A fine Victorian faux tortoiseshell hair comb with geometric pique inlay
CONDITION: very minor pique loss otherwise good vintage condition
SIZE: 4 ins h x 3½ ins w (10 x 9 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1880s – 1890s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell, gold pique inlay
Here is a fine mantilla style hair comb dating from the third quarter of the reign of Victoria. 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 comb is made in a dark variety of celluloid faux tortoiseshell with added gold pique inlay. It has six tines and a heading with a heart shaped dip in the top.
The surface of the material in this hair ornament is beautifully marked with the typical “tortoise” style mottling and is a very faithful imitation of genuine shell. 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 decorative treatment known as pique is the inlaying of precious metals into another material, usually tortoiseshell, but occasionally horn or other substances. This technique has a long history, and was extensively used for the decoration of hair combs and other personal adornments during the reign of Victoria.
When gently heated, usually by insertion in hot water, natural organic materials soften to permit the inlaying of small pieces of metal or other substance. When cool, the ground material contracts to hold the pieces in tightly in place without the need for adhesive. Pique is usually found all in gold but in the very best pieces is combined with silver or other materials such as mother of pearl, and is applied in sheets as well as dots.
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