From Japan: Edo Era comb, 18th Century, H: 8 cm. W: 12.2 cm. The plot is about 5 crows flying in the clouds at sunset. As was the style, the crows were not drawn in perspective.
It is made of shell and encased in a metal frame. The crows are raised and painted with black lacquer, as are the teeth. However instead of gold maki-e, which would have been more traditional, this artist chose to use varnish. This way, he could portray the outlines of the sun on clouds, which hold different hues of the same color when the sun sets. The hues and outlines of a sunset the artist achieved with varnish is what makes this comb a masterpiece. It resides at the Troppen Museum in Amsterdam.
You can see crows portrayed in the same style in the Art Nouveau combs of Lucien Galliard, as Galliard hired Japanese craftsmen in his workshop. Here are two examples. The first was made in 1903 from shell and shows three birds. The clouds are implied by cuts in the tortoiseshell.
The second is Galliard’s famous Bluebird comb, which sold at Christie’s for $218,000 on Oct 21, 2009. There are three birds here, also, and the clouds are made from white enamel on an open frame.
Mortality comes to us all. My art is the fire that illuminates my home, the warmth that protects me from the freezing waters of a refugee-filled sea — but I’ve seen the videos. Is it morally possible to flutter about one’s curiosities, when the cries of infants go silent as men climb the rope of an Italian cargo ship?
No — but I’ve done it anyway.
I gave many of my combs to the Creative Museum. They were brilliantly photographed, catalogued, kept, respected, and shared because love and family ensconce that world.
Then I will depend on the brainless, computerized repetition of social media — grinding randomly, sharing endlessly. My memories will have long graced the dustbin, as the combs occupy the decentralized, sprinkled intelligence of “I love this!” women on Pinterest.
For what it’s worth, this is what I gave the CM. Underneath are their captions:
Superb kushi comb and matching kogai stick made of gold lacquered tortoiseshell. The decoration theme is different on each side. One features a dragonfly in a cobweb; the other shows a small cat playing with a ball. The maki-e work is perfectly made.
Very fashionable late 19th, early 20th c. this kind of ivory comb with traditional Chinese motif was made in China for the Western market. This one is perfectly carved and the phoenix is rounded with bamboos and peonies. Its eye is a tiny black bead.
Handsome decorative ivory comb, carved in China for export in the early 19th century. Background of lace-like punch carvings on which are superimposed roses separated in two parts. Long sharply pointed teeth.
United Kingdom. c. 1870. Very refined ivory comb from the Victorian period. The crown motif is reminiscent of the Peigne Josephine style.
United States. Late 19th Century. Gorgeous comb with a very dynamic and symmetrical shape. It features a phoenix, the Chinese emblem of Empress Cixi.
Japanese set with a kushi comb and its matching kogai stick depicting two drums called Ko-tsuzumi. They are hourglass-shaped drums that are rope-tensioned. Geishas use to play this kind of drum which is a frequent decorative motif on combs.
Late Edo tortoiseshell and lacquer kogai stick. It would have been the smaller stick in a set of three, accompanied by a larger kogai and a comb. The artist created a three dimensional effect in this small rectangular shape. Two plover birds talk to each other as they play in the water.
United Kingdom. c. 1870. Superb comb cut out of one piece of mother-of-pearl that goes to the golden edge of the oyster. It is embellished with pierced and carved spirals.
United Kingdom. Late 19th Century. A mother-of-pearl two-pronged hair pin, pierced with a delicate flying bird against a floral background.
United Kingdom, 19th Century, Ivory. The round heading of this comb is pierced with a peacock spreading its tail. The edge is also decorated to add transparency.
Are many beautiful things for sale, each with their own story, that condense post into one subject is difficult. So I have buffet of things today. Just click the picture or link see more details about each item.
In Sotheby’s Unsold category:
On 6 December 2002, this Henri Vever gold, enamel, and horn hair comb was estimated at $8,000 to $12,000, but did not sell.
On 13 June 2000, this French gold, enamel, and diamond Eugenie comb, c. 1870, was estimated between 6,000 to 8,000 GBP, but also did not sell.
Sotheby’s Upcoming Auction:
Up for auction on 14 November 2014 is brass Alexander Calder hair pin, c. 1940 (Calder Foundation Archive number: A16974). Estimate $50,000 – $70,000. To me, this comb looks like a female body wired into a frame. The estimate is consistent with the Calder market, and the interested to know what it fetches.
Will it appreciate in value, as did Calder’s silver “Figa” hair comb?
“Figa” in Slavic and Turkish cultures is hand gesture made to represent male or female sexual organs. The first and second fingers wrap the thumb. It could in response to money request or plea for physical labor. In Ancient Rome, the gesture was ward off evil spirits.
