Category Archives: Edo Hair Comb

Some Lovely Combs on Ebay

On Ebay, there are some really nice Japanese sets and stand-alone kushis from the Edo, Meiji, and Taisho eras. Edo’s shape is square, Meiji is round but made of natural materials, and Taisho is round and gets into bold vivid, color. These pieces are in excellent condition. The only problem is the price. I’m not paying $900 for a kushi. Next Life. But enjoy!

Some combs I like

This late-Edo tortoiseshell comb is held in an open silver frame with a silver mount Fuji behind gold and silver birds. The fruit on the tree are pearls. A similar decoration graces the matching kogai stick. It comes in its original box and is selling for $1400 on Trocadero.

I also liked this carved gilt lacquer comb inlaid with mother of pearl flowers and decorated with flying cranes. With matching kogai stick, the set is signed Sho Rin. It is selling for $1200 on Trocadero.

However,I just bought my second Chinese export comb for the Victorian market, c. 1890, because it had a bird on it, and I don’t have a birdie comb. ;-) The price was $355 on ebay.

Edo, the era of beauty

All the artists who made these combs, c. 1800, are unknown. The first is carved and incised ivory with openwork, showing two cranes pointing at a family crest, which in Japanese is called KA-MON. KA means families with their own genealogical trees, and MON means crest.

The second comb is made of tortoiseshell, graced with cream and red lacquer. The artist painted two plover birds flying to a rest spot on a bamboo tree branch. The two points of interest are on the sides of the comb: the left edge shows the birds, while just to the right side, lined up with the tines, a red bamboo trunk waits for the birds to land on its branches.

Third, is a square tortoiseshell comb with several floral gold maki-e designs.

Last but not least, is a grey half-moon-shaped comb showing a mother-of-pearl half moon shining amid a sky of gold stars and chimeras.

All four combs reside in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Edo and Meiji Comapred

Whether the artist used rosewood, tortoiseshell, or blackwood, combs shaped like a rainbow became known as Gen’nai Gushi. In the 1700’s, two combs weren’t enough. A woman had to wear three. Kogai sticks became bigger because women wrapped their hair around it to make a chignon.

From 1711 – 1716, the Shotoku era of the Edo period, women began to wear both combs and kogai sticks. Sets were made.

From 1716 – 1736, the early Kyoho era, kogai started out wide, thin, and short, but by the end became long and straight. They were replaced by kanzashi for pure ornamental decoration.

Here are a few examples of kogai sticks from the Edo and Meiji periods so you can see how the shapes developed.

The first kogai stick, made of metal, is Edo. The others are Meiji.

Some exquisite Edo Combs



A mid-Edo tortoiseshell comb with mother-of-pearl hydrangeas and gold maki-e, signed by Nagano Oteki

A Edo Era tortoiseshell kushi and kogai set with a peony design.

A Meiji set with a mother-of-pearl moon, flowing water, and maki-e autumn leaves.

Early, Middle, and Late Edo

Early Edo: This wooden comb is 17th-Century Edo. You can tell by the size, artistic style, and subject. It’s one idea on a large comb canvas is a chimera behind a folding screen.

From the Nomura Shojiro Collection comes this middle-era Edo comb, which depicts a grasshopper busily eating while a larger animal looms. But are we seeing the animal’s horn, while his hungry eyes focus on that grasshopper? Or, does the line signify the larger animal’s tail, as he plods away completely unaware of the grasshopper’s existence. Japanese comb art plays with and mixes perspectives a lot, but this maki-e painting has all the players in one scene. The artist makes you imagine how each animal sees their world. In art school, teachers ask students, “What can you do with a line?” And I think this comb provides a wonderful answer because with one line, it goes from being beautiful to being great.

Late Edo: Here, a crayfish is folded over the comb, a Meiji characteristic. On the front, you only see half of it. Also the space for the picture is getting smaller, and the edges are getting rounder. So we have one foot in Meiji. But it is still one idea on a comb, which is Edo. Japan is moving from one emperor to another, as an artist draws a crayfish.

Some Lovely Things on Ebay

This beautiful ivory comb belonged to the seller’s great grandmother, and it was kept in perfect condition all these years. Imagine the love that kept this beautiful piece in its pristine state. The style looks like a Chinese import to the Victorian market to me but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s European made. Comments welcome. I loved it. It sold for $213.50 to Belva, one of the greatest hair comb collectors and historians in the country. Congrats, my dear friend.

