

The combs cost $6.50 when new, and the price dropped to $2.25 by the time the company folded in 1947. They appear from time to time in today's market and range between $15 and $25. They would be of primary interest to hairdressers and fashionistas.

Shops & Shows

Here at What's It Worth? we hold no credentials as economists. We do, however, have a theory about economic recovery.

It goes like this. Among the last parts of an economy to recover from a recession is what the real economists call "discretionary spending." That is, purchases of things like antiques and collectibles.

So, when antique shops open and browsers and buyers show up, it's a sign things are getting better. That's our theory.

Cases in point include last week's opening of Hunt & Gather, a new venue in Richland's Uptown. That area sports a growing number of new and relocated businesses specializing in antiques, country-look, estate items, collectibles and "shabby-chic."

Along with the recent addition of the unique and bijou shop Patina -- next to Hunt & Gather on the Jadwin Avenue side -- the Uptown now boasts a strong group of local, specialist retailers.

That includes stalwarts such as Ragtime and the Uptown Antique Mall, the expanded and relocated ET Estate Sales, Black Cat Relics, The Painted Cottage and others. Some are malls or antique mini-malls, where many individuals sell from rented spaces.

The same can be said for the vibrant antiques scene in downtown Kennewick, where several newer shops have joined the pantheon led by Roxy Theatre Antiques.

The Roxy crew also are the promoters of next weekend's spring antique show and sale at TRAC in Pasco.

The confidence of these new and continuing owners and promoters proves the truism: "Antiques may come in and out of favor, but they will always be here for us."

-- Terry K. Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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