A large and handsome Spanish style hair comb in carved steer horn openwork
CONDITION: good vintage condition with expected wear for age
SIZE: 5½ ins h x 5½ ins w (14 x 14 cm) decorative part 3 ins h (7.5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a large and handsome steer horn hair comb from the mid Victorian period. The material has been clarified to render it semi translucent and then dyed a deep amber colour. The wedge shaped heading has been open-carved with swirling designs and has an attractive and spiky 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 or, for the evening, trailing ringlets. 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.
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 also 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. Finally 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.
This type of ornament is often known as Spanish or mantilla comb because it resembles a smaller version of the traditional large ornaments worn by Spanish ladies with their native dress. 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. These ornaments became modish after the debut of the opera Carmen in 1875 shocked Parisian audiences. The high topped combs remained in vogue for the following two decades and were placed high on the head in order to allow the beauty of their ornamental cresting to be admired.
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Victorian steer horn hair comb Spanish mantilla style hair ornament