A handsome faux tortoiseshell hair comb with faux turquoise and baroque pearl trim
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 5 x 3 ins (13 x 7.5 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1890s – 1900s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell, metal, faux baroque pearl, faux turquoise
Here is a very beautiful but restrained Art Nouveau back comb in celluloid faux tortoiseshell. It has a tall wedge shaped heading and six long tines. The surface of the material of beautifully marked with the typical “tortoise” style mottling and is a very faithful imitation of genuine shell.
The comb is decorated in a restrained fashion with faux baroque pearls and a faux turquoise cabochon, all set into fancy mounts of gilded metal.
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. 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.
The collage picture shows sitters from contemporary photographs, revealing the fashionable hair style and wearing similar ornaments.
The first Art Nouveau ornaments were hand made and carved from clarified horn. These were very expensive and were quickly followed by mass produced versions made for the popular market. As the Art Nouveau style gained in popularity, a whole class of popular jewellery was mass produced which reproduced the typical motifs of the genre. Horn was replaced by celluloid and natural cabochon stones by rhinestones or faux materials.
The quality of these celluloid combs varies. Some are thin and flexible, being cheaply made. Others, like this example, are of sturdy construction and although mass produced were later hand finished.
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