A large and handsome pressed steer horn Spanish mantilla style hair comb.
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 9 ins h x 7 ins w (23 x 18 cm) decorative part 5½ ins (14 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a large and very beautiful pressed steer horn comb which dates from the 1870s – 1880s period.
The comb has a very high wedge shaped heading and eight tines. It is made all in one piece from steer horn which has been dyed a deep shade of amber. The heading has a very beautiful impressed design. In the centre is a panel with floral elements. This is surrounded by a deep border with elaborate interlaced ornamentation.
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 collage photograph shows illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar ornaments, showing how they were placed in the hair styles of the day.
Large and handsome combs like this would have been used by a fashionable Victorian lady to adorn the hair. The mantilla style became fashionable with the debut of the opera Carmen in the 1870s and remained in vogue for the following 20 years.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for combs and hair accessories in the 19th century. Not only was the material cheap, but also it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours and was often used to resemble the much more expensive tortoiseshell. Horn 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 and hair ornaments of the period. Finally horn could be carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, twisted into ornamental shapes in a flexible manner much like out modern plastics.
Pressed combs are most often found in steer horn because of its thermoplastic qualities. However natural tortoiseshell which has similar qualities could also is treated in this manner to obtain elaborate decorative effects. Combs known as “pressed” were manufactured by pressing and squeezing the material between heated iron plates until it softened. Many of these pressed combs have an elaborate design impressed into the surface which appears to be hand carved but was, in fact, produced by this mechanical process. The combs were subsequently hand finished and polished. Combined with techniques such as dying and piercing, many of these pressed combs were both elaborate and beautiful.
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