Category Archives: Secular H Comb

Three Easy Pieces

These works will be auctioned at Sotheby’s on Dec. 9, 2010.

The barrette is by Cartier, circa 1905. In front, a setting of old European-cut diamonds weighs about 5 carats. Blonde tortoiseshell in back completes the piece. Price estimate: $10,000 – $15,000.

The French made magnificent H combs out of ivory and boxwood during the 15th and 16th centuries. As Medieval painting and music began to express secular themes, so the scenes carved into these combs were about love or decoration, not God. This French Medieval comb is made out of boxwood, has an intricately decorative theme, allows light to shine through it, and is estimated to be worth 6,000 to 8,000 GBP.

Our last piece is a brooch-barrette Louis Comfort Tiffany made for his father’s store, Tiffany & Co, circa 1920. He used 18-karat gold, platinum, set a round black opal in the center, and surrounded it with demantoid (green) and spessartite (orange) garnets. The garnets are accented by sapphires.

The H Combs of Medieval France

The H comb, with tines for thick hair on one side and thin hair on the other, is one of the comb’s earliest known forms. The art was in the H, and the form can be found in all cultures. H combs are still made today in Turkmenistan, and you can see one from time to time on ebay. The H casing is silver or gold plate with gemstone cabachons in the middle.

However, today, I want to talk about the H combs of 15th-century France. They were liturgical with elaborate, stunning carvings of the Adoration of the Magi, and were made from ivory and wood. They were made when the Church ruled art and music and followed the progression from sacred to secular as the Medieval Period gave way to the Renaissance. You can only find them in museums.

St. Albans, Peigne liturgique en ivoire, c. 1120. Used in religious ceremonies, the carving represents the Massacre of Innocents, Adoration of the Magi. From the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Annonciation – Adoration des Mages, ivory, 15th Century, Anonymous, The Louvre, Paris.

Liturgical combs were also made of wood, some with mirrors in the middle or ivory inlay.. The wood appears to be about 1/2 inch thick in the middle, tapering to 1/8 at the tips of the teeth. These 15th Century combs reside in The Musée National du Moyen Age – Thermes de Cluny.

In the late 15th century, you start to see secular decorations in the H combs, as with these three examples:

Lovers in a Garden, French, Ivory, Anonymous, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ivory comb with two jousting swordsmen, France, from the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano in Madrid.

Ivory Comb, openwork, France, 16th century, from the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano in Madrid.