This exercise needs a long practice and remains perilous.

Objects can be designed and manufactured for a foreign destination or made in that country itself but by immigrants. 

In the nineteenth century in the United States, women used to wear large combs richly carved with scrolls and flower motifs. But for the most part, these pieces were made by Chinese artisans, who were experts in their field. The designs they were asked to reproduce had no Asian look about them, but Chinese cultural signs are noticeable: the roses and birds are strangely similar to the lotus and phoenix. One now questions whether the comb is Chinese or American? (photo 1 - photo 2)


Various influences (political history, fashion, Westernization of colonized territories) further complicate identification.

The comb (photo 3) has a very Western look. It is adorned with a wreath of flowers on a silver plaque. But on the back, it is engraved with Chinese hallmarks. This piece could thus have been formed in China for very westernized Chinese customers or for foreign settlers. It could also have been made in the United States in Chinese workshops for an American clientele.

Another example: who would have thought that the silver comb (photo 4) was from the Philippines ? 

This baroque hinged headband, also worn as a tiara, has a historical link: the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. These islands were named in honor of Philip II of Spain. The settlement lasted from 1521 until the late nineteenth century. This kind of ornamental comb was worn by the upper classes, according to the style  of the time, which is why local craftsmen (often Chinese!) shaped them with a Spanish touch. For the indigenous middle class, a hybrid style appeared: a basic local tortoiseshell base, crudely worked and adorned with a western gold-stamped plaque (photo 5).

Is this type of comb Filipino, Chinese or Spanish?


The globalization of cultural exchanges began long ago. A piece purchased in a market can come from many places on  earth. For example, it is hard to determine the origin of a silver filigree comb since this technique is used in many cultures (photo 6).

Sometimes, a piece cannot be identied because of not enough characteristics (photo 11 - photo 12

What can be said of combs made, often with talent, by seamen or convicts from pieces of  tortoiseshell, horn or mother of pearl? (Photo 7 - photo 8)

Modesty is needed: we always must be open to proposals that question an origin. 

General principles are as follows:

Close monitoring (look for clues: hallmarks, a signature, design, a craftsman's  abilities ...) 

Frequent consultation of art books and visits of museumsto «perfect» one's eye. 

Documentation (library, prints, photographs ...) 

• Cultural knowledge (history, geography, new materials, evolution of fashions, patterns, styles, trade ....). It is important to know for example that in the early twentieth century, the town of Oyonnax exported all over the world and above all, manufactured for the Spanish market the most mantilla combs! (photo 9 - photo 10)

Cross-checking with other pieces, exchanges with other collectors (such as members of the ACCCI club), running ideas by people from other cultures.

American comb, Chinese work
Chinese work for western customers
Western shape, Chinese hallmarks
Philipinas, Spanish baroque style
Philippinas, Spanish fashion
Silver filigree. Chinese ?
Piece of mother-of- pearl cutout by a seaman
Tortoiseshell comb made by a seaman
Spanish comb, maybe made in Oyonnax, France
Chinese comb for western customers
Indonesian comb?
Europe or United States?