A handsome mid Victorian hair comb in steer horn dyed burgundy color
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 4¼ ins h x 4 ins w (11 x 10 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s - 1900
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a handsome mantilla style hair comb which is made in red tinted steer horn. The comb has a high openwork heading with a formalised openwork design.
This type of ornament is often known as Spanish or mantilla comb because it resembles a smaller version of the traditional large tortoiseshell ornaments worn by Spanish ladies with their native dress. In practice any comb which has a high upstanding heading or top is often called a mantilla comb.
Combs 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. The final illustration shows a selection of sitters wearing similar ornaments and is taken from a collection of contemporary carte de visite of the Victorian era
Such higher topped combs were produced in genuine tortoiseshell and precious metals for the higher end of the market and in horn, celluloid and other materials for the popular end. The tall mantilla style headings became popular in the 1870s due to the debut of Bizet's opera Carmen in 1875.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. It was cheap and could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours and clarified so as to make it 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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