A striking pressed steer horn hair comb from the early 19th century
CONDITION: good vintage condition with acceptable wear
SIZE:7½ ins h x 6½ ins w (19 x 16 cm) decorative part 4 ins h (10 cm)
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1820s – 1830s
MATERIALS: steer horn
Here is a fine and large pressed steer horn Spanish style comb dating from the late Georgian or Regency period.
The comb has a wedge shaped heading with a curved upper profile and three long integral tines which are all in good condition. It has been impressed with an attractive asymmetric design resembling leaf shapes, which produce an attractive scalloped profile.
This attractive comb has not been clarified to render it semi translucent but has been left opaque. It retains the random natural mottling of steer horn rather than being dyed to resemble tortoiseshell.
The collage photograph shows several illustrations taken from contemporary sources and depicts similar ornaments and how they were placed in the hair styles of the day.
This type of ornament is often known as a Spanish or mantilla comb because it resembles a smaller version of the traditional large shell ornaments worn by Spanish ladies with their native dress. Such combs became the mode in the early 19th century when the fashionable coiffure became extremely tall and elaborate.
Combs such as this were used to support the dressing and give extra height. Great loops of hair (often false) arise from the crown of the head back backed up by these Spanish style combs.
Horn was one of the most popular materials for hair combs in the 19th century. The material was cheap and could be easily treated to obtain a number of decorative effects. It could carved, pierced, stamped and when heated, twisted into ornamental shapes in a plastic manner.
Combs known as “pressed horn” were manufactured by pressing and squeezing the horn between heated iron plates until the material softened. It could then be placed into in mould and would retain the desired shape when it cooled. Many of these pressed horn combs have an elaborate design impressed into the surface which appears to be hand carved but was, in fact, produced by this mechanical process. The combs were subsequently hand finished which might include dying to resemble tortoiseshell or in other solid colours.
Ornaments like this are generally know as Spanish style, a name used to describe any hair accessory with a tall upstanding heading or top. They resemble the very beautiful tortoiseshell ornaments which Spanish ladies wear with their national dress, hence the name. The ornament is placed high on the head in such a position that it can be seen from every angle. This means that the beautifully carved or decorated heading can be seen to full advantage.
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Regency hair comb pressed steer horn Spanish mantilla style