This is an elaborately carved lady’s tortoise shell hair comb. It was worn and donated by Elizabeth Ferguson McDowell. She immigrated from Ireland with her parents, Joseph and Jane Kyle Ferguson. Later she lived close to Bolton’s store, which is now Ed Bordett’s Studio in Fincastle. The comb has a very high gallery or head and nine teeth to securely hold it in place. Decorative hair combs were an essential part of a 19th century woman’s wardrobe. They were used to adorn women’s coiffures and help them achieve the fashionable upswept hairdos popular at the time. In “Godey’s Lady Book,” an American women’s magazine, the popularity of tortoise shell combs was publicized in 1840. Despite being expensive, tortoise shell was popular because of its beautifully mottled appearance, durability and organic warmth against the skin. The shell of the large hawksbill turtle was most popular and used for centuries. Because of the exploitation of the hawksbill turtle, it became critically endangered and the use of its shell was banned in 1973. There are other shell combs on display next to this one in the Botetourt Museum of History and Culture. It is located in Fincastle at 26 East Main Street. Visit the website for more information, bothistsoc.Wordpress.com.
~ Botetourt Museum of History and Culture
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