The Ebay Auction Everyone Was Talking About

Remember that two Empire diadems with almost all the seed pearls missing sold at Sotheby’s 3 years ago for $3000 a piece. Now, incredulously, a dealer from Belgium got the hair comb collection of a lifetime, and sold it on E-Bay for basically nothing. I couldn’t BELIEVE my eyes.

This French Empire seed pearl comb IN EXCELLENT CONDITION sold for *drum roll* $597.77. He started the bidding at $145. Do you think Sotheby’s could have sold it for $5000? I do.

This one sold for $439.

I have been obsessed with this auction all week, and I can finally talk about it! Oh my God, the bargains people got. Congratulations to all the winners.

There were some absolute masterpieces in this collection. Here is a selection with the final selling prices. I don’t know who the collector was, but this was a life’s work of love, devotion, and scholarship. A book could have been published about this collection. The Creative Museum family saw a few of their grandmother’s combs and devoted their lives to turning her interest into a monument. I feel this woman’s heirs, if she had any, saw her life’s love and threw it away.

Sterling silver comb. The bird on top of leaves has a ruby, and the edges are decorated with moonstones: $910.

The coral tiara part of an Empire comb: $760

An 18K gold and diamond top to a blonde tortoiseshell hair pin, c. 1890: $680

A magnificently ornate coral tiara from an Empire comb: $549

Amethyst Empire comb in almost perfect condition: $458

18th-Century ivory comb from Ceylon: $400

French art nouveau tinted horn comb, autumn leaves, c. 1905: $393 I am not sure if any of them were signed, but the art nouveau pieces reminded me of Elizabeth Bonte.

Magnificent French seed-pearl tiara hinged onto a horn comb: $362.88

Three brass thistles decorate a horn comb, c. 1905: $150

Two tinted horn combs, which might be Elizabeth Bonte. One with red flowers ($275), the other with two dragonflies facing each other ($190.50). The dragonflies’ legs are elongated to make the tines of the comb. This is the same idea Lalique used in his famous Two Swallows with a Stalk of Oats.

There was also a beautiful art nouveau comb with chrysanthemums, a favorite flower of the Japanese ($225.49).

This comb was a Victorian tortoiseshell back comb with paste stones, but the blue and green colors were beautiful ($273).

There was also a greek key pattern hand piqued into a tiara hinged onto a tortoiseshell comb, c. 1870 ($148):

Do you think this hair pin on almost transparent blonde tortoiseshell was made of real diamonds? ($166.38)

This ivory hair pin with a woman figure on it was also beautiful ($161), as was this ivory snake comb ($145).

There were two Victorian blonde tortoiseshell combs, which sold for $71 and $46, respectively.

A gorgeous Bonaz rounded out the auction ($170.39)

16 thoughts on “The Ebay Auction Everyone Was Talking About

  1. peggy elliott

    Wow – Something I won made your list! I am so proud!!!

    What on earth was that all about? Thousands of dollars worth of combs set down for so little. I’m silly to mention it, I guess, being one of the fortunate benefactors, picking up pieces I would never, ever have been able to purchase at their true worth.

    I have this horror of my daughter have a huge yard sale when I’m gone and though my collection is nothing like the Antwerp one, it’s still going to be worth more than the $100 takes it all she’s likely to let it go for….

    More telling than those that sold for so little are those that didn’t sell at all. A gorgeous tort with coral flower that was starting at something like $78. No one grabbed it. I was already beyond my readily available funds and am throwing money together.

    Can’t have it all, now, can we?

    The owner of the collection is/was apparently a woman in her late ’90’s, which is all they can say about her. Maybe she just wanted to make a lot of collectors, who otherwise would never be able to afford such special combs, happy – her gift to us to remember her by, a generous woman who loved her collection and wanted it to go to others who would love it, as well.

    Who knows? The only pieces I noticed signed were several Bonaz. But it was difficult to see the backs on them, so there might be sigs you couldn’t read.

    This will no doubt be the only time something I acquired has been featured here. The elderly lady has given me that opportunity and I thank you for it!

  2. Virginia E.

    One of the combs I bought made it on your list too!!! The ivory snakes— looks Victorian, not African, to me and I wonder if it might be whale.

    Holy mother of pearl! I am so excited to have you talk about this auction (although to be perfectly honest I am so glad you waited until after it was over!)

    I happened upon your blog in April during all the tiara madness surrounding the Royal Wedding, having not given much thought to combs but loving (and not being able to fit into) antique clothing and (not being able to afford) antique jewelry. I spent many idle hours this summer nursing my son while reading through your blog and watching lots of ebay comb auctions and Etsy and Ruby Lane entries. Although I walked into this auction as a total neophyte, only having bought one comb before in my life, I feel like I was well educated by you to be able to respond to this auction and I am so grateful for your tutelage!

    My take on this auction was that the seller (whom I think is a professional ebay seller) was fairly well informed about what the silver pieces should go for and his start values were high for a lot of the “common” stuff like all the silver fork type combs, none of which sold. Even the pretty moonstone silver comb with the red heart bird was no bargain. There is a strikingly similar one set with paste stones currently for sale for $650 at an online vintage store As much as I am grateful to the anonymous lady collector, I have my doubts that start values were motivated by philanthropy rather than ignorance of the market for combs outside the realm of precious metal.

