A handsome early Victorian Spanish style hair comb in natural tortoiseshell with gold pique inlay
CONDITION: one tine has a contemporary repair otherwise good vintage condition
SIZE: 5 ins h x 4½ ins w (13 x 11 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1830s – 1850s
Here is a very beautiful early Victorian comb in natural pressed tortoiseshell with gold pique inlay. The ornament probably dates from early Victorian period in the 1830s – 1840s, rather than from the Georgian period. High mantilla style combs such as this were at the height of their popularity during the late 1820s and early 1830s. However their height had diminished to more modest proportions by the accession of Victoria,
The comb is fashioned out of one large solid piece of the mid brown mottled form of tortoiseshell. The material is very nicely marked and polished. The “tortoise” type patterning is very pronounced, with well defined mottling of lighter semi transparent patches on a dark opaque ground. The heading has a wedge shape with a scalloped upper border. At the top, beneath the scalloped edge, is a formalised pique inlay in a swagged design. This is separated from the lower area of the heading by several impressed ridges. The lower area of the heading is impressed with a design which resembles cross hatching, and divides the horizontal plane into lozenge shapes. Each lozenge is further emphasized by pique inlay.
This very beautiful example has eight long slender tines. These tines are all nicely pointed, not broken or chipped at the bottom as in many shell combs. It can be seen that one tine on the left has a contemporary repair, by having a metal plate riveted to the back. This was the usual method of repairing horn and tortoiseshell combs in the days before our modern contact adhesives. We must remember that these were expensive items, and considered worth preserving, in contrast to today’s throw away society. So this repair is part of the history of the piece.
Pressed combs are most often found in steer horn, but natural tortoiseshell could also be treated in this manner to obtain elaborate decorative effects. Combs known as “pressed” were manufactured by pressing and squeezing the material between heated iron plates until it softened. It could then be placed into in mould and would retain the desired shape when it cooled. Many of these pressed 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. Combined with techniques such as dying and piercing, many of these pressed combs were both elaborate and beautiful.
Pique is the decorative treatment of inlaying 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.
All state and federal documentation and certificates required by law for commercial sale, import or export, have been obtained for this item. Proper legal paperwork will be included with it at shipment.
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