A translucent steer horn hair comb carved with a representation of an Indian (?) temple
CONDITION: slight warping of the tines otherwise good vintage condition. See illustration.
SIZE: 5 ins h x 6 ins w (13 x 15 cm) decorative part 2½ ins h (6 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is an unusual hair ornament which illustrated the influence of 19th century travel. It is made from clarified steer horn, and the circular heading is carved with a representation of what appears to be a building (temple?) of possibly Indian origin. It is therefore possible that the comb is what we call Anglo Indian, an item made in India for the Western market.
The comb is made from steer horn which has been clarified to render it translucent. It was then dyed to a deep brownish amber. It has an attractive scalloped outline and the heading is entirely filled up by a building with a domed roof placed against foliage.
In the 1870s Queen Victoria became Empress of India and this led to an influx into Europe of ornaments made in India for the Western market. These ornaments were made with oriental style motifs, such as lotus, dragons, phoenix, etc, but in a style which was not native to the lands in which they were produced. We find these imported ornaments in a wide variety of materials and styles, such as carved ivory, tortoiseshell and horn, as well as metal. They are an interesting example of an era, and of how personal adornment was influenced by travel to other lands and cultures.
The collage photograph shows several illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar ornaments and how they were placed in the hair styles of the day.
The centre of India’s bone and horn working industry was based at Samabhal, a small city about 200 km from Delhi. Artisans worked in buffalo horn and bone materials to produce fashionable hair combs during the British Empire.
The interaction of the Indian population with their British rulers led to an art form, which was a mixture of styles – one which we now call Anglo-Indian. This is because the object produced under this influence were not the kind which the indigenous population themselves would have used. Nevertheless they showed elements of what was considered an “Indian” style, carefully adapted to suit European tastes. Many jewels and ornaments were produced in this Anglo-Indian style. That is how many unusual hair ornaments and accessories have come to our shores.
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