A beautiful amber coloured steer horn mantilla style comb with openwork design
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 5 ins h x 4 ins w (13 x 11 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 170s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a typical Spanish mantilla style hair comb from the later part of the Victorian era. It is made in steer horn which has been clarified to render it translucent and then dyed a deep attractive amber. The comb has a wedge shaped heading with a pierced design that has a number of spiky upstanding elements on the outer border.
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 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 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.
These large mantilla style combs became fashionable in the 1870s due to the debut of the opera Carmen which created quite a stir. They remained in fashion for the following two decades, before losing ground to smaller lighter ornaments in the 1890s.
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. Horn could also be clarified so as to be almost translucent. This gives it the attractive colour of honey, and is a feature of many combs of the period. It could also be carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, twisted into ornamental shapes in a plastic manner.
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