A handsome Victorian Spanish style comb with openwork carved effect
CONDITION: there is a small piece missing from the top right of the heading.
SIZE: 4½ x 4 ins (11 x 10 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell
Here is a pretty mantilla style hair comb which gives the appearance of being elaborately carved in an attractive scroll and foliage design. The surface of the material of beautifully marked with the typical “tortoise” style mottling and is a very faithful imitation of genuine shell.
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 of the later Victorian period and wearing similar ornaments.
Many of the later 19th century the hair ornaments which appear to be made of tortoise are, in fact, made from synthetics. These faux tortoise combs are some of the prettiest to be found at this period, since it is unusual to find two exactly alike. Some of them are very convincing and difficult to distinguish from the genuine material, and are skilfully treated to imitate the brown and orange mottling of genuine tortoiseshell.
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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