A Victorian steer horn back comb with gold pique inlay
CONDITION: some pique loss conversant with age otherwise good vintage condition
SIZE: 3 ins h x 4½ ins w (7.5 x 11 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1890s – 1900s
MATERIALS: steer horn, gold inlay
Here is an attractive steer horn back comb dating from around the turn of the 20th century. The horn has not been clarified and has been left in its natural dark brown state to render it opaque. There is a deep border of gold pique dots along the top of the heading.
Pique is a form of decorative inlay usually done into tortoiseshell, but horn and other materials were also used. Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs until the advent of celluloid and other synthetics.
A back comb, as its name implies, is a type of hair accessory specifically designed to be worn at the rear of the hairdressing. It is usually identified by a deep curve made to fit the skull. These combs are usually wider than they are high and often have an elaborate heading or top decorated in some way.
The collage photograph shows illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar ornaments and how they were placed in the hair styles of the day.
The “Gibson Girl” hair dressing was named after the drawings of the American artist Charles Dana Gibson and was very influential in fashion around the turn of the 20th century. The hair was swept up into a padded cottage loaf type of arrangement, sometimes with a few wispy curls left hanging at the sides or back. In order to help support this arrangement, as well as the huge hats of the period, large back combs such as this one, or entire suites of matching combs, were popular.
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.
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