An unusual circular hair comb in dyed steer horn eagle thistle motifs
CONDITION: good vintage condition with accepted wear
SIZE: 4 ins diameter (10 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1860s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is an unusual circular hair comb which has been hand carved from steer horn which has been dyed a very dark brown. In this form of accessory the ornamental heading does not stand up proud, but rather folds down to cover the tines. The tines are not hinged but an integral part of the whole. Horn may be moulded into such forms by the application of heat.
In this case the design incorporates a symmetrical motif of an eagle surmounting a thistle. The eagle is symbolic or great strength, and the ability to extend ones capacity beyond the normal. Since a thistle is defined both as a flower and a weed, its meaning may be ambivalent. Like its rough exterior, the meaning of the flower is associated with aggressiveness, pain, protection and pride.
This comb is of the type which was particularly designed to be worn in the back of the coiffure. In the mid-Victorian coiffure, masses of false hair were worn in order to construct the elaborate coiffures. Combs such as these would have been very effective at concealing the place where these false tresses were added in.
The collage photograph shows some contemporary illustrations in which a model wears the kind of coiffure described above, and an elaborate comb in the center of the chignon.
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. 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 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.
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Victorian circular hair comb dyed horn mourning hair accessory