A mid Victorian faux tortoiseshell hair comb in the Spanish style
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 7 x 5 ins (18 x 13 cm) decorative part 4 ins h (10 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell
Here is an impressive faux tortoiseshell comb which probably dates from the late 1870s or 1880s. High mantilla style combs such as this were at the height of their popularity during these years.
This very beautiful example is a classic Victorian mantilla comb with a wedge shaped heading and nine long slender tines. These tines are all in good condition and nicely pointed, not broken or chipped as in many shell combs.
The comb is fashioned out of one large solid piece of the material which simulates the dark brown mottled form of tortoiseshell. The characteristic mottling is not so apparent as in other examples of my collection and the effect is darker and more sombre. Combs of this kind were often used in secondary mourning, and by older ladies who were often dressed permanently in black.
The collage picture shows a number of sitters from contemporary photographs, revealing the fashionable hair style and wearing similar ornaments.
The debut of the opera Carmen led to a fashion for the Spanish style comb in the mid 1870s and this lasted for almost two decades. Therefore this type of ornament is often known as a Spanish or mantilla comb because it resembles a smaller version of the traditional large shell ornaments worn by Spanish ladies with their native dress.
The hairstyles of the mid-Victorian period were large and impressive, with vast quantities of false hair being used to form a huge chignon or, for the evening, trailing ringlets... Therefore the ornaments which were used to adorn them were often equally large and impressive. Large and handsome combs would have been used by a fashionable Victorian lady to adorn the back of the hair, probably being placed above the chignon.
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