An early 19th century pierced horn hair comb with openwork design
CONDITION: good vintage condition for its age.
SIZE: 5 ins h x 6 ins w (13 x 15 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1830s – 1840s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a lovely old steer horn comb which was undoubtedly made by hand in some small local workshop, rather than a large commercial factory.
It has been made out of steer horn which has been clarified to render it translucent. It has long delicate tines which have obviously been cut by hand, and are still nicely pointed despite it being well over 150 years in age.
It has a rectangular top and is pierced into an attractive openwork design.
The final illustration shows a selection of sitters wearing similar ornaments and is taken from a collection of contemporary sources of the early 19th century.
Ornaments like this were worn in a characteristic manner, being placed such a way that the tall heading stood up proud. This enabled them to be viewed from all angles and for the details to be seen effectively outlined against the light.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century, not only because the material was cheap, but also because it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours and could also be clarified so as to be almost translucent. This gives it the attractive colour of honey, and is a feature of many combs of the period. It could also be carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, twisted into ornamental shapes in a plastic manner. Horn is an extremely flexible material, and when heated it can be bent, pierced and stretched into all manner of forms, almost like plastic.
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