A fine faux tortoiseshell hair comb made in the Oriental manner with dragons
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 4½ ins h x 5 ins w (11 x 13 cm) decorative part 2 ins h (5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1880s - 1900
MATERIALS: celluloid faux tortoiseshell
Here is a very beautiful celluloid faux tortoiseshell comb which has been made in imitation of the shell and ivory combs which were exported from China in the 19th century.
The comb has a rectangular mantilla style heading and had been decorated with a fierce dragon whose coils occupy the entire space of the heading. The design has been moulded rather than carved, but has some appearance of being hand finished.
Dragons are motifs typically found in Chinese art. In the Orient the Dragon is not regarded as an evil creature as in the West, but rather is venerated as a symbol of courage and benevolence.
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 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.
Shell and ivory combs were imported into the West in the 19th century. The majority of the combs was elaborately carved and finished, the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the designers and comb makers being second to none. On carved, fretted or pierced backgrounds, flowers, birds and small animals formed the principal themes, with the mythical dragon a predominant feature. The combs were not set with jewels or gemstones but relied on the texture and sincerity of the material itself for enduring appeal. This comb appears to have been produced in imitation of that tradition.
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