Category Archives: Jen Cruse

Jen Cruse: Mongolian Hair Ornaments From Our Community

Written by Jen Cruse, featuring the collections of Gina Hellweger and The Creative Museum.

Mongol women traditionally wore their thick black hair tied in long plaits falling forward onto their shoulders, placing slightly curved silver combs flat on the top of the head. On festive and celebratory occasions, however, distinctive and colourful costumes were offset by an elaborate headdress constructed over a metal frame and decorated with numerous silver ornaments, temple pendants, combs and hairpins, all richly enhanced by the liberal use of red coral, turquoise and amber sets and coloured enamelling. For the Mongolians, coral symbolized blood, fire and light; turquoise, water, sky and air; amber, the earth.

The two silver hairpins illustrated are decorated with coral beads and coloured enamel. These hairpins were once part of the lavish and complex head ornamentation worn by Mongolian women when dressed in traditional costume; late 19th or early 20th century. Length 4¾ ins/12.1cm.

To my fellow author, and noted collector of tribal arts, Gina Hellweger, thank you for contributing this Mongolian parure. Here we can see how they expressed blood, fire, light, water, air, and sky in all its intense beauty. Gina’s parure is made from silver, decorated with enamel, turquoise, and coral.

She was also kind enough to contribute these two sets of Mongolian hair ornaments, made of the same materials.

Mongolians also symbolized their world with jade, pearls, and black agate. From the vaults of the Creative Museum comes this magnificent, rare barrette. A brass medallion full of pearls surrounds a stone of black agate.

The museum has also contributed this silver hairpin, which is decorated with jade beads and carved flowers. Some traces of the enamel still remain.

These two silver slide bars are intricately carved with happiness motifs.

It is an honor for me to bring our community together, so we can all be inspired to learn more about the Mongolian decorative arts.


For more scholarly research, please see the Creative Museum’s exhibition on Chinese and Japanese hair ornaments, as well as these books, which have been added to our Resource Library.

Mongol Jewelry: Jewelry Collected by the First and Second Danish Central Asian Expeditions
The Art of Silver Jewellery: From the Minorities of China

The Comb: Its History and Development

Jen Cruse: Garnets Adorning Hair Combs in the 19th Century

Garnets are semi-precious gemstones of the silicate (quartz) group of minerals, found in metamorphic rock in a variety of colours. They have been known since the Bronze Age not only as gemstones but also for their abrasive qualities. The gemstone variety has a rich transparent lustre while opaque garnets are used to this day as industrial abrasives.

The garnet takes its name from the fruit of the pomegranate, the principal stone being a rich crimson red. Most garnets come from mines in the Mount Kosakov area of Bohemia and were frequently used in jewellery by the early Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Celts. Bohemian garnets were very popular during the Victorian era as embellishments for combs and hairpins, often foil-backed to enhance their colour and reflective qualities. Sometimes garnets were polished en cabochon but more usually they were cut and faceted.

The garnet is found in several different colours, but the red variety is the most popular stone for setting in jewellery, ranging in colour from a medium red to a very dark red. Although some may appear to be almost black in colour, garnets sparkle with a rich crimson glow when viewed in bright light. On occasions, the term “Bohemian ruby” is mistakenly thought to be an actual ruby but is, in fact, a garnet, the birthstone for January.

This garnet comb is a tortoiseshell backcomb with silver gilt heading. The surface is engraved with Renaissance-style scrolling designs and set with large- and small-faceted garnets and 3 small pearls. English 1840-60. L = 3½ ins (8.9 cm); W = 3¼ ins (8.2 cm).


For more scholarly research, please see the The Antique Comb Collectors Club and

The Comb: Its History and Development, by Jen Cruse

Jen Cruse: Are Reptiles or Bugs Ever Appealing?

By Jen Cruse:

The answer is, obviously sometimes!

This delightful small handbag (purse) cased comb dates from the 1920-30s, a popular accessory for smart ladies of the Art Deco period.

The case and comb are made from an opaque cream celluloid and the case is embellished with a small lizard and even smaller ant, both appliquéd to the surface.

The significance of the two creatures is obscure for such a personal item. However, my research has revealed the following:

In ancient Egyptian and Greek symbolism, a lizard represented divine wisdom and good fortune, yet in Christianity, it was regarded as evil and the devil; in Roman mythology the lizard was supposed to sleep through the winter and so symbolised death and resurrection, whilst the lizard Tarrotarro was seen as an aboriginal Australian culture hero.

The ant was considered to be the motif of industriousness; in Chinese mythology it was the ‘righteous insect’, one of orderliness, virtue, patriotism and subordination; the Greeks attributed the ant to Ceres, and in Hindu mythology it was the transitoriness of existence.

