Monthly Archives: February 2012

Russian Tortoiseshell Parure

This parure highlights hand-inlaid gold and silver on tortoiseshell. Each cameo has a complex floral pattern in a geometric frame. The balls on top of the comb show the influence of Napoleon’s Josephine. The cultural exchange between Russia and France occurred during the Napoleonic Wars. Educated Russians traveled to Europe and wanted to implement liberal political ideas in Russia. When Napoleon was defeated in 1815, Tzar Alexander I bought Josephine’s art collection. Indeed, the language of the Russian court was French. Nicholas I took over in 1825. The parure resides in the Hermitage, c. 1830 – 1850.

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For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court

Jewels of the Tsars: The Romanovs and Imperial Russia

Tiaras – A History of Splendour

Creative Museum: Ancient Jade Chinese Combs

After rebellions crushed a united China under the Han Dynasty in 220 AD, a turbulent period began where power moved from North to South. During the Six Dynasties (220 – 589 AD), especially the Period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589), Confucianism was challenged, as Buddhism and Taoism took hold. It was a period of great political turbulence and artistic creation, especially in poetry.

These two magnificent jade combs, just acquired by The Creative Museum, might have been made in the Southern Dynasty period 420 – 589 because of the decorative carvings’ relationship to Xu Ling’s famous poetic anthology, “New Songs from the Jade Terrace.”

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In his book, he gathered the poems of anonymous authors, who wrote about life in a luxurious palace, as well as sex, relationships, love, and beauty. Scholars believe the poems were written by women.

Religiously, Buddhism was traveling from its Hindu origins in India to Chinese culture. As Buddhist characters entered into Chinese mythology, the Creative Museum’s combs might portray Jiālóuluó, a celestial music master in the form of a man with an eagle’s head and wings, and a ram, who was a sun god.

Then there is the myth of the archer Yi and the Sun. As the story goes, the Sun God’s children were having fun riding in chariots together, but their collective heat was causing crop havoc on earth. Concerned, their father Dijun sent the great archer Yi to frighten his children into behaving. When Yi realized this wouldn’t work, he started killing them. After he finished, only one sun was left, the one we see today.

This could be the meaning of the other carvings on these two exquisite jade combs. Please notice that in each carving, the man wears his hair in a top knot.

I’m going to make a guess. The carvings on these combs represent the life of Chinese Buddhist mythological character Yi in love and in war.


For more scholarly research, please examine the dating and identification page of The Creative Museum, and these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

New Songs from a Jade Terrace: An Anthology of Early Chinese Love Poetry

Chinese Aesthetics: The Ordering of Literature, the Arts, and the Universe in the Six Dynasties

Fine Chinese Jade Carvings

Some Lovely Things on Ebay

I guess Ebay is having a cycle. Sometimes it’s dead for what seems like years, as in, “If I see this comb listed for way too much money one more time I’m going to scream.” Other times, beautiful pieces come on the market.

This week, a white-gold hair pin with diamond stems and pink mother-of-pearl flower buds is selling for $1439.99 in a Buy It Now. It was made in the 1960’s. The hair pin shape with two curved prongs surrounding a straight one imitates French style in the late 19th Century. You may refer to auction 130649801556.

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The comb in this ad

sold for $102 on Ebay France, a pittance. Hand-drawn geishas wearing kanzashi grace a French ivory comb, as they are framed by floral kanzashi ornaments. One of our authors wanted it, but lost by a snipe bid from an unknown account. My guess is the person who put the picture of this ad in the Bonaz section of her store got the prized, rare Bonaz.

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An 18th Century silver hair ornament with rubies and a bird in the center is selling for $700. It has the original patina, is in excellent condition, and was part of the traditional decoration worn by classical Bharata-natyam dancers in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. You may refer to auction 190153693139.

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The same dealer is also selling a superb Yao hair pin. The Yao people originated in the hills of China and settled in the Golden Triangle, which overlaps the mountain ranges of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. It is the second-largest opium-producing area in the world next to Afghanistan. This ceremonial pin has real hair and wool on the back and was made c. 1900. Price: $1550.

