A large and handsome Victorian hair comb made from carved steer horn
CONDITION: good vintage condition with acceptable wear for age
SIZE: 5¼ ins h x 5 ins w (13.5 x 13 cm) decorative part 2 ins h (5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1850s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a large and handsome steer horn hair comb from the mid Victorian period. The material has been dyed black and may therefore have been used for mourning. The large curved heading has been open carved with swirling designs and has an attractive and gently scalloped upper border.
The hairstyles of the mid-Victorian period were large and impressive, with vast quantities of false hair being used to form a huge chignon. Therefore the ornaments which were used to adorn them were often equally large and impressive. Large and handsome combs would have been used by a fashionable Victorian lady to adorn the back of the hair, probably being placed above a chignon. For day they were made of plain horn or shell, carved, twisted or stamped into ornate designs.
The final picture is taken from a contemporary fashion engraving which illustrates the fashionable hair dressing and the hair accessories of the mid Victorian period. We can see that such combs were placed above the chignon on the back part of the head in such a manner as to rise like a halo from the front. Such ornaments are found widely in Victorian photographic portraits of this period.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. Not only was the material cheap, but also it could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could be dyed a range of colours. It could be carved, pierced, and stamped. Horn is an extremely flexible material, and when heated it can be bent, pierced and stretched into all manner of forms, almost like plastic.
The importance of Victorian mourning etiquette upon the production of jewellery and personal ornaments was very significant. This etiquette decreed that in deep mourning, the widow and close relative of the deceased must dress in plain dark garments. The only ornaments allowed to be worn at this time were those of jet, which is a natural material found in Whitby, a small town on the East coast of the United Kingdom. In order to extend the supply of jet when it became exhausted, various other materials were employed. One of these was horn dyed to a dark colour.
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Victorian hair comb dyed steer horn mourning hair accessory
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