A large and handsome Victorian hair comb in mottled steer horn
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear
SIZE: 5 ins h x 4 ins w (13 x 10 cm) decorative part 2¼ ins h (6 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
This handsome pressed steer horn hair ornament probably dates from the latter part of the Victorian era when such 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 handsome accessory is made all in one piece and has a high curved heading and nine long tines. All of these are nicely pointed and not chipped or broken as on so many of these old combs. It has been dyed with a mottled pattern to resemble the much more expensive tortoiseshell, as was common with horn combs.
The collage picture shows a selection of illustrations taken from contemporary sources which depict similar ornaments and the hair styles with which they were worn.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. The material cheap and could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. Horn is an extremely flexible material, and when heated it can be bent and stretched into all manner of forms, almost like plastic.
Combs known as “pressed horn” were manufactured by pressing and squeezing the horn between heated iron plates until the material softened. It could then be placed into in mould and would retain the desired shape when it cooled. The combs were subsequently hand finished which might include dying in a distinctive mottled pattern to resemble to resemble tortoiseshell or in other solid colours. Combs could also be clarified to render them semi translucent. Combined with techniques such as dying and piercing, many of these pressed horn combs were both elaborate and beautiful.
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Victorian steer horn hair comb Spanish style hair accessory
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