Hair Comb

Manufacturer: Manufactured by India Rubber Comb Company

Patentee: Patented by Charles Goodyear (1800–1860)

Date: ca. 1851

Medium: Vulcanite (India rubber and sulfur)

Dimensions: 4 1/4 x 4 1/2 in. (10.8 x 11.4 cm)

Classification: Jewelry

Credit Line: Purchase, Susan and Jon Rotenstreich Gift, 2000

Accession Number: 2000.561


Among the exotic foreign materials used in the production of jewelry was tortoiseshell, which derived from the back of the hawk's-bill turtle. Imported by ship from India and China, tortoiseshell was popular for use in combs, watchcases, and jewelry items such as necklaces and bracelets. During the nineteenth century, substitute materials were developed as well. These included dyed horn, celluloid, and Vulcanite. Vulcanite was produced by treating natural or India rubber with sulfur, then exposing it to moderate heat. The resultant material was elastic enough to be fashioned into the desired shape while warm, but became hard and durable once cooled. Developed by Charles Goodyear (1800–1860) in 1836 and patented by him in 1844, vulcanization revolutionized the rubber industry. Contemporary passion for innovation fueled interest in Vulcanite jewelry, the most common items being combs, such as this six-toothed example ornamented with an applied linked chain. The comb is marked on its backside "I. R. COMB CO" and "GOODYEAR 1851."