A striking French jet Victorian mourning hair comb in Spanish mantilla style
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 5¼ ins h x 3¾ ins w (14 x 8.5 cm) decorative part 2½ ins 6 cm
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: celluloid, French Jet
Here is a large and handsome Victorian mantilla style comb which was probably used for mourning.
The basic material is glossy black celluloid, with the seven tines and the heading moulded all in one piece. The ornament has a wedge shaped heading with an elaborate openwork design, some elements of which represent foliage. It has a scalloped top profile. Five marquise shaped pieces of French jet are applied to the front of the design. The jet piece in the centre is slightly larger than those on either side.
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.
French jet is a glittering form of black glass which has nothing to do with France, but was produced mainly in Bohemia, now part of modern Czechoslovakia. In the late 19th and early 20th century it was extremely popular for jewellery making and in particular the adornments associated with mourning.
Victorian mourning etiquette decreed that in deep mourning, the widow and close relative of the deceased must dress in plain dark garments with a long veil hanging from the bonnet. The only ornaments allowed to be worn at this time were those of jet, which is a natural material found in Whitby, a small town on the East coast of the UK. In order to extend the supply of jet when it became exhausted, various other materials were employed. One of these was French jet.
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