A classic hair comb in clarified and dyed steer horn with a pointy silhouette
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 6 ins h x 5½ ins w (15 x 14 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s - 1900
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is an example of a classic pressed horn comb of the type which would have been worn for everyday, possibly by an older lady. The comb has a high curved heading and eight sturdy tines. The heading has an attractive scalloped profile and the heading has been pressed into a design of radiating sections which spread out from the base. Each section is separate from its fellows at the base, producing a cut out design.
The comb has been partly clarified to render it semi translucent and dyed to a mid brown colouration. This is in marked contrast to the usual “faux tortoise” effect whereby the surface is painted with spots and mottles.
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.
The final picture shows a selection of sitters all of whom are wearing similar “solid” hair ornaments without any cut work on them.
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.
Combs known as “pressed horn” were manufactured by pressing and squeezing the horn between heated iron plates until the material softened. It could then be placed into in mould and would retain the desired shape when it cooled. The combs were subsequently hand finished which might include dying to resemble tortoiseshell or in other solid colours. Combs could also be clarified to render them semi translucent. Combined with techniques such as dying and piercing, many of these pressed horn combs were both elaborate and beautiful.
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