A fine hair comb and earrings demi parure in dyed horn with a naturalistic leaf design
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: comb 4¼ ins h x 4½ ins w (11 x 11.5 cm) earrings 2½ ins l x 1 ins w (6 x 2.5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1850s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn, metal
Here is a demi parure composed of a comb with matching earrings. They are made from steer horn which has been left opaque and dyed so deep a brown as to be almost black. The design of both comb and earrings incorporates a leaf motif which has been carved out of each individual piece. Several components have therefore been assembled to make each article in the suite.
The interesting thing about the construction of the comb is that instead of being upstanding, the heading is connected to the comb mount by a brass hinge and folds down over the prongs. In the mid-Victorian coiffure, masses of false hair were worn in order to construct the elaborate coiffures. Combs such as these would have been very effective at concealing the addition of these false tresses.
The matching drop earrings have a simple pierced fitting which is original.
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.
It is possible that this attractive suite could have been used for mourning. Mourning etiquette decreed that the widow and close relative of the deceased must dress in plain dark garments. The only ornaments allowed to be worn at this time were those of jet, which is a natural material found in Whitby, a small town on the East coast of the UK. In order to extend the supply of jet when it became exhausted, various other materials were employed. One of these was horn which had been dyed a dark colour.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. Not only was the material cheap, but also it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours and could also be carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, twisted into ornamental shapes in a plastic manner. Horn is an extremely flexible material, and when heated it can be bent, pierced and stretched into all manner of forms, almost like plastic.
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