Chinese Hair Pins and Desolate, Derelict Pain

I saw. I gasped. I wanted — so badly, silent screams came from secret parts of my body.

In 1644, the Aisin-Goro clan of the Tungusic Jurchen people from Manchuria (now Northeast China) conquered the Han Chinese in the South. The Ming Dynasty gave way to the Qing Dynasty. These are Qing Dynasty silver hair pins made during the reign of the Guangxu emperor Aisin-Gioro Zaitian (1875 – 1908). He was the Dynasty’s 11th and penultimate emperor.

Beautifully preserved enamel encases coral drops. Hand-crafted butterflies and flowers punctuate the chains. The pair is in original condition.

The auction on E-bay started at $0.99. I watched as the price climbed to $300, 18 hours before auction end: 26 bids. I knew it was going to go, and I couldn’t enter that shock-and-awe $1000 snipe bid to win.

But I was wrong. Someone DID put in that nuclear snipe bid, and they lost! The hair pins sold for $1025 on March 25, 2013, to the 37th bidder. Congratulations.


For more scholarly research, please examine the Creative Museum’s Asian comb exhibition, Gina Hellweger’s first and second Chinese hair ornament collections,

this 1860 photograph of women in Guangzhou wearing hair ornaments, contributed by Alain Truong Trong Nghia

and these books:

Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of an Ancient Chinese Art

The Comb: Its History and Development

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment

The Vienna Secession, Wiener Werkstätte, and H.K. Haege

Unsatisfied with the conservative restraints of the Vienna Künstlerhaus, Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Max Kurzweil, and others formed the Vienna Secession in 1897. They wanted to break free of society’s intoxication with imitating historical styles, as in the Victorian Era’s Egyptian Revival. Their headquarter’s innovative architectural design featured three gorgons by Othmar Schimkowitz above the door.

The Secession also brought French Impressionism to the Viennese public, and Josef Hoffman dedicated an event to Beethoven. Klimt contributed the Beethoven Frieze.

However, in addition to Art Nouveau / Jugendstil, there was also the British Arts and Crafts Movement. In Vienna, industrialist Fritz Wärndorfer funded its equivalent, the Wiener Werkstätte with Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser.

Revolting against the idea of mass-produced junk vomited out by the Industrial Revolution, they hand-crafted jewelry that blurred the line between sculpture and ornament. Hair combs and hats were among the offerings.

The designs above were made by Dagobert Peche. He loved to portray natural forms in a complex and whimsical way. Combining coral, ivory and gold, he punctuated natural forms with geometric accents.

Koloman Moser’s student Mela Koehler included whimsical hats in her fashion illustration, having joined the Wiener Werkstätte in 1909.

Many jewelers created pieces in the Wiener Werkstätte style. Among them was German jeweler H. K. Haege in 1920. He created this comb of at least 114 handmade silver parts to express the delicacy of a floral basket. The high grade silver highlighted his extraordinary repoussé workmanship.

It is selling at The Tadema Gallery in the £5000-10,000 range.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Wiener Werkstatte: 1903-1932

The Collection Göring

Hermann Göring’s art collection numbered 4200 items, most of which he kept at Carinhall, his country estate near Berlin. They included paintings, sculptures, furniture, and this magnificent platinum tiara, with 32 carats of diamonds and 8 emerald cabochons. Two side leaves with buds lead to the center spray.

Another diamond tiara with stars outlined by hollow galleries can be seen as Göring escorts his wife Emmy to a ball.

It was a happy marriage. Emmy and daughter Edda gave Hermann many gifts with loving inscriptions. Storage-inventory-number 466/96 at the Pinakothek der Moderne museum in Munich is a gold and diamond cigarette case, engraved with the words, “Filled with happiness and pride, we congratulate you on your appointment as ‘Field Marshall.’ With our deepest love, Emmy and Edda.”

Edda can also be seen here at Carinhall, held by her mother just after her Christening. A beautiful painting hangs in the background.

It is hard to determine where these items came from. The German government has allocated €2 million a year to fund the “Working Group for the Research and Study of Provenance.” Their job is to sift through 20,000 items, which are currently being kept in museum storage vaults. There are 4 employees, who have launched 84 projects. Germany has 6300 museums.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Hermann Goring and the Nazi Art Collection: The Looting of Europe’s Art Treasures and Their Dispersal After World War II

Samburu Jewelry, Rebecca Lolosoli, and Half the Sky

In the Samburu district of Kenya, near Archers Post, lies a village of women’s dignity – Umoja. It is a refuge for victims of domestic violence.

Normally pastoral cattle herders, Samburu matriarch Rebecca Lolosoli has started a business to make the complex beaded necklaces and headdresses for which the tribe is known. The Samburu knit with small, brightly colored beads, weaving complex patterns and ideas in layers. Round silver coin-like beads are attached to the headdresses, as are larger center ornaments. Ms. Lolosoli’s jewelry showcases the highest level of skill.

