A fine Art Nouveau or late Victorian back comb with gilt metal “coin” embellishment.
CONDITION: good vintage condition.
MARKS: inscribed on the back “18 K GOLD INLAYED”
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1890s – 1900s
SIZE: 4 ins h x 4½ ins w (10 x 11 cms)
This beautiful back comb is made from a dark variety of celluloid faux tortoiseshell and is decorated with a beautiful Art Nouveau inspired design in gilding and inset brass. The design features a flower and leaf motif which is inlaid in gold leaf. This is further emphasized by brilliant clear rhinestones which appear to have lost none of their sparkle over the years.
The most prominent feature of the heading is the gilded metal coin or medallion which is set into the centre of it. The metal circle is attached to the celluloid base by a rivet which is sunk into the material and visible from the back. It features a beautiful Art Nouveau inspired female in profile facing towards the left. She has long flowing hair and drapery placed in an artistic manner about her shoulders. Three stars appear to the left of her face.
The first Art Nouveau ornaments were hand made and carved from clarified horn and other materials. As the Art Nouveau style gained in popularity, a whole class of popular jewellery was mass produced this reproduced the typical motifs of the genre, but was produced by machine. These latter are usually made in celluloid faux tortoiseshell with decorations of pierced brass or silver tone metal, set with glass or ceramic stones.
This attractive accessory is made not from real tortoiseshell but from a celluloid man made equivalent which gives the impression of the real thing. This material was available in a range of mottled finishes some of which so cleverly imitate the genuine article that they are often very difficult to tell apart.
Combs like this were known as back combs because they were intended to be worn at the back of the head. They are typically deeply curved to fit the skull and are typically wider than they are tall. They have a broad shallow heading which gives scope for some kind of decorative treatment.
At the turn of the 20th century the hair was worn in a distinctive puffed out style which has become familiar from the drawings of Charles Dana Gibson. This is also known as a Pompadour style, and often incorporated the use of underlying pads and false hair. It was supported at the back of the head and sometimes at the sides as well by wide hair combs, which might be as plain or as fancy as the wearer desired. These combs also helped to support the huge hats of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.
The final picture is taken from a contemporary popular postcard and illustrates the “Gibson Girls” who both wear this hairdressing. Notice the manner in which combs were used by the figure on the right to support it.
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