A pretty mid Victorian hand carved hair comb in clarified steer horn
CONDITION: good vintage condition.
SIZE: 4¼ ins h x 3 ins w (11 x 7.5 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here we have a classic mid Victorian high topped comb which has been carved out of one piece of steer horn. The horn has been clarified to give it a wonderful amber colour, and then carved and pieced into a delightful design representing flowers and leaves.
This type of ornament is often known as Spanish or mantilla comb because it resembles a smaller version of the traditional large tortoiseshell ornaments worn by Spanish ladies with their native dress. In practice any comb which has a high upstanding heading or top is often called a mantilla comb.
Combs like this were worn in a characteristic manner, being placed such a way that the tall heading stood up proud. This enabled them to be viewed from all angles and for the details to be seen effectively outlined against the light. The final illustration shows a selection of sitters wearing similar ornaments and is taken from a collection of contemporary carte de visite of the Victorian era
Such higher topped combs were produced in genuine tortoiseshell and precious metals for the higher end of the market and in horn, celluloid and other materials for the popular end. The tall mantilla style headings became popular in the 1870s due to the debut of Bizet's opera Carmen in 1875. The type continued to be fashionable but grew smaller and daintier as the 19th century drew to its close.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. It was cheap and could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours and clarified so as to make it almost translucent. This gives it the attractive colour of honey, and is a feature of many combs of the period. It could also be carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, twisted into ornamental shapes in a plastic manner. Horn is an extremely flexible material, and when heated it can be bent, pierced and stretched into all manner of forms, almost like plastic.
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