With jewelry, she and her village are fighting for the right to be untouched by violence. Umoja is part of Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky Movement. A woman has a right to an education; own a business; make decisions; and not be raped, shot, or promised into marriage as a child. Ms. Lolosoli also fights female circumcision. Instead of growing older with eyes that have seen untold horrors, in Umoja, a young woman can glow with pride.


For more on Umoja and Half the Sky, please examine Umoja Women and

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Jen Cruse: Exhibition for the Creative Museum

In an “Around the World in 80 Comb” exhibition, author Jen Cruse shares her collection with the Creative Museum. Her presentation enunciates the stunning diversity of comb design across the world and across time.

My favorite is this Chinese ivory comb, which depicts Shou Xing, the Chinese God of Longevity. He is part of the Taoist concept of Fu Lu Shou. Taoism dates back to the the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), when the Han Chinese ended Genghis Khan’s Mongolian rule.

With a high bald head, Shou Xing smiles gently as he carries a branch with peaches of immortality from the garden of Xi Wang Mu. His small helper looks on. The comb is curved because it is made from the top of an elephant tusk.

The peaches are visible on the back of the comb.

Other combs in the collection include this black Bonaz with gold plum flowers,

this celluloid Art Deco American comb with gold paint, whose blue is the same color as a Tiffany & Co. shopping bag,

and a seed-pearl aigrette.


For more scholarly research, please examine the publications of the Creative Museum and Jen’s book

The Comb: Its History and Development

Leopards and Gazelles in a Qajar Comb

The Qajars were a Persian royal family of Hazar Turkic origin (named after the Hazar Sea), whose dynasty began with Agha Muḥammad Khān Qājār in 1794 and ended with Sultan Ahmad Shah Qajar in 1925. Agha Muhammad brought peace, which allowed unique style of Persian painting and portraiture to develop and flourish.

A main theme of Qajar art was the garden scene, which was inherited from the Safavid Dynasty.

Double Finispiece From The Diwan Of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, 1582 CE

Persian leopards were the hunting trophies of kings. Rulers ascended to the peacock throne. There were also eagles, serins, gazelles, rabbits, and rams. Gardens had wider connections to spirituality and mysticism. Sadly, today, the Persian leopard has been hunted almost to extinction.

Double Finispiece From The Diwan Of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, 1582 CE

Recently, a group of wooden, painted Qajar H combs, c. 1920, sold on E-Bay. I was particularly interested in this one because of the rural garden scene. On one side, a Persian leopard bites a male gazelle, while the female looks on.

On the other side, an eagle eats a serin with a fish in its mouth. Predators and prey depicting the circle of life, portrayed in a circle. A ram looks on, while rabbits and ducks dot the edges.

Sale price: $978.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Woven from the Soul, Spun from the Heart: Textile Arts of Safavid and Qajar Iran, 16Th-19th Centuries

Royal Persian Paintings : The Qajar Epoch 1785-1925

Wall Paintings And Other Figurative Mural Art in Qajar Iran

Glass Hair Combs of Edo Era Japan

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.


1, 2, 3, 4

Sumba Combs

The spectacular high combs worn by young women, brides and adolescent girls in East Sumba, Indonesia, form part of their rich traditional costume for festivals, ceremonies and weddings. These treasured objects, belonging to the Island’s aristocratic families, have passed down the generations since at least the early 19th century.

The combs are known as hai kara jangga and are placed upstanding over the brow or high on the head, crown-like and held in place by ribbons or a band. They are hand carved from mottled tortoiseshell (from both thick and thin plates) or occasionally from buffalo horn. Once carved and polished, they are deeply curved in the horizontal plane almost to a semi-circle – there is no curvature in the vertical plane. The combs all follow a basic format: an upper pierced heading separated from the teeth by a band of solid tortoiseshell displaying engraved linear geometric decoration.

The carved decorative headings, which vary from comb to comb, are designed symmetrically on either side of the central motif, each with various images in silhouette of stylised animals, birds, fish, trees and sometimes the human figure. They have recognisable symbolic meaning within the mythology of the Island’s culture – for instance, the horse represents loyalty, the chicken wealth. The skull trees (andung trees), featured as the central motif on many examples, were once used to display captured heads from hostile encounters and inter-village warfare. The motifs depicted on the combs echo those of the Ikat woven textiles of the region or on some of their standing stone monuments.


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Comb: Its History and Development

The Creative Museum: From Art Nouveau to Art Deco

Part two of The Creative Museum’s presentation, “From Art Nouveau to Art Deco,” will be appearing on October 22. I am looking forward to it because their scholarship is immaculate.

Here are a few of my favorite Art Deco combs from their collection. They are all by Auguste Bonaz. I think it is interesting to see how his designs developed from 1910 – 1925, especially the two combs in the same shape. In 1910, he did red and black. In 1920, the same shaped comb displays a completely different idea.






