A handsome mid Victorian steer horn hair comb with pointed silhouette
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 5 ins h x 4 ins w (13 x 10 cm) decorative part 3 ins h (7.5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s - 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a fine and typical mid Victorian hair comb made from natural steer horn which has been clarified and then dyed a deep honey or amber colour. The ornament is made in one piece, with the heading and tines all in one.
The pointed design which we see around the top of the heading is a favourite one at this period. Points and scallops were among the favorite ways of decorating the top of the heading in these high mantilla type combs.
The collage picture includes similar examples taken from contemporary photographic sources of the mid Victorian period, and shows the fashionable hair dressing of the day.
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.
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.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century because it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours. Horn could also be clarified so as to be almost translucent. This gives it the attractive colour of honey, and is a feature of many combs of the period. It could also be carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, moulded into ornamental shapes.
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