Calder gifted it artist Frances J. Whitney, c. 1948 (Calder Foundation Archive number: A22629). It could just see her wearing it with a geometrically cut black dress to charity ball, with no one else knowing what it meant but her.
On 15 November 2006, it purchased from Whitney estate for $57,000. On 14 November 2013, that buyer sold for 137,000.
That Live Auctioneers, another comb caught my attention. It is Russian, c. 1908-1917, silver, and made Fabergé work master Anders Michelson (marked AM). The comb has eight tortoiseshell prongs and a beautiful hinge that fits over to entire top. Michelson used niello, black mixture of copper, silver, and lead sulphides, to inlay the dogs and floral pattern on tiara. The auction starts on 13 November 2014, and the opening bid is €300.
Michael Backman Gallery
Michael Backman Ltd. this selling pair of gold and at gilded silver-filigree dragon hair pins from China’s Qianlong Period (1735-1796). They have dragon heads, each, which have turquoise cabochon. Openwork hair ornaments were known as “tongzan” and were worn from Ming Dynasty onwards.
Also on sale this comb from Solomon Islands. It is faa, or man’s woven comb from the Kwaio People, Malaita, Solomon Islands. Woven from yellow-orchid and coconut-palm-frond fibres, the comb was dyed with that geru root. Its teeth are made of fern wood.
The last lot to feature from Michael Backman is jaw-dropping collection of 38 Indonesian gold ornaments, c. 800 AD. It is largest set of gold regalia ever collected for statue in Central Java, Indonesia. Their script on chest cord translates as “‘The weight of pailut with the diadem: 2 suvarṇa, 1 māṣa, 2 kupaṅ’”
Some Lovely Things on E-Bay
Never dismiss E-Bay. A Māori Paikea comb with ivory patina to-die-for was listed by God-Save-Whom for $9.95 with no reserve. The description was “Possibly African.”
It is There are 6 bids on it, including 2 experienced bidders. It’s real tortoiseshell. As printing, are 3 days and 11 hours this auction.
It is Their seller thinks French. It could French or Edwardian English because jewelers in both countries made these types of pins. The auction has 4 days to go.
Of authors, Miriam Slater, as selling this It is rare, it is real, and I’d get my hands on it if I could.
Choosing one amongst many beautiful things is difficult. Mustn’t we just have them all.
To have fun researching more items like these please consult our Resource Library and these books:
Victorian diamond brooches came with different settings, so they could be worn separately or together as a tiara. Art Nouveau brooches could also serve multiple purposes. Indeed, some were designed as a tiara and ended up as a brooch. Such is the case with this bee-and-flower ornament designed by Rene Lalique in 1905/6. A pencil-and-ink watercolor on paper of a tiara topped with this ornament resides in the Lalique Museum Collection in Paris.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, “The Jewels of Lalique,” p. 195
However, during the design process, Lalique might have changed his mind. When the piece was finished, it was fitted to be a brooch or corsage ornament. Lalique used gold, translucent enamel on gold, cast glass, and brilliant-cut diamonds. He created part of a tree, where the branches attach to the center. The piece resides in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and is also dated 1905/6.
Like the Japanese, Lalique embraced the insignificance of human beings in nature, giving animals, insects, plants, and trees more importance. His Symbolic designs stretched bare tree trunks to create a wooded network for the stories he was trying to tell. The wooded lake at Clairefontaine inspired this study for a comb. Tree trunks border a watery landscape. A leafy mass provides shade. The plants are detailed. There is depth of field, and branches reflect on the water.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 154
His “Tree Branches” comb was made from carved horn with a patina, c. 1900/1.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 155
Indeed, one can see a Japanese influence when viewing this gold-painted tortoiseshell comb with leaves and berries of black lacquer from the Edo era.
blog: Japonisme, by Lotus Green
In an article, “The Insect in Decoration,” by P. Verneuil in The Craftsman magazine, c. 1903/4, Lalique contributed a comb study of grasshoppers. Verneuil notes how artists had fallen for dragonflies, butterflies, and grasshoppers because of their unique shapes, and reflective wings and eyes, which had a “magical rainbow effect.”
When Lalique made the comb, c. 1902/4, he used carved and painted horn, as well as three triangular green tourmalines.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 85
Whether he used cast-glass, enamel, jewels, or carved and painted horn, Lalique made these materials do new and different things. His jewelry was a watercolor of mirrored surfaces, reflecting plants and insects, and philosophically reflecting man’s negligible imprint on nature.
For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:
The Museum of African and Asian Arts in Vichy, France, resides in a 19th Century residence and contains collections, which were gathered by Christian missionaries from both continents.
The Creative Museum was one of the representatives invited to share their private collection for the real-life exhibition, “Le Japon Amoureux,” whose opening was quite the event.
Idealistically, Edo Japan’s concept of love was fleeting beauty in a “Floating World,” called Ukiyo. One could escape life’s banalities and experience love as the ultimate art form.