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This Chinese ivory export comb with three floral stems over an intricate lacy background sold for $643.78. It came in its original box. Sellers who list antique ivory combs on ebay describe them as “ox bone” because too many people have tried to sell modern poached ivory, which is a crime and should be prosecuted.

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Our last item is a beautiful pair of French Art Nouveau hair pins with painted pink flowers. The seller believes they are blonde tortoiseshell. I would have to hold them in my hand, but tradition dictates the material could also be clarified horn. The auction has one day to go, there are no bids, and the starting price is $331.52. You may refer to auction 200716111321.

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For more research, please examine

How to Buy, Sell, and Profit on eBay

How to Sell on Ebay for the Computer Shy – 2nd Edition

Estate Sale Prospecting for Fun and Profit with craigslist and eBay

Alexandre de Paris Spring Collection: Haute Couture Hair Ornaments

Alexandre de Paris was a hairdresser, who said, “I did the hair of royalty, politicians and stars of this world. I offered my customers perfection, demand and beauty with a mastery of the hair in its purest form.”

This is my absolute favorite corporate brand of modern hair ornaments. They make limited editions, and their designs are taken from French Art Nouveau and Art Deco history. The combs are hand made in Paris by special ateliers, which means the company’s rare pieces can be labeled haute couture. Also, because they use modern, durable materials, you can wear them.

Sometimes they make only two pieces of a design, as with this example:

Here are some roses inside camelias. :-)

These two butterflies would make a wonderful pair of side barrettes.


Alexandre de Paris brings to life one my favorite movie quotes of all time. It was spoken by Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, when she first speaks to her new assistant: “‘This… stuff’? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

I bow down to the Goddess.

Anyway, ALL over supermarket hair sections, you see headbands with big flowers on them. Alexandre de Paris was the first company to make this idea for the haute couture market perhaps about 8 years ago. Here are some of the head bands from this year’s Spring Collection:

Look at the modern elliptical hole in this headband. We’ve seen them in comb tines since the 1950’s. Let’s study how long a modern-tine design in a headband takes to get to Wal-Mart.

Total BarbaraAnne. :-)

Branches swing over as the wind blows. I love this, and it also comes in white.

And look, they also put their butterfly design on a comb. Notice the elliptical holes in the tines, just like the headband.

The prices of these are anywhere from $300 to $800. In the stores, they have other design variations and rare pieces, which cost thousands now. People in Europe flock to New York to take advantage of the weak dollar.


If you want the real thing, go to the Alexandre de Paris Online Shop.

If you want an haute couture piece, which will never be available online, call Jovy in the New York store at 212-717-2122.

If you would like something that will allow you to keep your home :-), I have picked a few barrettes from France Luxe, a good quality brand that looks up to Alexandre of Paris, is quite wearable, and much less expensive. Their two-butterfly design is almost an exact copy of an Alexandre de Paris barrette I have from the 1980’s.

France Luxe Small Double Butterfly Barrette with Swarovski – Black/Crystal

France Luxe Bailey Bow on Tige Boule with Swarovski Crystals

France Luxe Bloom Barrette

France Luxe Rectangle Volume Barrette with Little Daisies

France Luxe Long Skinny Barrette with Daisies

France Luxe Double Butterfly

Creative Museum: Recent Acquisitions

The Creative Museum has acquired four new pieces:

This is one of the greatest Auguste Bonaz combs I have ever seen. I don’t even know what to say. For me, when I look at this, I see a mythical griffin with real ruby eyes, as in the English tradition, or a Japanese water-god dragon with real-gold accents, as in the Japanese gold maki-e tradition — or both! There are gold-button accents as a picture frame on the Art Nouveau part of the comb. Around that is an Art Deco celluloid design, which was cut on a comb-making machine in Oyonnax. This is a masterpiece. I think any museum thinking of doing an Art Deco exhibition could make this Bonaz a centerpiece, and viewers would gasp.

I will date this comb as late Edo / Early Meiji. It is painted lacquer with a sumptuously colored tree with red and gold berries or buds. The tines are also painted gold, and the comb is signed. I can’t wait until they create their own photographs of it.

