A handsome mid Victorian dyed steer horn and French jet mourning hair comb of Spanish mantilla design
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 5 ins h x 4¼ ins w (13 x 11 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s - 1900
Here is a striking example of a mid Victorian mourning comb which is made in natural horn and shows the versatility of that material. It is carved and pierced into an attractive shape with the prongs and the heading all in one. The comb has also been dyed a deep opaque brown which is almost black. Here we see another facet of horn in the ease with which it could be dyed a range of colors or clarified to render it translucent.
This handsome example is decorated on the pierced and scalloped heading with three faceted pear shaped pieces of polished French jet. This is a glittering form of black glass which has nothing to do with France, but was produced mainly in Bohemia, now part of modern Czechoslovakia. In the 19th and early 20th century when it was extremely popular for jewellery making and was used extensively in mourning jewellery.
Mourning was an important social custom in Victorian and Edwardian society and carried its own strict etiquette. This forbade the use of any but the darkest and most somber of personal ornaments during the initial period. The material of choice was Whitby Jet, which comes from a small town in Britain. When the supply began to fail other materials were admitted. Chief among these was the so called French jet which is a glittering form of black glass.
The tall mantilla style headings became popular in the 1870s due to the debut of Bizet's opera Carmen in 1875. Higher topped combs such as this were produced in genuine tortoiseshell for the higher end of the market and in faux tortoise celluloid or other materials for the popular end. Illustration #8 is taken from a contemporary Victorian carte de visite photograph and shows how such ornaments were worn. Illustration #9 is taken from the kind of pattern book used by local comb makers to produce the kinds of elaborate pieced designs which we see here.
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