Ann Hull’s Comb
Ann McCurdy Hart Hull was the wife of USS Constitution’s Captain Isaac Hull and this large tortoiseshell hair comb, dating from the 1820s, belonged to her. Ann and Isaac met sometime in the autumn of 1812, and they married on January 2, 1813, when Isaac was enjoying his newfound celebrity from Constitution‘s victory over HMS Guerriere. According to family lore, Isaac gave this comb to Ann as a gift. It is carved with an intricate motif of flowers and fish, arranged in horizontal bands that link the worlds of land and sea together.
Tortoiseshell combs gained popularity in the 1820s alongside a shift in women’s hairstyle and fashion. Women’s fashion, which was once classically austere, assumed a new exuberance after the War of 1812. As gowns began to blossom with applied decorations and enormous sleeves in the 1820s and 1830s, hairdressers created complex hairstyles to complement the dresses. Rather than drawing their locks back into a tight bun or rolling a few artfully placed side curls, women now braided and teased their hair up into towering topknots. A shining, graceful tortoiseshell comb often formed the finishing touch.
Primarily made from the carapaces (shells) of hawksbill sea turtles, tortoiseshell is a material that can be heated and molded into a variety of shapes. Combs like Ann Hull’s frequently featured intricately cut filigree or chased designs.