An attractive late Victorian or Edwardian back comb with fancy embellishments
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 4 ins h x 4½ ins w (10 x 11 cms)
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, metal, rhinestones
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1890s – 1900s
This is a beautiful back comb made in the distinctive Art Nouveau influenced style. It is made from a dark variety of celluloid faux tortoiseshell which has a heading with horizontal piercings. Onto this is overlaid a complex Art Nouveau inspired design in brass which features naturalistic flowers and leaves combined with conventional scrollwork and interlaced lines. This metal plaque is attached to the celluloid base by rivets which are sunk into the material.
The design has amber rhinestones placed at salient points. An oval cabochon of mother or pearl is set into the centre front.
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.
We can see that the design, although ornate, is somewhat formal and conventional. Such ornaments appealed to the more conservative wearer who wanted to be in fashion, but not the extreme of the mode. 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.
The final illustration is taken from a contemporary mail order catalog and shows a selection of the types of richly decorated back combs which were available at this time.
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