Galalith Plastic in Art Deco Jewelry: Auguste Bonaz Comb

In 1897, Wilhelm Krische discovered that a new synthetic material could be made from the interaction of caesin (milk proteins) and formaldehyde. He combined the Greek words for milk and stone (gala and lithos) and named his new plastic Galalith. It revolutionized the button industry.

But also made in sheets, it could be cut and dyed into numerous flexible designs. Enter Oyonnax and August Bonaz. We have seen decorations within this shape in many Art Deco combs, but never like this.

The ornate way Bonaz combined yellow, orange, and black make this comb one of an Art Deco masterpiece. Complex, stylized flowers and swirls that make a V in the middle only add to its uniqueness. It was auctioned in Zurich for 900 Euros in 1969. Since that time the comb appeared in exhibitions at the Museum Bellerive in Zurich (1991) and at the State Museum for Applied Art in Munich (1997).

Some Lovely Things on Ebay

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.

Chinese Aesthetics: The Ordering of Literature, the Arts, and the Universe in the Six Dynasties

Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma 1775-1950

Traditional Jewelry of India

The Creative Museum World Tour

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.


For more scholarly research, please examine the publications of the Creative Museum, as well as these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

The Comb: Its History and Development

Le Peigne Dans Le Monde


“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly

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.

“At last,
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!”


For more scholarly research, please examine the Japanese collection of The Creative Museum, The Miriam Slater Collection, and our Resource Library.

Huge comb from Argentina

By The Creative Museum: English translation is in the first comment.

En los comienzos del Siglo XIX en el Río de la Plata, hizo furor la moda de peinetones. Fue una herencia española pero en estas tierras llegaron a tener tales dimensiones que finalmente fueron una característica original de la vestimenta nacional.

En ciertos círculos de la sociedad porteña, se llevó a una competencia por ver quién usaba un peinetón más ornamentado y de mayor tamaño. Tal es la exageración a la que lleva la moda de la época, que llegaron a verse en Buenos Aires, peinetones de más de un metro de ancho. Eran tan grandes que dos damas no podían caminar al mismo tiempo por la vereda… Esa moda fue ridiculizada por el editor Cesar H. Bacle en dibujos humorísticos.

Alrededor de 1823, había en Buenos Aires cuatro fabricantes importantes de peinetas, peines y peinetones : Martín Suárez, Manuel Masculino, Salvador Vitela y Custodio Peis. El más famoso fue Masculino, cuya imaginación era sin límite. Masculino era un peinero Español que cuando llegó a Buenos Aires ya se usaba la peineta, pero él la convirtió en peinetón. Además de su habilidad para imponer un nuevo estilo, introdujo algunas novedades tecnológicas, como el uso de cierta maquinaria que permitió abaratar la producción. Estos fabricantes utilizaban materiales, entre ellos carey, imitación de carey, hueso, asta, y muchos de ellos con incrustaciones en oro, plata, marfil o nácar.

El Creative Museum ha adquirido recientemente en el Rastro de París un modelo de esta época. El vendedor dijo que lo tenía de un diplomático. Es una maravilla de carey de gran tamano (unos 30 centímetros / about 13 inches) con incrustaciones de oro.

Otros modelos se encuentran en el Creative Museum :

Se encuentran también en el Museo de Arte Hispano Americano Isaac Fernández Blanco de la Municipalidad de Buenos Aires donde existe una variadísima colección de peinetones.

Para saber más, se aconseja el libro El peinetón de Eduardo Gudiño Kieffer. Está escrito en castellano con muchas ilustraciones.


Aigrettes and the French-Ottoman Alliance

Between 1438-1740, the Pope chose all his Holy Roman Emperors from the Hapsburg Empire, which encompassed Austria, Spain, and Italy. To oppose them, the Ottoman Empire made a military alliance with France, England, and the Dutch. The conquest of Nice in 1543 was accomplished through a partnership between King Francis I and Sultan Suleiman I, the Magnificent. It took Nice away from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Francis and Suleiman also took Corsica in 1553, the Hapsburg Empire’s most important communication port.

Ottoman Emperors wore egret feathers and jewels on their turbans. The French took this idea from them, and the aigrette was first a decoration for men, either of royal birth or of high rank in the French army.

By the 1700’s aigrettes were worn by both men and women. This is Empress Catherine of Russia in 1711.

This is the turban-crown of Sir Jang Bahadur, the Nepalese prime minister from 1856-1877. The headdress, with aigrette, symbolized the bond between religious and secular leadership on the Indian sub-continent.

These are amulets of a mughal and his princess, provided by our author Gina Hellweger:

In the Belle Epoque, c. 1913, aigrette tiaras became the rage in women’s fashion. They came in wing shapes for the opera, and egret feathers were expressed either in jewels or attached to magnificent diamond tiaras. In these two stunning examples, Cartier made this male Islamic royal status symbol

into these.

