A good value lot of two Victorian Spanish style hair combs
CONDITION: both good vintage condition
SIZE: large comb 6 x 4 ins (15 x 10 cms); small comb 5¼ x 3½ ins (14 x 9 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: horn, celluloid faux tortoiseshell
Here we have a pair of nice Victorian Spanish mantilla style hair combs of the type which would probably have been worn for everyday.
The larger amber coloured comb is made from steer horn which has been partly clarified to render it translucent. It has been dyed deep amber brown with a cloudy effect. The comb has a high wedge shaped heading with eight tines.
The slightly smaller companion piece is made in celluloid faux tortoiseshell with an attractive and quite convincing mottled effect which is fairly realistic. It has six tapering tines and a rectangular heading.
The final illustration shows a collage of contemporary photographs with actual sitters wearing these large Spanish style combs,
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, not only because the material was cheap, but also because it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. Horn could easily be dyed and could also be clarified to make it semi-translucent.
Many of the later 19th century the hair ornaments which appear to be made of tortoise are, in fact, made from synthetics. These faux tortoise combs are some of the prettiest to be found at this period, since it is unusual to find two exactly alike. Some of them are very convincing and difficult to distinguish from the genuine material, and are skilfully treated to imitate the brown and orange mottling of genuine tortoiseshell.
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