In real life, Ukiyo developed in Yoshiwara, the red-light district of Edo, as Japanese merchants became wealthy and thrived under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The artistic skill, ornamentation, and innovation of geishas, courtesans, and kabuki actors made the Floating World a mesmerizing draw for audiences and patrons.
Documentation started with Ukiyo-e, woodblock prints, which were invented during the Edo period (1600-1827). They portrayed love stories, such as the Tale of Genji, which explores different types of affection, friendship, loyalty and family. Ukiyo-e also advertised plays and tea houses.
In kabuki theatre, men played all the roles. To play a woman, the male actor adopted an attitude, which transformed him and was called kata. When taking a hairpin out of the hair, locks were suddenly released, symbolizing the overflow of passion.
Wigs were made from human hair, using a rigid frame to create complex knots, which signified the wearer’s status. For example, a large number of ornaments in a complex hair style showed that a woman had numerous admirers. This wig uses The Creative Museum’s blonde tortoiseshell set with a Kikyô flower family crest, as well as other tortoiseshell kanzashi.
Here are some more of The Creative Museum’s Japanese pieces on display:
The viewer can see this ivory kushi and kogai set with a Japanese landscape that looks like Mt. Fuji;
this silver kogai stick with floral embellishments, coral beads, and a curved ornament that hides the link attaching the hair;
and this superb engraved-ivory tama kanzashi with a netsuke rabbit.
In the Floating World, love was only an illusion, ill-treating human beings until death. To hear The Creative Museum’s many more insightful observations, one must see the entire multimedia presentation.
They conquered the real museum world again. Time to uncork the champagne!
Every culture has a comb. It can symbolize a ruler’s deification, be a liturgical object for high priests, or an item that pushes the limits of an artistic movement. In Japanese culture, combs were an expression of love.
On May 4, The Creative Museum steps into the real world again by contributing items from their Japanese collection to an exhibition at the Musée d’arts d’Afrique et d’Asie called Le Japon Amoureux. Their combs will accentuate the Musée’s own collection of Japanese prints.
Having gained recognition by a second museum after En Tête à Tête at Le Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Angoulême, The Creative Museum’s collection is becoming a source for museums around the world. I am eagerly anticipating their multimedia presentation about Le Japon Amoureux. For now, I will just pick a few of my favorite Japanese combs.
This is a full modern wedding set of turquoise silk with colorful beads. It is composed of a kushi, two pairs of kanzashi and a bar placed in the bun.
This silver kanzashi celebrates a popular Japanese wedding concept: the crane for happiness and faithfulness; Minogame, a sea turtle so old, seaweed gets stuck to his tail. He symbolizes endurance and longevity; and pine branches and cherry blossoms for renewal.
This red cinnebar lacquer comb is decorated with ravens.
These two combs were made for Western clients. The first is carved in a beautiful cherry. Cranes and bamboo are painted in gold.
The second is made of shell with gold sparrows.
An Edo lacquered wood and gilt embossed comb with Takamaki-e (a technique where the lacquer is polished down to show the gold paint in high relief) shows a palanquin highlighted in black.
A moon of pierced blond tortoiseshell appears behind a dark cloud. Taisho (1912-1926). I think this shows how the Art Deco movement influenced Japanese artists.
I have left out some splendid pieces. To see those in the context of the exhibition, you can wait for the slide show or examine The Creative Museum’s entire Japanese collection.
In the Genroki period (1688-1704) of the Edo Era (1688-1867), men would visit bath houses. Bath women, or yuna, would wash, comb, set men’s hair, and offer sexual favors. Because it took two hands to style a man’s top knot, yuna put their utilitarian combs casually in their hair. The trend caught the attention of married and unmarried women from all social classes, and combs changed from a tool to an ornament.
Makers used ivory, buffalo horn, lacquered wood, coral, and tortoiseshell, which was by far the most expensive material. Seamen painted combs, too. They chose glass because grime could be wiped off, and glass preserved the pigments against salt air, which would ruin other materials.
This comb is in the Kobe City Museum in Japan: a tall ship is painted on glass and encased in tortoiseshell.
The museum gives a date of c. 1800.
This date reflects the foreign policy of Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651). The Sakoku Edict of 1635 remained in place until 1854. Sakoku means locked country. No foreigner could enter. No Japanese citizen could leave. It was a reaction to Catholic missionaries having converted 500,000 Japanese people to Christianity by 1600, including some feudal lords. The Shogunate did not trust European intentions and threw them out — with one exception: The Dutch.
An artificial island was made in the Bay of Nagasaki called Dejima. Only Dutch ships were allowed. The Dutch could not cross into Nagasaki, and only Japanese who performed necessary tasks, such as carpenters, cooks, and women of pleasure were allowed in.
