A beautiful Spanish style hair comb with elaborate cable design
CONDITION: good vintage condition with acceptable wear
SIZE: 4¼ ins h x 4 ins w decorative part 2 ins h (10.5 x 10 x 5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1870s – 1880s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a handsome steer horn Spanish style 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 a design which resembles the links of a chain or cable. Further links have been added to increase the effect. These “cable link” designs are found in a number of different materials on mid Victorian combs and seem to have been one of the favourite motifs.
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.
Mid Victorian hair combs and tiaras made from tortoiseshell and horn might appear to be beautifully carved or wrought into fancy shapes, like the example here. However this is not the case, and these complex designs were formed by working the materials under heat. One of the most important characteristics of materials like tortoiseshell and horn are their ability to be softened by the application of heat and moulded into various forms. On cooling the material retains the form into which it has been shaped. It also possesses natural bonding properties whereby small plates may be fused together to obtain larger ones of the type utilized for large decorative mantilla style hair combs.
In comb making this means that various decorative elements intended to ornament the headings could be fused in position without apparent joins, giving the appearance of having been hand carved from one large piece. Its thermoplastic properties mean that material may be pressed or shaped to a basic shape in a mould. It can then be further embellished by other decorative treatments. This is how such elaborate designs were formed.
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Victorian hair comb steer horn cable design hair accessory