A handsome mid Victorian tiara style hair comb with openwork design
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 4 ins h x 4¼ ins w (10 x 11 cm) decorative part 1½ ins h (4 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1880s – 1890s
Here is one of those delightful tiara style Victorian combs with a high fancy heading that is wrought into fancy shapes. Here we see a series of five graduated circles, with openwork motifs being placed within them.
The collage picture includes examples taken from contemporary sources and shows similar items and the fashionable hair dressing of the day.
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.
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.
Mid Victorian hair combs and tiaras might be beautifully carved or wrought into fancy shapes like the example here. One of the most important characteristics of tortoiseshell celluloid its ability to be softened by the application of heat and moulded into various forms. On cooling the material retains the form into which it has been shaped. It also possesses natural bonding properties whereby small plates may be fused together to obtain larger ones of the type utilized for large decorative mantilla style hair combs.
In comb making this means that various decorative elements intended to ornament the headings could be fused in position without apparent joins, giving the appearance of having been hand carved from one large piece. Its thermoplastic properties mean that material may be pressed or shaped to a basic shape in a mould. It can then be further embellished by other decorative treatments. This is how such elaborate designs were formed.
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