A fine late Victorian faux tortoiseshell back comb with gilding and rhinestone trim
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear to gilding
SIZE: 4 ins h x 4½ ins w (10 x 11 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1890s – 1900s
MATERIALS: celluloid, rhinestones
Here is a very beautiful hair ornament dating from the period around the turn of the 20th century.
It comprises a back comb in celluloid faux tortoiseshell having a high and wide heading panel which is decorated with an engraved design of foliage set within interlaced bands. These lines are infilled in with gold pigment and further embellished with clear rhinestones.
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 skilfully treated to imitate the brown and orange mottling of genuine tortoiseshell.
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.
A back comb is. As its name implies, a type of hair accessory specifically designed to be worn at the rear of the hairdressing. It may be placed above, below or within the chignon according to the fancy of the wearer. It is usually identified by a deep curve made to fit the skull. Such combs are usually wider than they are high and often have an elaborate heading or top decorated in some way.
Victorian back combs are usually very elaborate and may be richly decorated in a variety of ways such as with balls, cameos, openwork or applied materials. They tend to have an affixed gilt metal, silver tone or sterling frame which is adorned with prong set rhinestones or faux gems.
At the turn of the 20th century the hair was worn in a distinctive puffed out style which has become familiar from the drawings of Charles Dana Gibson. This is known as a Gibson Girl or Pompadour style, and often incorporated the use of underlying pads and false hair. It was supported at the back of the head and sometimes at the sides as well by wide hair combs, which might be as plain or as fancy as the wearer desired. These combs also helped to support the huge hats of the late Victorian and Edwardian period.
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