A richly carved Victorian hair comb in Spanish style steer horn
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 7 ins h x 4¼ ins w (18 x 10.5 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s - 1900
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here we have a handsome example of a better class of carved and pierced horn Spanish style hair comb which has been hand finished. The heading has been made all in one with the comb mount which has seven long tines. The heading has been beautifully carved into a design which represents interlaced scrollwork and has a three dimensional feel.
The comb has been left in the natural opacity of the horn without being clarified to render it semi translucent. In common with most ornaments of this type it has been dyed and painted to resemble the more expensive and desirable tortoiseshell.
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. These high topped combs became popular in the 1970s due to the influence of the opera Carmen and remained in vogue to almost two decades.
The final collage picture shows examples of sitters from contemporary carte de visite photographs wearing similar examples of hair accessory.
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.
In the first part of the 19th century, the making of combs was still a handicraft, and many combs were made in small local manufactories. However by the mid century they were being produced in vast numbers by means of mechanical die-stamping. Polishing and finishing, including painting the horn with chemicals to simulate the tortoise markings, was usually undertaken in the UK as a cottage industry by women and children who were the families of the comb-makers.
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