A handsome late Georgian or early Victorian dyed horn mantilla style hair comb
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 7½ ins h x 6 ins w (19 x 15 cms) heading height 5 ins (13 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s - 1900
This attractive ornament is a mantilla style comb, so called because of its resemblance to the beautiful high topped combs worn by Spanish ladies with their traditional dress.
It is made from one single piece of natural steer horn which is made with a deeply curved and wedge shaped heading. The comb has been treated to convincingly resemble the much more expensive tortoise shell and is very cleverly done. The “tortoise” type marking is very strongly delineated here, with distinctive mid brown mottling on a lighter translucent backing of pale brown.
Apart from this mottling the comb has no other ornamentation and is made in this simple classic design.
Such combs became fashionable in the early 19th century when the fashionable coiffure became extremely tall and elaborate. Combs such as this were used to support the dressing and give extra height. Picture 8 is taken from a fashion plate of the 1830s in a journal called “The World of Fashion” and shows the modish coiffure of the day. Great loops of hair (often false) arise from the crown of the head back backed up by these Spanish style combs. Picture 9 is from a fashionable portrait of the same period and shows a sitter with the dress and coiffure of the 1830s.
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 often treated to imitate the distinctive “tortoise” pattern of the more expensive material. This was achieved by painting it with various dyes and chemicals. Sometimes it was done with great artistry such that it is difficult to distinguish the horn from the genuine shell, particularly when two or three different colours were used.
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