A striking Art Nouveau steer horn back comb with silver and enamel embellishment Birmingham 1908
CONDITION: slight damage to enamel otherwise good vintage condition with expected wear for age
SIZE: 3 ins h x 4½ ins w (7.5 x 11 cm) decorative part 1 ins h (2.5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1908
MATERIALS: steer horn, enamel, silver
Here is a very good quality Art Nouveau back comb which is dated Birmingham 1908
The ornament is made from a steer horn which has been rendered translucent and dyed to resemble tortoiseshell, with the usual mottled effect. It has a broad and narrow heading with a gently scalloped top profile. Affixed to the heading are three sterling silver plaques which are further enriched in translucent enamels. The designs show interlacement and have a rather Celtic character which is typical of British Art Nouveau.
The first Art Nouveau ornaments were hand made and carved from clarified horn. and tortoiseshell. These were very expensive and beyond the means of working people. They were quickly followed by mass produced versions made in celluloid and intended for the popular market. These cheaper versions reproduced the typical motifs of the genre, but were produced by machine. Typically they were made in translucent amber or faux tortoiseshell effects with a swirling asymmetric design suggestive of organic or animal forms. The nicer versions, such as out example above, might be further embellished with gold, silver or semi precious materials like coral or mother of pearl.
A back comb is a type of ornament which is specially designed to be worn at the rear of the head. Such ornaments are usually deeply curved to fit the back of the skull, which makes them unsuitable for wearing anywhere else. Typically they are broader than they are high, and have a top of heading finished off with some kind of decorative edge or border. Often this incorporates decorative metal plaques set with faceted stones.
Combs such as there reached the apex of their popularity in the years around the turn of the 20th century. They were used to prop up the puffed out Gibson Girl hair dressing and also to support the large hats of the day.
The final picture shows a collection of similar hair accessories from this period taken from contemporary sources, and illustrated the hair styles with which they were worn.
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Art Nouveau sterling horn hair comb 1908 enamel hair ornament