This  ivory comb knocked me out.  I’d say c. 1880. The rose carvings are exquisite. I adored this one, too. I have to say I am not sure if it’s English made or Chinese made for the Victorian market. But fabulous, nonetheless. It sold for $280 on August 9.

The last comb that caught my eye was an Silver Edo comb with a remarkable decoration of birds on the sides and a turtle in the middle against a backdrop of flowing waves. The silver decorative shell fit over a tortoiseshell comb, which was not in perfect condition, as the tines were a little damaged. But this was a drop-dead piece for Japanese comb collectors. It sold for $301 on August 10 to Belva. Congratulations again for your taste and everything you’ve done to bring the beauty of hair combs to the world via the ACCCI.

Correction: Japanese Hibiscus, not Hemp

I originally identified this Edo comb as being decorated with hemp, which has been used as a medicinal herb in Japanese culture for centuries. However, as a gardener, my friend gave me a Japanese hibiscus, which just flowered, and I am now realizing that the leaves and flowers on this Edo comb were drawn from that! Correction made.

And here is the real thing in my garden in South GA. Ah, gardening in South GA. What an experience.

Some Lovely Things on Ebay

I’m going to start with a Spanish silver crown of thorns, c. 1890, which was offered by the same dealer from whom I bought my tiara, but sorry to say I lost the auction, and I don’t know if it sold. I am guessing the crown could have been worn on Good Friday, signifying the passion of Christ. Spanish Catholicism is dramatic and passionate, and I had never seen anything like this. I don’t see this piece as attempting to be beautiful, but rather to communicate suffering. Comments welcome.

The dealer thought this early Edo masterpiece was c. 1860. I disagree. The size, the fact that there is only one picture, and look at the plot of this picture, and the detail. There was one idea on each side, completely different. Both pictures were works of art in themselves, the way it is signed. I’m going to venture a guess that it’s c. 1720. Comments welcome by Japanese experts if you think I’m wrong. That it went for the ridiculous price of 75 GBP was probably because it was damaged. But for something that old, I guess if it survived in tact, it would be in a museum. Idiotically, I did not buy this.

This beautiful Meiji set of pearl berries and grape leaves just sold for $355 on Feb 10.

This gold makie kanzashi hair stick was beautiful. It sold for $255 on Jan 26.

Here is a modern comb I liked. It is made of buffalo horn and signed by the artist Genryo. It is accent with mop and inlaid gold.

This late Edo tortoiseshell comb with coral beads, ivory and brass flowers decorating a brass top is beautiful, and sold for $355 on Jan 20.

Finally, I’m going to feature a Chinese claw comb. I had a hairstick once with a claw and a blonde tortoiseshell ball that I sold to “best friend” Myrna who tells me things like I “there are products to get rid of the frizz Barbara,” when she sees my pictures, lol, but the edge of this comb has the same claw art, which I think is gorgeous and very Chinese.

Hair Comb Exhibit at the Lalique Museum in Hakone, Japan

After the opening up of trade routes to Japan, Edo combs were introduced at the Paris exhibition of 1867. They took the European art world by storm and began a craze in France called Japonisme . Western artists noticed the strong Japanese relationship with nature, which produced jewelry that was at once delicate and powerful. Rene Lalique was heavily influenced. He chose comb motifs (swallows, hanging wisteria) and materials (horn), which were common in Japan but shunned in Europe at the time.

It is interesting to compare his famous work Two Swallows with a Stalk of Oats c. 1906-1908, carved horn gold and diamonds, with a Meiji kanzashi of plover birds. In Swallows, Lalique takes the Japanese motif to a new level of inventive design and composition.

In this comb housed at the RijksMuseum in Amsterdam, Lalique makes Guelder rose flowers on stems of translucent horn. Apparently, they are so fragile that the flowers of diamond clusters seem to be bending the leaves.

No Lalique post would be complete without an orchid. This one lives in a museum in Lisbon.

From June 23 to Nov 25 2007, The Lalique Museum in Hakone Japan will have a Special Exhibition: The Charm of Hair Ornaments – Lalique’s Combs and Japanese Traditional Kushi.” I don’t know that these particular pieces will be showcased, but there will be 20 Lalique combs made with his own hands on display.