A handsome Victorian hair comb in faux tortoiseshell with decorative balls
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 3½ ins h x 4½ ins w (8 x 11 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1900s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell
Here is a handsome faux tortoiseshell back comb decorated along the top of the heading with a row of balls. There are nine balls with the largest being placed in the centre and the smallest at the extremities. This is the typical arrangement.
These balls combs were known as “peigne Josephine” and are a great favourite of the Victorian period. They range tremendously in size from combs decorated with balls as large as 1½ inches across to much smaller and daintier ones.
They were produced in very large numbers, and are found with balls of pearl, tortoiseshell, gilt ormolu, coral or even faceted crystal. Sometimes the balls themselves are elaborately decorated with engraved or inlaied patterns, Those with balls of hollow gilt metal are the most common. Typically the balls are graduated in size, with the largest being placed in the centre or somewhat raised to give the effect of a coronet. The balls are usually of an odd number, five, seven and nine being the most popular.
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 skillfully treated to imitate the brown and orange mottling of genuine tortoiseshell.
The collage photograph shows illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar ornaments with ornamental balls and shows the great variety of styles with this type of element.
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