A handsome Regency or early Victorian Spanish style hair comb in natural pressed horn
CONDITION: there is a chip out of the back of the heading but not visible from the front, otherwise good vintage condition
SIZE: 5 ins h x 5½ ins w (13 x 14 cm) decorative part 2 ins h (5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1830s – 1840s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a handsome Spanish style comb in pressed steer horn which probably dates from the late Georgian or early Victorian period, c 1830s – 1840s.
The comb has a wedge shaped heading with an impressed design which resembles leaves or foliage. It has seven tines and has been left in its own natural mottled colouration, rather than being clarified or dyed to resemble tortoiseshell.
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.
Such combs became the mode in the early 19th century when the fashionable coiffure became extremely tall and elaborate. Combs such as this were used to support the dressing and give extra height. Great loops of hair (often false) arise from the crown of the head back backed up by these Spanish style combs. The final picture illustrates a number of contemporary sitters wearing comb ornaments and shows how they were worn.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. The material was cheap and it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. Horn is an extremely flexible material, and when heated it can be bent, pierced and stretched into all manner of forms, almost like plastic.
Combs known as “pressed horn” were manufactured by pressing and squeezing the horn between heated iron plates until the material softened. It could then be placed into in mould and would retain the desired shape when it cooled. Many of these pressed horn combs have an elaborate design impressed into the surface which appears to be hand carved but was, in fact, produced by this mechanical process. The combs were subsequently hand finished which might include dying to resemble tortoiseshell or in other solid colours. Combs could also be clarified to render them semi translucent. Combined with techniques such as dying and piercing, many of these pressed horn combs were both elaborate and beautiful.
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