A handsome mid Victorian faux tortoiseshell Spanish style hair comb with loops design
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 4¼ ins h x 5¼ ins w (10.5 x 13.5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell
Here we have an attractive mid Victorian Spanish style comb in celluloid faux tortoiseshell. The most noticeable aspect of this lovely ornament is the effect of intertwined loops like a cable or chain, which adorns the top of the heading. The final picture is taken from a Victorian carte de visite and shows a sitter wearing a hair comb with a similar effect.
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 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.
Mid Victorian hair combs and tiaras might be beautifully carved or wrought into fancy shapes like the example here. One of the most important characteristics of faux tortoiseshell its ability to be softened by the application of heat and moulded into various forms. On cooling the material retains the form into which it has been shaped. It also possesses natural bonding properties whereby small plates may be fused together to obtain larger ones of the type utilized for large decorative mantilla style hair combs. In comb making this means that various decorative elements intended to ornament the headings could be fused in position without apparent joins, giving the appearance of having been hand carved from one large piece.
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