A fine Victorian era Spanish style hair comb in carved and pierced bone
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 5 ins h x 2¼ ins w (13 x 6 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: cow bone
This lovely comb comes from the personal collection of Mary Bachman who is author of one of the “bibles” on hair comb collecting. One of the illustrations shows the comb which illustrates the author’s book.
Here we have an impressive Spanish mantilla style comb in carved bone. The comb is carved with the heading and three pointed tines all in one piece. It has a circular heading with a very pretty openwork design of flowers and foliage, treated in an asymmetric manner. The manner of its execution and the design show some Art Nouveau influence.
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.
The blow up pictures of the rear of the item show faint black dots and pits. All bone has the telltale flecks of marrow, or tiny notches, in the surface known as "Haversian System". This is one of the methods of distinguishing bone from elephant ivory. Another is the dry appearance of the material as opposed to the creamy quality of ivory.
Ornaments 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 contemporary sources of the mid 19th century.
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.
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