A handsome Victorian Spanish mantilla style hair comb in faux tortoiseshell (AAG)
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 5¼ ins h x 4½ ins w (13.5 x 11 cm) decorative part 2½ ins h (6 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell
Here is a very beautiful later Victorian comb in natural tortoiseshell. High mantilla style combs such as this were at the height of their popularity during the late 1870s and early 1880s. However their height diminished to more modest proportions by the end of the century.
The comb is fashioned out of one large solid piece of the mid brown mottled form of faux tortoiseshell. The material is very nicely marked and polished. The “tortoise” type patterning is very pronounced, with well defined mottling of lighter semi transparent patches on a dark opaque ground.
The heading has a broad rectangular shape with a curved upper border. This very beautiful example has twelve long slender tines. The outer tines are thicker than those in the middle, probably in an effort to protect the more delicate inner prongs. However these tines are all nicely pointed, not broken or chipped at the bottom as in many shell combs.
The collage photograph shows illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar ornaments and how they were placed in the hair styles of the day. The collage photograph shows illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar ornaments and how they were placed in the hair styles of the day. The typical Victorian hair style of this period has the hair draped smoothly back from a central parting and coiled into a large chignon on the back of the head. Typically the high comb was inserted above the chignon so that it could be seen from all angles. There are many mid Victorian photographs which illustrate how the headings of these beautiful combs seem to rise like a halo from the top of the wearer’s head,
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.
Mottled tortoiseshell and faux tortoiseshell combs like this, without any form of decoration, continued to be worn even when the large and elaborate mid Victorian combs has begun to lose their popularity. Their appearance relied upon the lustre and markings of the material for their effect. They were considered most suitable for day wear in an era when a woman’s appearance was not considered complete without her combs.
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