    I counted 8 signed Auguste Bonaz combs, many with signatures only visible on my husband’s high resolution monitor. It was while looking for these, that I noticed what I had thought was a pretty, possibly Asian, 2 prong shell(?) comb with interesting coloration that I had contemplated bidding on had a signature. This signature is H. Hamm and I knew who he was because of this blog! I was the only bidder on this comb and I was almost sick with suspense as the clock ticked down and no one contested me.

    I was also shocked that I was the only one to contest d…..d on that magnificent pearl empire comb, for the longest time it sat at $145. Although I had mustered together what is for me an extravagant budget of $800 for this auction, I could not afford to go over $600 on a single item. However, I did manage to console myself with the acquisition of both of the gilt (no stones)empire combs as well as the art nouveau blond aster comb that seemed to go relatively unnoticed during the Bonte-esque frenzy.

    I, too, wondered about the stones in that rose comb, but decided that diamonds of that quality were unlikely to be set in what looks like silver because of the appearance of tarnish. At least I hope so…

    Thank you so much Barbaraanne for your gift of scholarship and for letting me share my excitement with someone! My husband is completely baffled by all this, but, bless his heart, was willing to stand by me and let me blow a chunk of our money on what he though were combs like the black plastic kind the barber gives out.

    1. BarbaraAnne Post author

      Brava Virginia! This was a Sotheby’s-level collection, so maybe your husband will be able to share your joy when you have what you bought appraised, and he sees the jaw of the insurer drop when you tell him what you paid. :-) I LOVED the snake comb!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Frances Wright

    It is always a pleasure to read your website. You are so knowledgable
    and find the most beautiful and interesting things to share. I was happy
    to see my lovely pearl Empire combs displayed on your blog. I hope you
    keep sharing all the treasures with us.

    I look forward to your next blog……it is always so exciting to see what
    BarbaraAnne has next. (:-)

  4. bem02

    I totally missed this auction. Pity, but ah well, I really don’t have a lot of money to spend right now. All those combs were lovely. I love reading your blog as I learn more about hair combs and their designs.

  5. Anna

    I won the “chrysanthemum” comb that is on this list. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful and can’t figure out if it is horn or t-shell. Thanks so much for having this blog, I’ve just discovered it and look forward to many hours of happy reading.

    1. BarbaraAnne Post author

      It’s horn. It shows the influence of Japanese combs on French artists. It’s magnificent and worth many, many times what you paid for it. Congratulations! And thank you for becoming a member of our community. Blessings…

  6. Raven (@RavenLocks)

    For those who are interested, the ones that did not sell the last go round have been relisted with many at much lower prices than before. Unfortunately the ones that I wanted went for well over what I had available to splurge. But there is always round two. :D

    Congrats to all of the winners,
    I know when I won a fork (In a different auction) of a design that BarbaraAnne had blogged about in the past, and I had dreamed of ever since. lol I had that same wonderful giddy feeling! I was so excited that I won mine! I had to share it with BarbaraAnne, because I knew that she would understand! In such a way that only a lover of these wonderful wearable pieces of art could do.

  7. Ronald Kielb

    So I know I’m a little late for this post but I was curious if you could enlighten me on the difference between clarified horn and blonde tortoiseshell. There is a distinct color difference between the examples you have listed in the blog, but I feel like sometimes it’s not that easy when searching around online. Most posts talk about the difference between tortoiseshell and plastic (nibble marks, etc) but there arent really any posts between horn and blonde tortoiseshell specifically!! The only thing ive read is horn is more fibrous and tortoise is more dense, and I’ve seen some pieces that almost look like they’re delaminating in layers (assuming this is horn) I’ve been a tortoiseshell hair comb collector for awhile, but the elusive blonde tortoiseshell comb has eluded me!! Just curious to know if you have any expert advice!

  8. Ronald Kielb Jr.

    There is definitely a color difference. Clarified horn tends to be very pale and blonde tortoiseshell tends to have almost an orange color. The celluloid knock offs tend to have a yellowy color. From my experience when tortoiseshell dries out the surface becomes gray and hazy and you can see the keratin layers, especially in areas with deep relifs like around the tines (ivory has a similar wood grain look) and in areas that are polished smooth without carvings (like the bar above the tines on most combs). FYI If you polish it with oil it will restore the luster decently well. When horn dries out you can notice three things. First the surface can crack (sort of looks like those dried up lakes on the Discovery channel) but the cracks don’t go very deep. Tortoiseshell doesn’t do this it gets gray and hazy. Horn also gets stress fractures especially in the tines. It’s hard to explain but very easy to identify. It’s almost like the keratin layers seperate and air gets in which creates an opalescent-hazy look. This usually occurs in the center of the tine and runs parallel to the time. Finally when horn breaks and separated the broken surface tends to have a very fibrous look and sometimes the layers can seperate like a split hair (you see this on the ends of the tines). Tortoiseshell snaps like plastic. Tortoiseshell never delaminates like horn does. It doesn’t seperate in layers. Sometimes when you look close at horn combs it’s like someone pricked the surface with a needle. In general horn is more porous and not as well liked by the dermestid beetles that “nibble” so you won’t see as many nibble marks on horn combs. Honestly I can tell a tortoiseshell comb simply by look and have collected dozens over the years, but blonde tortoiseshell can be very hard. I’d say the most distinguishing thing is the color and if you can see a nibble mark you’re golden. But they are a lot hard to identify from photos. Not sure if I’m explaining things well but I hope it helped!


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