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Last updated on May 3rd, 2000 by Karen Shelton

Introduction

Some of us are born collectors. We can’t help it; we see, we want, we collect. I own collections of collections—tiny boxes, cat figurines, jewelry, books, blues CDs, black shoes, crystals, and so on. I can’t help myself.

But some of my collectibles are more ornamental than others, especially my antique hair comb collection. I have them mounted on a long piece of celadon brocade, and display them as a wallhanging.

Comb #1

I’ve always loved long hair, but it doesn’t look good on me. Also, my hair is so coarse and thick that wearing it long here in hot and steamy Texas would probably cause my head to spontaneously combust. So I collect old hair combs, lovely in their individuality, and in admiration of the long hair they once held in place.

They are not always easy to find, and the fourteen I own have come from many different places. Most of them are made from tortoiseshell (which you cannot find now, and a good thing, too, for the poor turtles), and some are adorned with rhinestones and carvings.

From the top, #1, the largest one, curved with 21 remaining teeth, was found in a rummage basket at a small town flea market. It was clearly made for holding up heavy hair in the back, and it is a lovely deep honey-amber color. I think I paid something like $5 for it; I don’t think the woman who owned it recognized the treasure it was.

Comb #2 & Comb #4

The two tiny combs, #2 with clear rhinestones and #4 with bright green ones, were found as a set in an antique shop in Portland, Maine.

I was having one of those “I got to get away/I got to get awa-a-ay” days, and had taken off for the coast.

At the time, I had grown my hair out to chin-length, and wanted to try using combs to hold back the hair over my ears. Well, that look did nothing for me, but I loved the combs.

As the store was one of those fancy-shmancy ones, I paid about $45 for the pair of them. But it was love at first sight; what could I do?

Combs #3, 5 & 6

The center comb, #3, beautifully carved and set with blue brilliants, was found in a friend’s grandmother’s backroom in a box jumbled up with an assortment of oddments.

I pounced on it, and offered to pay my friend just about anything for it.

It ended up costing me nothing but a trip to the movies, popcorn, Cokes, and Milk Duds, my treat. The two round-top combs, #5 and #6, are set with rhinestones. These two, plus #11, cost me an afternoon of cleaning out my then boyfriend’s mother’s walk-in closet.

On that same day, she also gave me a pair of marble-sized pearl earrings (which turned out to be fakes), the most hideous zip front burnt-orange cardigan sweater I’ve ever seen before or since, and a huge Sombrero before 10:00am.

Oval Barrette #7 & Comb #9

The oval barrette, #7, and the tall carved comb, #9, shown to the side, came from my own grandmother.

She had gorgeous knee-length auburn hair when she was young, and I like to think of that lovely tortoiseshell comb with its intricate carving gracing that vibrant hair.

Note: Speaking about my grandmother’s long auburn hair, I have to insert one of my favorite stories about her. To say she was willful, stubborn, and opinionated is like saying that the ocean holds several bazillion cups of water.

Just before my grandparents were married, my grandfather used to like to watch her to brush out her hair. As he was enjoying the sight of that rippling titian mass, he said, “Phyllis, don’t you ever cut your hair!”

She snapped back, “NO ONE tells me what to do!” and with that, picked up the shears, cut it all off below her ears, and threw the shorn hair at his feet. He married her anyway. She knew he would.

Bow Shaped Barrette

The tiny bow-shaped barrette, #8, #12, a large barrette with the back broken off, and #13, with the curved rhinestone top, came from a church white elephant sale.

I paid about $15 for the three of them, and I remember the lady who sold them to me also made me take an unopened box of ladies linen hankies. I guess she thought that anyone buying hair combs would automatically be lady-like enough to appreciate hankies as well!

Bow Shaped Barrette #10

The little hourglass-shape barrette, #10, one of the lightest in color, belonged to a friend’s aunt.

Years ago, a dear sister of hers wore it constantly, and when the sister died tragically of pneumonia at age 11, the barrette was put away for good. I think it made my friend’s aunt glad to know that it would be out on display again.

Comb #14

My favorite, #14, was used to adorn a chignon. I’ve always loved its warm amber color, and as always I like to imagine who wore it and what their hair looked like.

This one came to me from a vintage clothing shop in Tamworth, NH, where I spent an unforgettable summer as an ingnue in summer stock. My own hair was never long enough to wear it, but I did own a genuine hair fall that I wore to play Jane in Jane Eyre. It certainly gave a better performance than I did!

So, there you have it—this is my collection to date. During a recent visit, my mother kindly re-arranged the combs on the brocade, some of which had come loose from random abuse from my cat, Blackie.

After giving Blackie a good talking-to (which did no good at all), Mom re-sewed the combs to the brocade, and we hung it a lot higher. They make a great conversation piece, and they are definitely unique.

Conclusion

If you are interested in collecting antique hair combs, you might want to check out this web site: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Pointe/5350/.

You may also be able to scare some up at online auction sites: www.ebay.com and www.yahoo.com/auctions. Happy hunting!

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