What makes this French Empire comb special is the combination of design elements: cones made out of wrapped silver wire, cut steel “jewels” dotting the silver frame, and clear aquamarines. The comb is imaginative, unusual, original, and an unknowingly prophetic nod to modernism.

Marquetry is the furniture maker’s and jeweler’s craft of applying pieces of veneer onto a smooth surface. This technique allows the artist to create pictures and sumptuous designs. In this early 19th-Century comb from Russia, a master jeweler used gold marquetry to create delicate garlands amid thicker gold circles and arches on tortoiseshell comb.

This kind of taste and buying ability, combined with writing and photography, is what makes a museum. Bravo.


For more scholarly research, please see the publications and exhibits of the Creative Museum, as well as the books in our Resource Library.

Aron Wiesenfeld: The Crown

Born in 1972, Aron Wiesenfeld had his first solo exhibition at the Timmons Gallery in San Diego in 2007. He paints enigmatic, lonely people in empty spaces, making the viewer imagine an unseen backstory. He writes, “If something is going on behind the surface, people are drawn to it but don’t know why. They’ve connected to something in it. And that is a constant theme through my work, the ability to paint something to suggest something that isn’t shown.”

In “The Crown,” he draws a woman wearing a crown of candles without feeling the flames. Indeed, the smoke gives her a royal height. Do you think she looking inward, or at someone?

Mr. Wiesenfeld says his figures “are refugees, pilgrims, and wanderers, trying to get to the other side of a river that is forever out of reach. I think they are answering a call that is not consciously understandable, but resonates somewhere inside them. It draws them to a place they forgot that they knew about, something like a return to Eden.”


For more scholarly research, please examine

Jen Cruse: Rolled Gold on Victorian Hairpins

The process of producing rolled gold, invented in Birmingham in 1785 by a London manufacturer, was known as gold plating until the 1840s, when electro-gilding methods were introduced. Rolled gold is produced by fusing a thin layer of gold alloy over a base metal, or more often, over a brass or copper alloy. It is then rolled out into sheets of varying thicknesses, depending on the intended use. Rolled gold wire is extruded by enclosing a metal core inside a rolled gold tube and drawing it out to a desired diameter, in either a solid or hollow state.

Rolled gold is often marked RG indicating its authenticity, and is sometimes qualified by a figure to show which carat gold has been selected. In the USA in the 1870s, a double form of rolled gold was introduced, particularly for making pocket-watch cases. Termed gold-filled or rolled gold plate, it was simply a base metal with a gold alloy soldered to both sides.

Rolled gold is relatively light in weight, a property which helps to identify it. It was considered to be a form of embellishment that produced the same effect as solid gold. When applied as a decorative material, it offered a lighter and less expensive alternative.

These three hairpins have coiled rolled-gold headings with attached tines of blonde tortoiseshell (2) and brass (1). British 1870-90. Between 4 & 5 inches (10 –12.5 cm) in length.


The Comb: Its History and Development

You may also examine the website of the Antique Comb Collectors Club.

Creative Museum: The Riches of the French Empire

Multimedia exhibitions on comb scholarship are the hallmark of the Creative Museum. “The Riches of the French Empire” shows us how fashion expressed the tragedy of revolution, themes of antiquity brought back a refined aesthetic, Napoleon recognized a business opportunity, and how men put women in charge of exhibiting their wealth. The comb was an essential fashion element in every development.

When the monarchy was overthrown, the voluminous hairstyles of Marie Antoinette disappeared. During the Reign of Terror (1793 – 1794), the guillotine took the lives of 16,594 people. In 1795, many women of noble descent cut off their hair to honor those condemned to death. Hairstyles had evocative names such as “The Sacrificed One,” and “The Victim.”

When we juxtapose this painting of Marie Antoinette from the Musée Antoine Lecuyer and this portrait of a woman after the Revolution (painter: Louis-Léopold Boilly, Musée du Louvre), we can see the traumatic effects of terror, when it follows a revolution.

