Category Archives: Art Deco

Celluloid Combs: Leominster, MA, and France’s Oyonnax Valley

Who invented celluloid? The credit cannot go to one person or one continent. However, the world’s first thermoplastic was registered in 1870. With celluloid, heat and machines could be used to mold, cut, and carve many objects per hour for the first time. Capitalists invested. Artists’ imaginations went wild. Endless possibilities of color, shape, and intricacy gave birth to the Art Deco Movement, and the Industrial Revolution met comb making.

Two of the most famous manufacturing areas at the turn of the 20th Century were in Leominster, Massachussets, and France’s Oyonnax Valley. Leominster combs were unsigned. However, the most famous designer of Oyonnax was Auguste Bonaz.

What I want to show is how designer, material, hand tools, machine, manufacturing process, and factory were one, while the art had infinite identities.

This comb-rubbing machine resides in an old Leominster factory. It made about 1300 revolutions per minute and held the parts of celluloid combs together.

These are tools used by Leominster factory workers to do hand work on more expensive pieces.

This machine is a Farnham Plummer, which could cut 120-dozen side combs a day, in horn. It could be constructed to cut combs of any size.

In Oyonnax, you see a factory of similar turning machines made by French inventors.

And here is the breathtaking art they produced.

American Celluloid Combs from The Creative Museum.

Auguste Bonaz: from The Creative Museum, The Mary Bachman Collection, The Myrna Klitzke Collection, and The Jo Sullivan Collection.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Collector’s Guide to Hair Combs: Identification and Values by Mary Bachman

The Comb: Its History and Development by Jen Cruse

Comb Making in America by Bernard W. Doyle

Le peigne: Dans le monde by Robert Bollé

Clément Joyard Spiderweb Comb

Morticia Addams could not have dreamed of a more appropriate comb. This mantilla spiderweb was designed by Clément Joyard, c. 1910. He, along with Bonaz, Léon Arbez-Carme, and Marius Camet, were among the famous designers who had their combs made in the celluloid factories of France’s Oyonnax Valley. Happy Early Halloween? :-)

For more scholarly research, please examine

The Comb, by Jen Cruse

Le Peigne dans le Monde, by Robert Bollé

Art Nouveau and Art Deco in One Face

Art Nouveau’s dedication to the natural world ignited European artists from 1890 – 1905. However, brilliant design has many faces, among them fashion still worn today. In the book, Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa, author Hans Sylvester reveals a fashion revolution in design thinking: Art Nouveau and Art Deco meld into a single concept as plants and bold natural colors decorate the body and face. John Paul Gaultier, take notice. What the Surma and Mursi tribes of East Africa’s Omo Valley have created is worthy of the most elite haute couture runways.

Something That Grabbed Me

I’m not one of these buyers who thinks things over. If I fall in love, it’s immediate, and I buy the piece. I haven’t bought a hair comb in a long time, but this Auguste Bonaz had my name on it. By the shape of the comb itself, this is a 1940’s piece. Underneath the comb, I’ve included an ad for Bonaz combs in 1944 so you can see the same-shaped comb.

Deco Enamel

This beautiful art deco comb looks like it’s folded-over fabric. The dealer said it came from the family of a bodyguard and friend of Abraham Lincoln, but he only had the word of the family. Provenance cannot be proved, so poof on the value of that, but the comb’s design is fabulous. It sold for $162.50 on March 23. You may refer to auction #310129381111. Although the dealer calls it a Victorian comb, it’s not. This is 1920’s deco in beautiful form.

Myrna’s Enamels

Art deco comb makers in the mid-1920s to late 30s worked in celluloid, using enamel paint, bold designs, and minute detail work. Bonaz ruled France. First to show are 4 English combs owned by my friend Myrna, which just slay me they are so gorgeous. Three of them were bought on ebay, the rose one was bought at a show. Underneath are two Bonaz combs. The first I sold to Jo, a great collector, during the –loooooong story– Betrayal of 2004. The orange Bonaz is Myrna’s. And last is Myrna’s deliciously wild Dr. Seussian art deco comb where the world is turned upside down. It is unsigned, but French. At this level, all of these are a rare find. The Seussian one is unique. Forget about ever finding anything else like it. Enjoy!

Mary’s Bonaz Comb

I am delighted to present this post by Mary Bachman, president of the Antique Comb Collectors Club. She wrote one of the definitive books on European combs called, “A Collectors Guide To Hair Combs.” I’d recommend buying this book because she has a beautiful collection, and it is also a price guide.

Mary wanted to share one of her Auguste Bonaz combs with us. She writes, “Auguste Bonaz was a designer of hair ornaments during the early 20th Century. His designs are very popular with collectors. His company was located in Oyonnax in Eastern France where he designed for leading jewelry makers. After World War I his business expanded and the demand for his combs continued to grow. Even though ladies were bobbing their hair, his combs continued to be popular. His designs are varied and delightful. Bonaz died in 1922, but his wife carried on his business using only his original designs. His nephew managed the business until 1982 when it finally closed. (Reference: Jen Cruse article in the Antique Comb Collector, June 2000).