Victorian steer horn hair comb in openwork Spanish mantilla style
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 5½ ins h x 3 ins w (14 x 7.5 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1970s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here we have a large and impressive Spanish mantilla style comb in carved steer horn. The comb comes from the personal collection of Mary Bachman, who wrote one of the best books on comb collecting. One of the illustrations shows the book illustration of this comb.
The comb has a lozenge shaped heading which supports an intricate openwork design radiating out from the centre. The comb has been dyed a deep shade of amber and clarified to make it translucent.
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.
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.
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 could also be clarified so as to be almost translucent. This gives it the attractive colour of honey, and is a feature of many combs of the period.
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