Hair combs were an important part of women's hairstyling in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and they served both decorative and practical purposes. Throughout these years women primarily wore their hair up in styles that ranged from practically simple to outrageously ornate. Hair combs could be used to help secure these styles, and also adorn them, sometimes in addition to other hair accessories such as ribbons and flowers.
Hair combs could be worn throughout the day and there was much variety in how ornate they were. Tortoise-shell combs, or combs made of horn to imitate tortoise-shell, were the most popular, but they could also be made of metal, or decorated with jewels. From straight pins to fanciful crowned combs, the different designs were endless.
More than three dozen hair combs in a variety of shapes belonging to four generations of the Young family survive in the Locust Grove collection today.
On the left Hylah Bevier Hasbrouck - in an 1826 portrait by Ammmi Phillips - wears a curved hair comb. Hylah's great-granddaughter, Annette Young, founded the museum at Locust Grove to preserve five generations of her family's collections.
Hair comb. American, early 19th-century. Large and deeply curved comb made of tortoise-shell with a plain rectangular crown. Similar to the one worn by Hylah Bevier Hasbrouck in the portrait above.
Hair comb. American, 19th century. Circular comb with a carved edge, made of clarified cow horn.
Hair comb. American, 19th century. Comb with a tall carved crown over curved teeth, made of cow horn colored to imitate tortoise-shell.
Two hair combs. American or European, late 19th century. Each narrow crown with carved scrolls.
Hair comb. American or European, 19th century. In the form of a tiara, with pierced decoration. Probably clarified cow horn.
Pair of hair pins. American, late 19th century. Each with two long teeth and a crown with spokes topped with balls.
Hair pin. American or European, late 19th century. Brass wire teeth, decorated with a butterfly of tortoise-shell mounted on a spring so it can "flutter".
Hair comb. American or European, late 19th-century. Hinged crown over the teeth, decorated with a graduated set of pierced arches.