October 11, 2014

Hair Comb History Highlight #8: Ivory and French Ivory Combs

Paul Follot, Ivory and Mother of Pearl comb, circa 1905-1910 - Musée d'Orsay
Though beautiful, ivory is a terrible material. Lets face it, no comb (or jewelry, or trophy on your wall) is worth the death of an elephant. None the less, ivory was a very popular material for combs during their Edwardian heyday and going back centuries before that too. Thankfully with the inventions of celluloid and other early plastics comb makers began to use 'french ivory' which was basically faux ivory made of such plastics. 

These combs may be beautiful, but like their tortoiseshell companions, are another reminder of humans doing their best to make other species go extinct. Still, we can admire them for their beautiful style, lines, and design and be glad that this material has been banned in the years since. Now with modern plastics and resins there would be no reason to ever use real ivory in any application, and we can make similarly beautiful off-white combs without having to sacrifice elephants in the process.

Comb Made in Spain, Europe 19th century Artist/maker unknown, Spanish
Renaissance Revival Continental ivory hair comb
c1880-1900 carved ivory comb close-up
Ivory hair comb with greek key motif. 1880s-1920
c1880-1900 carved ivory comb, Chinese made for western trade
Egyptian Revival comb made from French ivory

French Ivory comb with white and yellow rhinestones, art deco
1910-1920, French Ivory Art Deco hair comb in the Egyptian Revival taste
Japanese french ivory comb showing western art deco influence
Art Deco French Ivory Hair Comb with French Jet and Gilding
I have yet to find an affordable french ivory comb to add to my own collection. Wouldn't one of these make for the most elegant bridal accessory? How I long to open my own line of combs and give modern brides another option besides real vintage combs or the modern fascination with tiaras. Not that I don't also love a good tiara...


  1. I'm torn on beautiful ivory things, because of the source. I don't think I could be comfortable owning one, despite the age of them. A reproduction line in something more ethical would be fabulous.

    1. I feel the same way Tanith, I would just feel too bad for the animals!


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