Victorian steer horn hair comb Spanish style leaves design hair ornament - image 1 of 12

A fine carved and clarified steer horn hair comb with distinctive leaves design

CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear

SIZE: 5 ins h x 4 ins w (13 x 10 cm) decorative part 2½ ins h (6 cm)

APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s

MATERIALS: steer horn


Here is a beautiful Victorian Spanish style hair comb which has been hand carved from steer horn. The material has been clarified to render it semi translucent and has been tinted a deep amber colour. The upstanding heading of the comb supports an openwork carved design of flowers and foliage.

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. 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 picture shows a selection of illustrations from contemporary sources with similar hair accessories 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 was cheap, and it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. Horn could 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, twisted into ornamental shapes in a plastic manner.

Large and handsome combs such as this would have been used by a fashionable Victorian lady to adorn the back of the hair, probably being placed above a large chignon. For day they were made of plain horn or tortoiseshell, carved or twisted into ornate designs. For evening, no ornament could be too large or too elaborate.

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The Spanish Comb

Victorian steer horn hair comb Spanish style leaves design hair ornament


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