However, the French admiration of antiquities shaped the Directory Era (1795 – 1799), and women grew their hair long again. Napoleon saw a business opportunity. Classical tendencies could give a boost to the trade in luxury goods. With this aim in mind, he proclaimed himself Emperor of France in 1804 and gave the job of making French fashion cross the bridge between pre- and post-Revolution to his wife, the Empress Josephine.

Neo-classic style became refined in French society. “Hair was parted at the side, swept back, and edged with kiss curls. A comb held up a high bun.” Josephine’s innovations gave birth to the French Empire comb. Its harmonious shape and splendid decoration make them museum pieces today.

Iconic women were essential to spreading this new fashion. Besides Josephine, there was her daughter Hortense de Beauharnais from her first marriage

Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister,

and Madame Tallien, who wore the favorite diadem decoration, coral beads.

The Creative Museum has an outstanding collection of French Empire combs. Some have rubies, others have pearls. You’ll have to see the presentation to get all the information on them. But they are absolutely gorgeous.


For more scholarly research, please see the Creative Museum’s presentation The Riches of the French Empire.

Georges Fouquet Hair Combs

Sotheby’s is selling two combs by Georges Fouquet. One is a piece with different fittings, enabling the wearer to choose whether she wants a pendant, brooch, or comb, and the other is made of tortoiseshell. Final sale prices have been posted.

For our first piece, fan-shaped green, black, and white enamel lotuses elaborate a turquoise frame. The center jewel is a turquoise cabocohon, on top of which is a triangular opal. The piece is edged by diamonds and set in 18K gold, c. 1910. Signed signed G. Fouquet, # 2349. It comes in its original rose-colored leather, silk and velvet box, which is also signed G. Fouquet, 6. Rue Royale, Paris. Price estimate: $60,000 – $80,000. Sale price: $74,500.

On the second comb, look at the translucence in the blonde tortoiseshell. The artist chose an Egyptian theme by carving lotus and papyrus designs. Dotted by opals and accented with black and green enamel, the comb is signed G. Fouquet, #4680. It also comes in its original box. c. 1905 – 1908. Price estimate: $10,000 – $15,000. Sale price: $22,500.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

Sotheby’s Catalog: Fouquet Jewelry

Art Nouveau Jewelry

The Comb: Its History and Development

Gina Hellweger: Incised Bone Hair Pin, Li Ethnic Minority, China

The Li ethnic minority lives mainly in the center and south of Hainan Province. According to historical records, they have been on Hainan Island for over 3000 years. The Li people have the earliest weaving techniques in Chinese history. They are skilled in spinning and weaving silk cotton. Today, their traditional clothing is only worn at festivals or ceremonies.

Hair pins were favorites of men when they presented gifts to their lovers, and women often took them as tokens of love for their boyfriends. China’s ethnic minorities have a tradition of using hair pins to fix up their hair. The hair pins are of diversified varieties with long histories, rich national features and cultural implications.

In Hainan, Li women wear a decoration where they once carried a weapon. This is called a “virgin’s hair dress.” The incised ox rib is an adoption from the blade which women once wore to protect their honor. Ornamental patterns like waves, fish, flowers, fruits, and geometric designs cover the pins.

These pins are made by craftsmen using ox or other long gently curved white bones, which are polished, then carved. Lampblack and melted beeswax are used to make the pattern stand out against the white bone. The decoration on top is a helmet, turban or hair that is coiled. Then the bone ornament is adorned with either one or two heads, and the body extends to the feet or the end of the pin.

The hair pins that are very delicately carved into the shape of a human being are said to represent a warrior ancestor and tribal leader protecting his people. The beautiful incised bone pin is inserted in a typical “Run-Style Hair,” worn in a bun, by Run-dialect-speaking women. When the women marry, they wear numerous hair pins depicting their ancestors to bring good luck and blessings.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which have been added to our Resource Library.

Ethnic Minorities Of China

The Art of Silver Jewellery: From the Minorities of China
Article: Among the Big Knot Lois of Hainan: Wild Tribesman with Topknots Roam Little-Known Interior of This Big China Sea Island