A classic faux tortoiseshell Spanish style hair comb from the Victorian period
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 6½ x 5½ ins (16 x 14 cm) decorative part 3½ ins h (9 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell
Here is an attractive 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 high curved heading and nine long slender tines. These tines are all in good condition and nicely pointed, not broken or chipped as in many old combs.
The comb is fashioned out of one large solid piece of the mid brown mottled form of the material, which 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 final illustration 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 a large chignon. For day they were made of plain horn or tortoiseshell, carved or twisted into ornate designs. For evening, no ornament could be too large or too elaborate.
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