A natural steer horn hair comb with unusual spiky cut out profile
CONDITION: a few of the pointed tips are missing otherwise good vintage condition
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
SIZE: 2½ ins h x 3¼ ins w (6 x 8 cms)
This comb is made from natural cow or steer horn and was made to wear encircling a chignon or top knot. The comb is an unusual shape whereby the tines are set at a 45 degree angle to the heading. The heading of the comb has a very pronounced spiky design which would have given a very distinctive effect in wear. The material has been tinted a dark glossy brown.
The design can be compared with the final illustration which is taken from a Victorian tintype photograph of the 1880s. The sitter is wearing a hair comb with a very tall heading which features upstanding spiky elements that have a similar effect.
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 could also be carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, twisted into ornamental shapes in a plastic manner.
The hairstyles of the mid-Victorian period were large and impressive, with vast quantities of false hair being used to form a huge chignon or, for the evening, trailing ringlets. Therefore the ornaments which were used to adorn them were often equally large and impressive. Large and handsome combs would have been used by a fashionable Victorian lady to adorn the back of the hair, probably being placed above or within a large chignon.
Such higher topped combs were produced in genuine tortoiseshell for the higher end of the market and in faux tortoise celluloid for the popular end. For almost two decades these high topped mantilla combs, often with elaborately decorated and pierced headings, were the ornaments of choice for fashionable Victorian ladies.
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