A mid Victorian hair comb with pendant balls, possible used for mourning.
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 4 ins h x 4½ ins w (10 x 11 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1850s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is an unusual and striking hinged hair comb made from dyed steer horn. The comb has been dyed so dark a brown as to appear black, and may well have been worn for mourning by a Victorian lady.
It has a heading formed as a leaf shape, which is attached to the horn comb mount by a hinge of gilded metal. The leaf shape has ornamental faceted balls of French jet set down the centre. Pendant from the bottom edge of the “leaf” are a series of five balls made from polished and dyed horn.
The comb is technically sophisticated, being attached to the prongs by a flexible hinge of gilt metal, which allows it to rotate through 90 or more degrees. This enables the comb to be adjusted to various positions within the coiffure.
Victorian hairstyles were very elaborate. In general the hair was draped smoothly over the ears with most of the interest concentrated on the back of the head. This is apparent in many of the kinds of hair accessories favoured in the mid Victorian period of 1850s – 1870s. Most of these hair accessories are equipped with a hinge which permits the angle of the heading to be adjusted. Therefore they could be placed within the chignon and used to conceal where false hair (essential to these bulky coiffures) may have been added. Long ornamental pendants which hang down over the back hair were fashionable. Others combs have small hooks or rings on the underside of the heading to which ribbons or lace flounces could be attached. There was a definite preference for accessories that were specifically designed to be worn in the rear.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century, not only because the material was cheap, but also because it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. Mid Victorian hair combs and tiaras might be beautifully carved or wrought into fancy shapes like the example here. It could also readily be dyed to a range of different colours.
This feature made it popular fro mourning jewelry. Etiquette decreed that in deep mourning, the widow and close relatives of the deceased must dress in plain dark garments with a long veil hanging from the bonnet. The only ornaments allowed to be worn at this time were those of jet, which is a natural material found in Whitby, a small town on the East coast of the UK. In order to extend the supply of jet when it became exhausted, various other materials were employed. One of these was dyed horn.
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