An unusual mantilla style hair comb in carved bone with an openwork border
CONDITION: there is a small break in the border otherwise good vintage condition
SIZE: 5½ ins h x 2¼ ins w (14 x 6 cm) decorative part 2½ ins h (6.5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: cow bone
This comb is made from cow bone and contains no material from an endangered species. The blow up pictures of the rear of the item show faint black dots and pits. All bone has the telltale flecks of marrow, or tiny notches, in the surface known as "Haversian System". This is one of the methods of distinguishing bone from elephant ivory. Another is the dry appearance of the material as opposed to the creamy quality of ivory.
Here is a carved bone mantilla style hair comb which may well have been imported from India for the British market. It has a high rectangular heading with a pierced border.
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. The form of these ornaments echoes much of the Indian and Indian influenced jewellery, which was produced at this period. 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 bone, ivory and tortoiseshell. 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 numerous illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar ornaments and how they were placed in the hair styles of the day.
Throughout the Victorian period, with India as part of the British Empire, men took their families on the long voyage east to serve in some remote outpost. 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. That is how many unusual hair ornaments and accessories have come to our shores.
Sambhal is the heart of India’s horn and bone industry, waste materials that are up cycled into decorative pieces. Artisans residing in villages surrounding the city center have been working with horn and animal bone for generations. What started as a trade to produce fashionable hair combs, made of bone, during the British Empire and thereafter, evolved into a much larger industry.
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