Art Deco hair comb celluloid overlay hair ornament - image 1 of 10

A classic Art Deco wedge shaped hair comb with sunray design.

CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear

SIZE: 5 ins h x 4 ins w (13 x 10 cm) decorative part 2 ins h (5 cm)

APPROXIMATE DATE: 1910s – 1920s

MATERIALS: celluloid faux tortoiseshell


Here is a very attractive Art Deco period hair comb made in the iconic wedge shape design, in which lines or blades radiate out from the base of the heading. Here the blade-like motifs alternate with panels of open scroll work. The ornament was made by a process called “celluloid overlay” whereby one colour is laid over another. In this example a translucent base has been given a shiny black upper coat, giving a three dimensional effect on the edges of the design and the tips of the tines.

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. Such combs are worn placed high on the head in order to allow the beauty of their ornamental cresting to be admired.

The collage photograph shows some examples of similar hair accessories taken from contemporary illustrative sources, and reveals the manner and hair styles in which they were worn.


The heading design is typical of many combs of the period, with radiating lines or panels resembling sunrays, or perhaps the spokes of a wheel. One theory is that the idea of sun rays comes from the popular vogue for sunbathing which began at this time. Previously ladies had shunned the idea of sunbathing. Another theory is that the spoke like designs reflected the wheel, and the obsession with speed and technology. This was the age of the car and the plane after all!

This fan shaped and frequently 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.

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5 ins h x 4 ins w (13 x 10 cm) decorative part 2 ins h (5 cm)

The Spanish Comb

Art Deco hair comb celluloid overlay hair ornament


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