A handsome late Victorian or Edwardian back comb with maple leaf design
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 4 ins h x 4½ ins w (10 x 11 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: mid 20th century
This is a handsome celluloid faux tortoise shell back comb which dates from the late Victorian or Edwardian period. It has a distinctive open work panel which is filled with a decorative maple leaf design.
Combs like this were known as back combs because they were intended to be worn at the back of the head. They are typically deeply curved to fit the skull and are usually wider than they are tall. They have a broad shallow heading which gives scope for some kind of decorative treatment.
Such combs were at their most popular around the turn of the 20th century and were used to support the fluffed out Gibson Girl hairdressing and the large hats of the period.
The final illustration is taken from a selection of late Victorian and Edwardian sources and shows how back combs were used in this way.
Such attractive hair accessories are made not from real tortoise shell but from a faux tortoise effect made in a synthetic material called celluloid. Celluloid was invented in the mid 19th century but really came into its own in the later 19th and early 20th century when natural shell was becoming more expensive. Faux tortoiseshell combs imitate the distinctive mottled appearance of genuine shell with varying degrees of success. Some are so well done that it is extremely difficult to tell the difference.
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