A handsome Victorian faux tortoiseshell hair comb with engraved design
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear for age
SIZE: 5 ins h x 3 ins w (13 x 7.5 cm) decorative part 2½ ins
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1890s – 1910s
MATERIALS: celluloid faux tortoiseshell, paint, rhinestones
This handsome comb is made Spanish style with a high upstanding top or heading made in a distinctive wedge shape. The material is celluloid faux tortoiseshell and is very nicely marked with a distinctive swirled design and highly polished.
It has a classic engraved pattern which is filled in with white coloured pigment to make the lines stand out, and further embellished with clear rhinestones sunk into the ground material.
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 period 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 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 might be decorated with pique inlay of gold, silver, mother of pearl or rhinestones. All these ornaments rely mostly upon the natural beauty of the mottled design for their appeal.
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