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Unusually Large Tortoiseshell Comb
first half of the 19th century
height: 18cm, width: 17cm (across) or 21cm (around)
This unusually large and rather spectacular curved comb of pierced and engraved tortoiseshell was made in southern China in the first part of the nineteenth
century most probably for export to Europe. It is one of the largest such combs we have seen, and has been cut and carved from a single large sheet of shell.
The panel that comprises the grip is pierced and decorated with peonies, foliage and seed pods. Peonies symbolise nobility and feminine beauty in Chinese
art, and seed pods signify prosperity and fertility. The motifs are cut, faceted and engraved.
The top of the comb has been cut and carved with a row of lotus plants each with a single bloom on a tall stem. Traditionally, the lotus symbolised purity and
perfection because its blooms rise from the mud in an untainted, beautiful state.
There are 21 long teeth.
This large comb is in pristine condition. The tortoiseshell is pleasingly mottled. It was acquired from an old English collection.
Cruse, J., The Comb: Its History and Development, Robert Hale Ltd, 2007.
The comb was part of a collection built up over a long lifetime by an elderly collector in Worcestershire, England.
Provenance: UK art market
Inventory no.: 2785
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