A nicely marked celluloid faux tortoiseshell hair comb from the Victorian era (does not contain any natural materials)
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 4½ ins h x 3½ ins w (11 x 9 cm); decorative part 2 ins h (5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: celluloid faux tortoiseshell
Here is a beautifully marked Spanish style hair comb in celluloid faux tortoiseshell with a classic scroll and foliage openwork pattern. It probably dates from the latter part of the Victorian era when these large combs were in fashion. 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.
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.
By the late 19th century genuine tortoiseshell had become very expensive. Therefore most of the hair ornaments which appear to be made of shell are, in fact, made from synthetics. These faux tortoise combs can be very pretty and effective since it is unusual to find two with exactly the same markings. Some of them are very convincing and are skillfully treated to imitate the random brown and orange mottling of genuine tortoiseshell. However, examined with a loupe, genuine shell has a three dimensional quality which cannot be duplicated.
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Victorian hair comb pierced faux tortoiseshell hair ornament
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