Classic early 19th century American tortoiseshell headpiece
CONDITION: tine at one end broken otherwise good vintage condition with acceptable wear for age
SIZE: 4¼ ins h x 6¼ ins w (10.5 x 15.5 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1800 – 1820s
Here is a fine example of an early American tortoiseshell hair comb which probably dates from the early 19th century.
The comb is fashioned out of one large solid piece of the mid brown mottled form of tortoiseshell. The material is very nicely marked and polished. The “tortoise” type patterning is very pronounced, with well defined mottling of lighter semi transparent patches on a dark opaque ground. This example is not perfect but remains nevertheless an important example of early American comb making showing the delicacy of the hand made tines.
The collage picture shows sitters from contemporary early American paintings, revealing the hair styles of the period and wearing similar ornaments. The portraits show that these combs were placed high on the head in such a way as to be viewable from all angles. While some are delicately pierced others, like our example here, were simple and unadorned or painted with naïve floral designs
Early American portraits are a rich source of information for the types of hair accessories and manner of dressing the hair among colonial ladies. Among the most interesting are naïve portraits. They were done by self taught itinerant artists who worked for food and lodging or who rented their facilities, staying in an area until all interested subjects had been painted before moving on.
While these artists may have lacked the polish and sophistication of their European counterparts, they often minutely observed the details of a woman’s toilette. Such portraits are extraordinarily captivating. Their beauty and charm lie in the manner in which the artists used colours and perspective. Consequently they are highly valued nowadays as part of a true and original American folk art.
The domestic production of hair combs in the USA is very well documented. One excellent source is Comb Making in America by Bernard W Doyle, 1925.Looking at the production aspects of these combs, the tines were obviously hand cut and they were probably made in small local workshops. It was not until the late 19th century that mass production techniques took over.
This item is over 100 years old and therefore predates the Endangered Species legislation. If this item includes any CITES Appendix I materials documentation and certificates required by law for commercial sale, import or export, have been obtained for this item and will be included with it at shipment.
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Early American tortoiseshell hair comb classic hair ornament