An unusual early American hand made hair comb in steer horn
CONDITION: one broken tine otherwise and two slightly chapped at the end otherwise good vintage condition for its age
SIZE: 4¼ x 7 ins around the curve (10.5 x 18 cm) decorative part 2 ins h (5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1800s – 1830s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is an impressive steer horn comb which probably dates from the early 19th century. It is made from steer horn which has been treated to simulate the much more expensive tortoise shell.
This very beautiful example is a classic and has twenty four. eight long slender tines. These tines are mostly in fairly good condition considering the age of this comb. One is missing and two are chipped at the tip.
The comb is fashioned out of one large solid piece of the horn. It has a classic rectangular heading and is deeply curved to fit the back of the skull. The horn has been stained to simulate tortoiseshell. The material is very nicely marked and highly polished. The “tortoise” type patterning is very pronounced, showing dark and mid brown splodges in a semi translucent lighter brown ground.
The collage picture shows a number of sitters from contemporary paintings, revealing the fashionable hair style and wearing similar ornaments.
Early American portraits are a rich source of information for the types of hair accessories and manner of dressing the hair among Colonial ladies. Among the most interesting are naïve portraits, done by self taught artists. While these artists may have lacked the polish and sophistication of their European counterparts they minutely observed the details of a ladies toilette. Consequently thay are highly valued nowadays.
The portraits show that these combs were placed high on the head in such a way as to be viewable from all angles. While some are plain and classic like our example, others were highly ornamental and delicately pierced or painted.
The domestic production of horn combs in the USA is well documented. These ornaments were initially had made by local artisans and peddled around the local villages or markets. It was not until the late 19th century that mass production techniques took over.
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