A handsome mid Victorian natural horn mantilla style hair comb carved and pierced.
SIZE: 4¼ ins h x 4 ins w (11 x 10 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s to 1900.
This comb is of the type known as a Spanish or mantilla comb because it resembles the traditional ornaments worn by Spanish ladies with their native dress. The use of the tall Spanish comb has a very long history of use throughout the 19th century and has never been out of fashion in Spain.
The tall mantilla style headings became popular in the 1870s due to the debut of Bizet's opera Carmen in 1875. Early performances scandalised audiences but it quickly became one of the most popular operas in the world with a significance fashion influence.
This handsome ornament is made in hand carved and pierced natural horn with a pretty openwork design to the heading. Such higher topped combs were produced in genuine tortoiseshell and horn for the higher end of the market and in faux tortoise celluloid for the popular end.
Combs like this were worn as shown in the final picture which is taken from a contemporary Victorian fashion illustration from a magazine called The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine of 1873. It features the elaborate Victorian evening coiffures and the carved high topped combs which were worn in them. Such ornaments were typically placed standing proud of the head so that the beauty of their design was visible from all angles.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century, not only because the material was cheap, but also because it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours and was most often dyed a deep shade of honey or amber. It could also be carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, twisted into ornamental shapes in a plastic manner. Horn is an extremely flexible material, and when heated it can be bent, pierced and stretched into all manner of forms, almost like plastic.
There is a rich history of comb production in the USA centered around the town of Leominster which remained an important place for their manufacture well into the 20th century.