Monthly Archives: August 2013

Paul and Henri Vever: Swan and Lily Comb

After winning a second Grand Prize at Paris’s International Exposition in 1900, the Maison Vever invited guest designers. The most famous was Eugène Samuel Grasset (1841–1917). He designed the “Swan and Lily Comb.” Paul (1851 – 1915) and Henri (1854 – 1942) Vever made it, c.1900.

Maison Vever, 1871, Rue de la Paix à Paris. Source:

On top of an ivory comb, a black swan and a white swan eat from a water lily. Their necks form a heart — eternal love. Swans were popular Art Nouveau motifs because their winding necks expressed Symbolist philosophy’s elongated style perfectly.

In this comb, the lake is made from painted enamel, showing the water’s subtle color blend from aqua-green to dark blue. A leaf in the water can be seen on the bottom left.

On the comb’s top frame are three leaves made of plique-a-jour enamel divided by gold veins. The leaves’ color variations correspond to those in the water. Notice the dark blue at the top of the center leaf and the dark blue at the bottom-center of the water.

To make the top frame into a semi-circle, there are two groups of water-lily buds in between the leaves. Dripped-gold frames the bottom Grasset’s design. The comb resides at the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.

Here is the comb in situ


For more scholarly research, please see our Resource Library and these books.

Art Nouveau Jewelry

Henri Vever: French Jewelry of the Nineteenth Century

Art Nouveau Jewelry (Christie’s Collectibles)

Turtles, Mystery, and Love


A bomb fell on his house: the terror that annihilates all you love in an instant. Fight or flight? The surviving father grabbed his infant son and fled into the forest. No war. No bombs. Instead, the order of the wild. Perhaps there, his mind would regain order, too, and his son would be safe.

And so it happened that both of them stayed there for 40 years.

They built a house, wore loincloth, ate well, and made simple tools. With scavenged shrapnel from a bomb like the one that destroyed his house, the father made a comb. What is extraordinary about it, is with only the memory of society and a future of complete isolation, the right side was carved into the head of a turtle.

The turtle plays a part in many Vietnamese legends. In one of them, a Vietnamese king offered a sacred turtle to Emperor Yao of China (2356-2255 BC). On its shell was written the history of the Earth and Sky since they were born. Emperor Yao had it copied and called it the Turtle Calendar.

This father made a comb out of war.


This unsigned cameo-glass French Art Nouveau hair comb is being auctioned on E-Bay.

I believe it is French, c. 1900, as the dealer says. English cameo glass is more well defined.

I like that the background was created to look like the brush strokes of an Impressionist painter. The painting behind the lady-slipper orchid depicts trees in a twilight sky, reflected in water. The “brush strokes” become larger when the artist “paints” the reflection.

But the orchid in the center is flat idea.

It doesn’t integrate with the background plot. Also it is a glass plaque simply hinged to a silver backing, nailed onto a horn comb. The hinges, or engineering, don’t play a part in the story. They are purely functional.

It’s not Lalique.

As you can see in his Raptor comb, the birds’ gold talons serve as hinges to the sapphires. Lalique combines engineering and Symbolism. (The comb sold for 92,000 euros on July 14, 2013, at the Brissonneau Auction House in Paris.)

Lalique’s famous Landscape Comb at the Gulbenkian was made of enameled glass encased in horn. The painting is the point of the comb, not the background.

Third, Lalique carved his orchids. I did not know where this comb resided, but the unmatchable Jen Cruse did. She commented, “Lalique’s orchid comb is in the Anderson collection at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. I have seen it and its wonderful! It measures approx.19cm (7 1/2 inches) in height. The description reads: ‘Orchid haircomb of gold, glass, horn and enamel; c.1902. The erotic overtones of the orchid made it a favourite motif of the Art Nouveau artists. The petals are formed of yellow and brown enamels with the name ‘Lalique’ stamped on one of them. The centre of this exotic flower is formed in cut glass with a cut diamond of trapezium shape.’ From Lalique: Jewellery and Glassware by Tony L Mortimer. Octopus Books Ltd 1989. ISBN 1 871307 64 3”

Gallé and Daum made lamps, furniture, and vases out of cameo glass, not jewelry in 1900. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) Also, all three artists always signed their work. This comb is unsigned.

So I’m going to take a guess. This might be an “after hours” comb made by an artisan in the Daum or Gallé workshops, who took a piece of leftover glass, and created a comb for the woman he loved. It is very well worn, as there are many scratch marks on the back of the glass. She wore it. She loved him, and he made her beautiful.


Alexander Calder made hair combs for his wife. She put them on the windowsill behind a houseplant. I can picture the room being a kitchen, where she could look at them and smile while making his favorite dish. Genius does not always have to be formally recognized. It can be personally recognized, loved intimately while looking at the hills outside your window.


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:

Art of Vietnam (Temporis Collection)

Nature Transformed: French Art Nouveau Horn Jewelry

Calder Jewelry

Jen Cruse: Mauchline Ware and Combs – Scottish Souvenirs of the 19th Century

Mauchline Ware is a distinctive form of Scottish decorative treen, said to have originated in the Ayrshire (now Strathclyde) town of Mauchline in the late 18th or early 19th century.

The wooden articles, generally known as Mauchline Ware, were made of Scottish planewood or sycamore (sometimes black lacquered) and were wide ranging in both design and purpose. The front surface was decorated with a painted or small transfer-printed view, portrait or building, and varnished over.

These objects were a popular form of tourist souvenir in the 19th century, and the images depicted covered the whole of the British Isles. Many small items and a large variety of boxes may be found with the characteristic vignettes, the commonest being tea caddies, snuff boxes and pill boxes, trinket boxes, stamp boxes, rouge boxes, needle cases and étuis.

In the early days, the pictures applied to the treen surfaces were either hand-painted or pen-worked. Around 1850, the application of transfer-printing was devised. By about 1860 photographic images became the preferred technique, thus producing more affordable pieces at a faster rate.

Through the 1800s, Mauchline Ware was made in such towns as Mauchline, Cumnock and Lanark and also in Laurencekirk, in the north of Scotland. By the second half of the 19th century, W&A Smith of Mauchline was one of the first companies to exploit the growing tourist industry by making, for export, souvenirs that related to cities, resorts and spa towns in Europe, North America and South Africa.

Although most types of Mauchline Ware are well documented, there is sparse mention of cased combs and an absence of references in the literature of the Mauchline Ware Collectors Club. The three cases illustrated here measure just over 4 ins (10.5 cm) in length and not quite 1 ins (2.2 cm) in width. The combs, original to each case, are made of ebonite (vulcanite or hard rubber).

The image on one of the cases is that of Old Tip Top house, Mt. Washington, N.H. – a known design. This house was built near the summit in 1853 but was eventually replaced by the New Tip Top House sometime in the 20th century.

Another case shows the quay at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. The image on the black lacquered case is that of Southwell Cathedral in Nottinghamshire, England.

Very few Mauchline Ware pieces were marked with makers’ names. It is likely, however, that the Mt. Washington example illustrated was made by the Smith factory in Mauchline and dates between 1885 and 1895, the peak period for the growth of tourism in New England.

At that time the Boston based distributor of Mauchline Ware was Charles Pollock, described as an “Importer of White Wood Fancy Goods,” no doubt the agent for W&A Smith. An entry in the Company’s ledger, dated 1888, lists combs among the Mauchline Ware products although specific details are not known. This particular item was bought at a small antiques market in London in 1999 for £20 (about $35) and is in excellent condition. Unfortunately the original retail price is unknown.


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:

Mauchline Ware – A Collector’s Guide

The Comb: Its History and Development