For more history and insight, you’ll have to wait for The Creative Museum’s presentation. :-)


For more scholarly research, please examine the other exhibitions at The Creative Museum.

The Riches of the French Empire

Facing Me, Facing You

EN TÊTE À TÊTE, dedicated to headdresses, the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Angoulême

Truus Daalder: Comb from Tanimbar, Maluku Province of Indonesia

In my book Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment (Ethnic Art Press and Macmillan, 2009), I described and illustrated (p. 170) a very rare comb from Tanimbar, situated in the east of Indonesia, in the southern Moluccas (Maluku). I was unable to show there the only drawing of a person actually wearing the comb, which together with another drawing and further material was found for me by a very helpful Dutch librarian of the World Museum in Rotterdam, who examined a number of rare and old books for the purpose.

One aim of this article is now to publish the two drawings mentioned, together with some information contained in the text of these books.

Not many good and genuine examples of this type of comb seem to exist. Perhaps they were always rare, for they were only to be worn by ‘heroes’ (waduwan) according to a description in a Dutch book by J.G.F. Riedel, published in 1886 by Nijhoff in The Hague, De sluik- en kroesharige rassen tusschen Selebes en Papua, of which the title translates as “The Straight- and Curly-haired Races between Celebes and Papua.” The illustration on page 309 of Riedel’s book (shown below, and also reproduced in Suzanne Greub’s Expressions of Belief, 1988) provides a drawing of several gold ornaments from the region, a bamboo comb worn by young men (number 10), and an example of our type of comb (number 12), here called suar taran wulu. It shows some of the ornamentation that was in this case attached to the comb. The comb was worn together with a neck ornament (number 11) called wangap. Number 13 shows a goats’ hair ornament also worn by the waduwan, tied around the leg below the knee.

The other illustration found, of an actual wearer of the comb in full regalia, and shown below, was discovered in a German book published in Berlin in 1896 by A. Jacobsen, “Reise in die Inselwelt des Banda-Meeres,” which can be translated as “Travel in the Island World of the Banda Sea.”

This shows a warrior decked out for fighting. The tines of the comb were inserted horizontally into the hair at the back. The volume of the wearer’s hair was enlarged by artificial padding and by adding more actual human hair. The warrior’s hair may also have been strengthened by chalk (Riedel, p. 292). The comb was then augmented with further embellishment by the use of a prow-shaped insertion of light wood decorated with feathers or flags. Text under the drawing explains that the hair-do as shown in the drawing is ‘too low’.

Jacobsen had personally watched a dance during which the comb was worn. The drawing describes the warrior as a resident of ‘Timor-laut’. Rita Wassing-Visser, from the Nusantara Museum in Delft, states in Sieraden en Lichaamsversiering uit Indonesië (1984) that the comb is called suar sair or flag comb (p. 129), while Suzanne Greub, in Expressions of Belief, featuring masterpieces in the Rotterdam Museum, gives the name yole to a similar comb collected in the Babar Islands, which lie between Timor and the Moluccas (p. 234). Greub reproduces the illustration from Riedel, but appears to be unaware of the drawing from the book by Jacobsen.

Obviously the comb was used in a number of island groups, under different names and with different kinds of decoration. Wassing-Visser calls the accompanying necklace of large cowrie shells wangpar, and states that a second necklace often worn with the comb, indar-lele, was usually made from swordfish vertebrae or sawn buffalo bones.

Jacobsen (p. 217) explains that the carved inlay on the comb consists of ivory, and this is stated about a number of examples. The Moluccas certainly imported ivory and attached great value to it, but our example and several others in illustrations appear to have used bone for the inlaid and carved sections.

Not a single photograph seems to exist showing the comb as worn. Several similar combs in the collections of the World Museum are described as having been damaged or gnawed by rodents, consistent with the combs having come from graves. This suggests that in many cases they may have been buried with their owner.

Our example was collected by Dutch people in the 1970s, in the village of Alusikarwain in Tanimbar Selatan, or South Tanimbar, and clearly dates from the nineteenth century. It was said to have been used in dance ceremonies called Tabar Lla or Ngabar Lla. It is a pity that the nineteenth century travellers either had no camera or that their photographed material did not survive tropical conditions, and apparently later visitors no longer saw the combs used in dances.



Greub, Suzanne (ed.) 1988. Expressions of Belief: Masterpieces of African, Oceanic and Indonesian Art from the Museum voor Volkenkunde, Rotterdam. New York: Rizzoli International.

Jacobsen, A. 1896. Reise in die Inselwelt des Banda-Meeres. Berlin.

Riedel, J.G.F. 1886. De sluik- en kroesharige rassen tusschen Selebes en Papua. The Hague: Nijhoff.

Wassing-Visser, Rita. 1984. Sieraden en Lichaamsversiering uit Indonesië. Delft: Volkenkundig Museum Nusantara.


Please read an interview with Truus Daalder on the blog, Pierre Nachbaur Art. Ms. Daalder is the author of

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment