Encyclopedia > Backscratcher

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A backscratcher is a long slender rod with a knob[?] on one end and a rake[?]-like device on one end, sometimes in the form of a human hand at various levels of detail, designed to let a person scratch his own back.

In modern times, most backscratchers are made of plastic; a few are made of wood, whalebone, tortoiseshell[?], horn, cane[?], or bamboo.

The backscratcher varies in length from 12 to 20 in.(30-50 cm), and the more elaborate examples, which were occasionally hung from the waist, were silver-mounted, and in rare instances the ivory fingers bore carved rings.


Its name suggests the primary use of the tool, 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 hand was now and again replaced by a rake or a bird's claw. The hand could represent either a left or right hand, 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 was sometimes called (but not in the 20th century), has become scarce except as a cheap novelty item at discount stores or souvenir stands and it is one of the innumerable objects which attract the attention of the modern collector.

Based in part on an article from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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