A handsome mid Victorian Spanish style hair comb in steer horn
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 6½ ins h x 4 ins w (16 x 10 cm) decorative part 3 ins h (7.5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here we have a very handsome Spanish style comb made from steer horn that has been dyed to a deep amber colour. It has a curved top profile and a moulded design of radiating lines which fan out from the base of the heading.
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 picture shows some contemporary examples of such combs, takes from late Victorian carte de visite photographs and showing how they were worn.
High topped combs like this were extremely popular in the later Victorian era during the 1870s and 1880s. This was due to the debut of the opera Carmen, which promoted a fashion for Spanish style combs with extremely tall headings. Such combs were produced in a variety of materials from tortoiseshell and silver for the higher end of the market down to horn and celluloid for the more popular end.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. Not only was the material was 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 rendered a lovely amber colour.
Horn also has excellent thermoplastic qualities and could be treated by pressing between headed plates to obtain elaborate decorative effects. However natural tortoiseshell which has similar qualities could also be treated in this manner to obtain elaborate decorative effects. Combined with techniques such as dying and piercing, many of these pressed combs were both elaborate and beautiful.
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