I’m not sure that any one of these interpretations solves the mystery of such creatures being used as embellishments on hair accessories, but I let the readers draw their own conclusions.

The cased comb is in good condition despite its 75 odd years. The comb, with both coarse and fine teeth, measures 4 ins (10.2 cm) by ¾ ins (1.9 cm), a neat object for an evening bag or purse.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Encyclopedia of Symbols

The Comb, by Jen Cruse

Christie’s Art Deco

You may also study the website of the Antique Comb Collectors Club.

Jen Cruse: Mid-19th Century Elegance: Hinged Comb with Bejeweled Heading

This gilt brass comb has a hinged decorative heading composed of pink, yellow and white golds and set with small garnets, emeralds and turquoises. The intricate crafting of the heading depicts leaves and flowers springing from two vases, placed on either side of a framed central malachite cabochon. The backward leaning teeth allow a tiara effect when placed in the coiffure.

Probably British made, the piece dates to the 1840-50s. Width is 4¾ ins/12.1cm. Height is 3⅛ ins/8cm.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Jen Cruse: The Fleur-de-Lys Motif

By Jen Cruse:

The fleur-de-lys (often spelt “lis”) motif is frequently encountered on ornamental haircombs, either as part of the overall decorative heading or as an applied embellishment. It is said to represent three central petals of the lily, a flowering plant of the genus iris.

The initial conclusion may be that combs depicting this motif must be of French origin, but not necessarily so. The fleur-de-lys was and still is widely used on innumerable artefacts and textiles around the world, although no doubt it had its origins in France.

Certainly the name is French, meaning the “flower of the lily” or “lily flower” and, according to encyclopaedic references, is a very old pattern that was used as decoration in ancient times in countries as far apart as India, Egypt and Italy.

It first appeared in Europe in the 12th century as a motif on heraldic coats of arms. It was the emblem of the French Kings and was depicted on the French Royal flags, shields and banners up to 1789. When Edward III of England (1312-1377) claimed the throne of France, he added three fleurs-de-lys to the three lions of England, and they remained on the English royal arms until 1800. To this day the fleurs-de-lys are still part of the decoration of the royal crown.

The fleur-de-lys is the adopted emblem of the city of Florence in Italy. It also appears on 17th century tombs in Delft churches in The Netherlands. In religious pictures the motif, like the ordinary lily that signifies purity, is symbolic of the Virgin Mary. The motif also became the emblem, in a modified form, for the Scouting movement worldwide, founded by Lord Baden-Powell in 1907.

The 3 combs illustrating the fleur-de-lys motif are all made from celluloid (cellulose nitrate) and date from around 1910 to 1914.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Jen Cruse: The Comb

The website of the Antique Comb Collectors Club

Jen Cruse: Tortoiseshell versus Horn

For much of the nineteenth century, tortoiseshell was a luxury material that commanded high prices, whereas horn was a readily available material and inexpensive by comparison. By around 1830, the horn craftsmen found a method of clarifying and staining horn in imitation of tortoiseshell and, over succeeding decades, made combs, hairpins and other small items such as snuff boxes, fans and brooches. Being plausible reproductions of the real shell they, too, achieved similarly high prices and to all but the discerning eye, found a ready market until the advent of celluloid simulations in the 1880s.

The two combs pictured illustrate the remarkable similarities of each material, polished horn and lustrous tortoiseshell.


These combs are British, c. 1850-1870, and can be found on page 43 of The Comb: Its History and Development by Jen Cruse

Jen Cruse: Large Tortoiseshell High Backcomb

This beautifully carved tortoiseshell comb is one of only three known to me. Two are in my collection and the third is in the collection of the Museum of London. Each comb varies slightly in format and also condition, and the carving techniques demonstrate the exceptional skill of the combmaker.

The decorative features of each comb originally included engraved emblems of rose, shamrock and thistle (all broken off on this example) together with the Prince of Wales feathers, further embellished with a crown and two fleur-de-lis in rolled gold; European in origin, it is possibly English-made and dates to the mid 1800s.

W 7¼ ins/18.4cm Ht 9 ins/22.9cm

Suggestive of royal connections, for whom these combs were designed or intended is uncertain. Were they to be worn by members of a Royal Court or were they expensive commemorative gifts to celebrate a Royal wedding?

Unfortunately I have been unable to find any precise information on this comb, its ‘sister’ comb featured on page 30 of my book or the Museum comb. Various theories exist but are purely speculative in the absence of reliable evidence.


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Comb: Its History and Development