In 1790, only one Dutch ship was allowed to come. I am going to make a guess. This comb was painted by a Japanese ship-carpenter in 1790, documenting the arrival of the only Dutch merchant ship to arrive that year. He would have made it for one of the women of pleasure, who entertained the Dutch in Dejima.
Many things are Buy It Now’s, where the dealer sets the price. They have the time, so it’s up to the buyer to either pay or negotiate. But here are some beautiful pieces on the market.
This Victorian tiara, c. 1860, is selling for $17,500. Diamonds and rubies, set in yellow 14K gold, highlight a single-flower medallion.
The dealer dates this Byzantine bone comb to 997 AD. It is original, decorated with linear ring and dot patterns, and held together by copper rivets. In 997 AD, Emperor Basil II won the Battle of Spercheios, on the shores of the Spercheios River in what is now central Greece. Can we imagine that this comb could have been used by an officer in that battle? Price: $600.
The price of this Japanese Meiji set is ridiculous at $2000, but it has everything: ivory, perfect condition, signed, imaginative… Fan medallions with gold maki-e paint show tree branches, flower beds, and a wheelbarrow in between carved flowers. The kogai stick matches superbly. It’s a Maltese Falcon.
Usually, I do not show silver-topped pieces over celluloid teeth, but I liked this one because it had an aigrette theme. Could be French instead of Birmingham Sterling. No markings were shown. The dealer wants $295 for it. Dreaming is nice.
This French Empire coral diadem has all its pieces in place. No brass comb, but coral was Empress Josephine’s favorite decoration. It’s an auction with one day to go. Starting price: $565. Given what French Empire pieces have been selling for, the dealer might sell this on a snipe bid.
This dealer has some breathtaking Chinese hairpins from the 1800s. Most are silver with enamel. One has kingfisher feathers, and another is made of glass beads. Prices: $148, $500, $330, $290, $290 again, and $268 respectively. One thing I love about the jade and pearl piece is the scrolled wire handles holding the stones. Alexander Calder used the same idea in his hair combs, albeit as a major sculptural feature rather than an engineering solution.
For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.
Another blog wrote about them: Le Blog de Cameline! She tells the story of the family in French. This post will be an English translation, and then I will pick some of my favorite combs from this magnificent collection, so we can enjoy both posts.
Cameline says, “The Creative Museum is a virtual museum devoted to hair ornaments.
Its history began 100 years ago, when Little Leona accompanied her military husband around the world. As she traveled, she collected treasures, which she kept in a shoe box. Upon her death, her grandchildren found the box. Wonder and passion was instantly exchanged through the generations.”
It was a moment that changed the family’s life forever. The grandchildren — thinking out of the box? (don’t kill me you guys :-) — collected over 2500 hair ornaments from all over the world and became scholars on their history. Chosen with a great eye, bought with bargaining acumen, written about beautifully, and photographed brilliantly, this collection is documented online for the world to see.
It has made its way into real museums, and the site is famous for its virtual exhibitions. The value of Leona’s passion has been realized. I cannot help but think of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest poets, who hid her genius in a trunk, too, until her family opened it and had an epiphany.
Cameline chose her favorite pieces from The Creative Museum, so I encourage everyone to read her post. But here are a few of mine:
This bearded mask wears a traditional bird comb, a symbol of fertility. From the Kpeliye Brotherhood of the Senufo people, they are worn at the Royal Court. It comes from the Ivory Coast, c. 1950.
This tortoiseshell hairpin features a claw from a bird of prey. It is from North America.
This Afghan barrette dangles pendants below red and green gemstones. c. 1940.
Two phoenixes face each other in this 19th Century Chinese jade comb.
English Art Nouveau jewelers made this brass woman with flowers instead of feet and a crescent on her head.
In Japan, they loved ravens. The Meiji style has the drawing fold over to the back of the kushi.
Swedish silversmiths were well known for their Minimalist style, as in this wedding tiara with pearls and tourmalines designed by Ulf Sandberg of Göteborg.
When celluloid was invented in 1862, comb-making machines lowered the cost of production considerably. In France, the industry center was in Oyonnax. Innovative design thrived with the flexibility new plastics and speed of production. This hand-painted daisy comb is a prime example of a comb made between the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods.
Completing our world tour is a stop in New Guinea, where ancestor worship was predominant in the culture. From the Keram River area in a Kambot village comes this bamboo hair pin.
We know Mary Howitt’s poem made its way into Lewis Carroll’s Lobster Quadrille, one of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but could it have ever reached Japan? It was written in 1829, and I would date this Edo painted-tortoiseshell set to 1850.
I fell in love with it because the painting reminded me of the poem: a drama of life and death by false flattery. The comb artist added a disinterested cat on the front of the kushi.
“Sweet creature!” said the Spider, “you’re witty and you’re wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
“So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour — but she ne’er came out again!”