comb (hair ornaments)


These combs (17.8.61/3, 17.8.61/6 and 3533ii), were made in the nineteenth century from the shells of the now-endangered Hawksbill sea turtles not the shells of smaller land tortoises. The deep brown colour and iridescence of the Hawksbill shell made it a valuable raw material for beauty products during the period. Softened, bent and carved into combs, these are more oriented to fashion than as practical grooming equipment; they would be bound into the hair to become fascinators--objects of curiosity and beauty to draw comment and admiration. Combs of tortoiseshell were particularly popular in Spain, South America and Central America, where the contrast between the bright amber of the tortoiseshell and the black hair of the women who live in these regions was considered particularly attractive.

Collection Information

These objects are only a part of our collections, of which there are more than 350,000 objects. This information comes from our collections database. Some of this is incomplete and there may be errors. This part of the website is also still under construction, so there may be some fields repeated or incorrectly formatted information.

The database sometimes uses language taken from historical documents to help research, which may now appear outdated and even offensive. The database also includes information on objects that are considered secret or sacred by some communities.

If you have any further information about objects in our collections or can suggest corrections to our information, please contact us: