A spectacular vintage “Peinetas de Balcon” from Panama with a butterfly motif embellished with abalone, faux pearls and glass stones.
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 3½ ins h x 7½ ins w around the curve (8 x 19 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1950s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell, abalone, metal, faux pearls, glass stones
This is a very beautiful back comb from Panama which is part of the traditional folk dress. It probably dates from the mid 20th century.
It is made from celluloid faux tortoiseshell and is made with a deep curve which can be seen in one of the pictures. Such combs are often called “Peinetas de Balcon” because their designs resemble the openwork balconies found on colonial homes.
The comb has numerous finely cut teeth which would have held it firmly in position in the hair. Combs like this were intended to be worn at the back of the head above the chignon. They are typically deeply curved to fit the skull and are usually wider than they are tall. They have a broad shallow heading which gives scope for some kind of decorative treatment. They are always placed in such a way as to be visible from all angles.
This example shows extremely rich decoration whose main feature is a large butterfly motif set into the centre of the heading. This is made in gilded brass and has wings inset with abalone. Extending outwards on either side is a metal tracery which depicts a conventional design of leaves and flowers, rendered in a naturalistic manner. Red and green glass stones are prong set at intervals in the design. Spherical faux pearls, raised upon brass pins, further enrich the design.
The comb was made in Panama and was part of regional dress called Pollera to be worn at festivals. The comb would originally have been part of a set with smaller matching combs to be worn at the sides and groups of pearl encrusted hairpins resembling flowers. The final picture shows a number of illustrations of these traditional headdresses.
The traditional dress for women in Panama is the “Pollera”. This is a richly decorated dress with needlework in many designs, styles and colours. It originally came from Spain during colonial times. Over time it has differentiated itself from Spanish dress and other Latin American dresses of Spanish origin and acquired its own distinctive characteristics.
Pollera is formed by multicoloured cloth and embroidery. It can take around 8 months to make a complex design of Pollera. In addition, Pollera is also decorated with jewelry over the blouse, and the head of the woman is adorned by tortoise shell comb (peinetas) and beaded hair decorations (tembleques).
The head decoration is almost as important as the dress itself. The hair is parted into two braids and tightly pulled back behind the ears. The ornamentation comes in several forms. Chief among these are the peinetas, which are sets of tortoiseshell (or more recently faux tortoiseshell) combs which are decorated with gold, silver, coral or pearls.
There are two types of combs. One is a large back comb, worn on top of the head and crested with elaborate gold work and additional jewels. It is called "Peineta de balcon" as it resembles the railings found on the balconies of colonial style homes. At the sides of the head are worn smaller combs which match the decoration of the larger one. There can be as many as twenty combs on the head -ten per side. The pearl encrusted comb is not surprisingly called "de perlas".
Along with the combs are worn elaborate hair pins known as “tembleques” because the heads are often mounted upon springs which cause them to tremble when the wearer moves. These sparkle in the light with fan like sprays of flower like pearl encrusted filigrees. In the more authentic arrangements theses would be made of gold, silver, and pearls and originally of sea shells or coral.
The gold and pearl peinetas and tembleques that accompany a pollera are generally passed down as heirlooms through generations.
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