A handsome mid Victorian Spanish style hair comb in natural tortoiseshell
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear for age
SIZE: 4½ ins h x 4½ ins w (11 x 11 cm) decorative part 2 ins w (5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1900s
MATERIALS: faux tortoiseshell
The comb is made Spanish style with a high upstanding top or heading. The oval shaped heading is formed from one large solid piece of material which bears a very close resemblance to the mid brown mottled form of genuine tortoiseshell which it is designed to imitate. The material is very nicely marked with tortoise type mottling and highly polished.
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 collage picture includes similar examples taken from contemporary photographic sources of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. and shows 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, celluloid and plated metals for the more popular end.
Large solid tortoiseshell and faux tortoise combs like this remained a favourite hair ornament throughout the Victorian period. They were made out of one piece of the material with integral heading and tines. They come in various classic shapes – curved, rectangular, wedge shaped, scalloped and sometimes with a spiky top profile. Some were pressed in moulds to give them a fluted radiating design resembling foliage, or simple geometric lines. Others might be decorated with pique inlay of gold, silver or mother of pearl. All these ornaments rely mostly upon the natural beauty of the mottled “tortoiseshell” design for their appeal. The most prized are those where lighter translucent patches of light brown or orange are strongly marked and widely distributed across a dark background which is highly polished.
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