An unusual Art Deco French ivory mantilla comb with figural lady
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear to pique for age
SIZE: 8 ins h x 6½ ins w (20 x 16 cm) decorative part 5 ins h (13 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1910s – 1920s
MATERIALS: French ivory
Here is an interesting Spanish style comb of the Art Deco period made from a substance popularly called “French ivory”. This was a synthetic substance intended to substitute for genuine elephant bone, and contains no material from an endangered species.
This lovely ornament is made with a high curved heading in an unusual design. A pretty young Spanish lady, herself wearing a high wedge shaped comb, is poised in a dance and occupies the center of the heading. She is placed against a pierced back ground of three leaved clover, a plant which traditionally signifies good luck whe it is found with four leaves.
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 Art Deco and mid century periods. Two sitters wear high Spanish combs of similar type.
Spanish comb or peineta is a name generally given to any comb with has a high upstanding heading. However the true Spanish comb is an ornament worn in Spain and other Spanish speaking countries for a very high ornamental comb which is typically draped with a lace veil. In the past such veils were worn when attending church, and others formal events. Although the use of these high combs and mantilla veils has declined in Spain, they are still used on formal occasions. Smaller versions of the high topped comb are also popular with Flamenco dancers and for weddings.
These showy and frequently very large Spanish combs became extremely fashionable in Britain and America during the early 20th century. They were worn in a characteristic manner, being placed in the side or back of the hairdressing at an acute angle, and in such a way that the tall heading stood up proud. This enabled the often beautiful openwork decoration or the decorative effect which had been applied to the material, to be viewed from all angles, and for the details to be seen effectively outlined against the light.
The large mantilla style combs which had enjoyed popularity in the Victorian period were to enjoy two more decades of popularity when they returned to fashion in the early Art Deco period. This was the age of house parties, with a vogue for dressing up in fancy costumes. Spanish style dress was particularly popular. Many famous actresses and early film stars had themselves portrayed on glamour postcards in a version of Spanish dress. Along with fashion magazines they were an important element in how people chose a “look” and its accessories. Some of the hair combs worn in this period were so huge that they resembled the traditional Spanish peineta in their height and or breadth.
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