There is a Belle Epoque aigrette tiara on sale for $4400 at The Three Graces. It is made of topazes and diamonds. I like it.


For more scholarly research, please examine these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

Le Peigne Dans Le Monde


Timeless Tiaras

Gina Hellweger: Chinese Hair Ornament Collection

Our author Gina Hellweger has such a wonderous array of antique Chinese hair ornaments, it was difficult to pick pieces that would express the depth of knowledge and life experience that is present in her collection. Here are just a few items for your eyes’ feast.


For more scholarly research, please see these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of an Ancient Chinese Art

The Art of Silver Jewellery: From the Minorities of China

Jewelry of Southeast Asia

Two Combs I Like on Ebay

The first is this Victorian ivory comb with carved lilies of the valley in a swirl pattern that meets in the middle. There is a slight chip at the back, which does not detract from its value. The comb is English, c. 1850, a beautiful piece. I’ll post the final price at the end of the auction. I have already been outbid, and do not have a snipe bid registered to win. What I’ll be interested in is whether a new or experienced collector takes this.

The second comb is a stunning Birmingham silver piece by Henry Adcock. A gallery of flowers is surrounded by a frame of polished silver “gems.” On top are three sea shells, meticulously decorated. Marked. c. 1810. The dealer wants $811 in a Buy It Now. I would not pay full price, but this comb is a star. What I’d want to know is whether this seller has the time to wait for the $800, or does the comb have to move. In the latter case, there is room for negotiation.


For more scholarly research, please see these combs in our Resource Library.

Hair Combs: Identification & Values

Combs and Hair Accessories

The Comb: Its History and Development

Rene Lalique and Calouste Gulbenkian

They were friends for 50 years.

Perhaps that’s why Gulbenkian (right) obtained diplomatic immunity and became the Iranian ambassador to Pétain’s Vichy government in 1939. On October 30, 1939, 79-year-old René Lalique rushed to his factory in Wingen, Alcase. The glass-making fires were out. He tried to save his priceless glass molds, but the German soldiers told him, “No one goes in here.” Devastated, Lalique went back to Paris.

The molds were saved, perhaps with the anonymous help of the Iranian ambassador?

Calouste Gulbenkian was born in Üsküdar, a municipality of Constantinople, which is now Istanbul. His trading companies gave the West access to Middle East oil, and he became a one of the world’s most famous art collectors and philanthropists. Lalique gave him 80 pieces, including hair combs.

The Lalique Collection housed in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, is a testament to life-long friendship. In addition to the Anemones, the museum also has

Two lovers kiss. c. 1902. Ivory.

Various insects rest on leaves. Ivory, enamel, and horn, c. 1902.

Bees polinate a marigold. Enamel and Horn. c. 1902

Diadem of ivory peonies, enamel stems, and an amethyst. c. 1902

Black-eyed Susan diadem. Horn, enamel, and moonstones. c. 1902

Ballerinas with pine-cone borders. Ivory, gold, and enamel. c. 1898.

Three Breton Women. Ivory, horn, and enamel. c. 1902.

And an orchid. Ivory and horn. c. 1902


For more scholarly research, please see these books in our Resource Library.

The Jewels of Lalique

Rene Lalique at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Rene Lalique: Exceptional Jewellery, 1890-1912

Jen Cruse: The Art of Chinese Ivory Comb Carving

By Jen Cruse:

When trade links with China were re-established in the 18th century, the earliest and largest markets were in the West. Chinese teas and silks were the prime commodities of trade with Europe and America and an increasing demand for items such as porcelains, ivories (from African elephant tusks) and fans developed over time.

Primarily centred in Canton, ivory working reached an exceptional degree of expertise between 1790 and about 1850. At first, private buyers from the West – ships’ captains, trading merchants, diplomats and the like – sought small speciality items to take home as personal gifts for family and friends; ivory combs in the European style were highly favoured.

So enthusiastically were the gifts received that demand grew and it was not long before a burgeoning industry developed and the Cantonese workshops (hongs) were making ivory combs in large quantities for export to Europe and the USA. This was a new departure for the craftsmen as Chinese women did not wear combs such as these, their traditional hair accessories being quite different in format and design.

The majority of the combs were elaborately carved and finished, the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the ivory designers and combmakers being second to none. On carved, fretted or pierced backgrounds, flowers, birds and small animals formed the principal themes, with the mythical dragon a predominant feature (pictures 1 & 2). The combs were not set with jewels or gemstones but relied on the texture and sincerity of the ivory itself for enduring appeal.

Generally the combs carried no marks; however, occasionally the signature of the artist-craftsman was placed within the carving, as seen on the flower comb Fig 2a. The combs were not set with jewels or gemstones but relied on the texture and sincerity of the ivory itself for enduring appeal.


For more scholarly research, please see

The Comb: Its History and Development

as well as the ACCCI website.