Spanish mantilla style hair comb in steer horn
CONDITION: there is a tiny “bug” bite on the top left corner of the heading and some surface wear commensurate with age.
SIZE: 6½ ins h x 5½ ins w (16 x 14 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s - 1900
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a very large steer horn Spanish style comb which dates from the later Victorian period. These “Spanish” combs became popular in the 1870s due to the influence of the opera “Carmen”. They remained in vogue until the last decade of the 19th century ushered in less elaborate hairdressing and a demand for smaller more delicate hair accessories.
This large and handsome example has a heading in a classic wedge shape. The surface has been treated to resemble (quite convincingly) the much more expensive tortoiseshell, and has been left opaque. The resulting “tortoise” effect is therefore the chief adornment of this fine large comb.
This type of ornament is often known as Spanish or mantilla comb because it resembles a smaller version of the traditional large shell ornaments worn by Spanish ladies with their native dress. In practice any comb which has a high upstanding heading or top which stands proud of the top of the head is often called a mantilla comb.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. The material was cheap and could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours. It was always cheaper than tortoiseshell, and was often treated to imitate the distinctive “tortoise” pattern of the more expensive material. This was achieved by painting it with various dyes and chemicals. Sometimes it was done with great artistry such that it is difficult to distinguish the horn from the genuine shell, particularly when two or three different colours were used.
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