A handsome Victorian faux tortoiseshell hair comb with pear shaped upstanding elements
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 3½ ins h x 5 ins w (9 x 13 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1880s - 1900
Here is a handsome version of the classic mid Victorian “balls” combs whereby a series of spherical elements tops the heading. In this case the moulded elements are pear shaped on this handsomely marked ornament of celluloid faux tortoiseshell.
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, celluloid and plated metals for the more popular end.
The collage picture includes similar examples taken from contemporary Victorian photographic sources and shows the fashionable hair dressing of the day.
Victorian hair combs and tiaras might be beautifully carved or wrought into fancy shapes like the example here. 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.
These balls combs were known as “peigne Josephine”. They range tremendously in size from combs decorated with balls as large as 1½ inches across to much smaller and daintier ones. They were produced in very large numbers, and are found with balls of pearl, tortoiseshell, gilt ormolu, coral or celluloid. Sometimes the balls themselves are elaborately decorated with engraved or inlayed patterns. Those with balls of hollow gilt metal are the most common. Often the balls are graduated in size, with the largest being placed in the centre or somewhat raised to give the effect of a coronet.
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