HAIR ORNAMENTS: HAVE A FRESH LOOK 

A preview of this collection gives an idea of the interest generated by hair ornaments around the world. 

Anyway, the topic remains limited to relatively few people. 

Are things changing now? Two major works, one recently published in English by Jen Cruse and one in French by Robert Bollé, are entirely dedicated to these ornaments. (see bibliography). 

Actually, the word «comb» does generally mean nothing other than a utility tool garnished with teeth. Not enough to write a thesis about or to make a collection! 

You may have to give up the a priori and change attitude. 

The fact that the word features in the Dictionary of Symbols by Chevalier-Gheerbrant, means  that the object is not insignificant.

Here's an excerpt: "A comb placed on the head, in a non-utilitarian function , is a way of communicating with supernatural powers or identifying  with these same powers. The teeth of the comb would represent the rays of heavenly light, penetrating the being through the top of the head (see the role of the crown's tips). The comb is also what holds together the hair, ie all the components of the individual concerning  his power and his nobility , his capacity for spiritual elevation."

This definition makes sense of the following:

From prehistoric times, combs are to be found in burial grounds; in Ancient China, a jade comb was placed in the tomb of the deceased to help it to achieve immortality. 

In the Middle Ages, beautiful combs were carved from ivory or boxwood and were engraved  with religious scenes.

In Christian liturgy, priests use them as an instrument of purification before services. They are also used during the ceremony of anointing bishops. (See comb of Bishop Saint-Loup in the treasury of the cathedral of Sens in France) 

The Chinese call them « head flowers»; for the Japanese they have occult powers, including protection. Even today, Japanese women ritually burn them in a Shinto temple in order to be cleansed.

Their contact with the head, the most important part of the body, generates beliefs and superstitions. 

This religious meaning is often strengthened by an emotional aspect. They are often related to personal and intimate moments of  life, rarely found in other objects: a promise of love (love-token), a gift of birth, marriage or birthday, a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation.

The African continent is rich with combs. From a prestigious object to the ornamental comb that values the beauty of a man or a woman, they are varied. They indicate the status of the women who are wearing them, but men wear them too. The collector is struck by recognizing all types of African statues carved in miniature.

In Oceania, the men of the St. Matthias group are naked except for wearing a large fiber comb for their only clothing. They cannot wear it before they are initiated, and it represents for them the access to a new social status. 

Whether as jewelry, amulets or «identity cards», combs are connected to the history of a society. 

Made of local materials and reflecting traditions and know-how, they belong to the applied arts sphere. They also show the cultural influences and fashions that led to their creation. 

They have to be considered as major actors in art history.

Images: 
Burial comb, jade. Ancient China
Bishop comb, ivory, France, 1780
Brahmin comb, horn. India
Monk hairpin from a Yunan temple, horn. China, 1980
Love token, mother-of-pearl. U.K., 1850
Wedding comb. Silver. France ? 1970-80
Mourning comb, U.K. 1876
Love token "My daughter Emma" U.K. 1850
Prestige comb for Akan queen. Wood. Ghana. Mid. 20th c.
Totemic Massim comb. New Guinea, Mid. 20th c.
Personal initials, tortoiseshell. Australia, 19th c.
Dowry silver haircomb. Rajasthan, late 19th c.