COMBS

July 11, 2007 – 5:28 pm

COMBS
 The Origin Of Combs
[[Combs]] have been on the scene ever since humans had hair on his head. Which is quite sometime? The date perhaps goes beyond the time of the Old Stone Age. Man being man and not a lion would not be content to let his mane run wild and free. So he had to find some ways to tame it. First on the list of combing operations must have been the use of fingers. So in a way the fingers are the first combs of history.

A comb is a solid tool, usually flat and always with teeth. It is used for caring for human hair and cleaning other fluffy stuff like fiber. The etymology goes back to ancient Greece and Sanskrit meaning tooth or to bite. Among tools perhaps it is the oldest. Exquisite combs have been found digging up the ancient Persian Empire going back about 5000 years and at the time of the first Indo-European migrations. Many of the historical combs can be seen in museums. In the Hermitage Museum there is an exquisitely carved comb belonging to the Scythian period ca 400 BC termed the Salokha comb. On the head are depicted three human figures, one being on horseback, about to kill an animal.
Combs were not always used for cosmetic purpose. It was used to comb out hair parasites like lice that took shelter in human hair. The fact is that as yet, no traditional civilization has yet been found that did not use combs! If you share combs then you have to share parasites also. Parasites love traveling from scalp to scalp via the comb route. Parasites travel in groups with families and eggs. Thus a comb is extremely popular with lice, fleas, mites and fungus. Sometimes the matter becomes serious because the comb is said to have been a carrier for the Black Plague, that finished off nearly one third of Europe in the Middle Ages. There are special nit combs and flea combs to tackle the menace of macroscopic vermin.
   
The comb may be turned into a musical instrument by stringing across its teeth the leaf of a plant or a thin piece of paper. Humming on it with cropped lips produce a heavenly ethereal sound. This principle is used in a musical instrument called the kazoo. The shape, material and length of the teeth determine the harmonic qualities of the comb.
Police investigators love combs. This is the first item they will seek in the crime scene. From the comb they will carefully collect samples of hair and dandruff for clues. The latest DNA testing procedure makes the hair on the comb an important item for proving or disproving accusations.
Some experts on hair care are of the opinion at it is best to use combs with wide teeth instead of hairbrushes and plastic combs having fine teeth. Wooden combs are supposed to anti-static without sharp seams. This prevents snapping and tangling of hair. The hairbrush continues to be popular. It is bigger than the usual comb and is used for managing and styling hair.
Combs have been frequently mentioned in many religious books. Among Hindus, during the period of mourning the family is not supposed to brush, comb or oil the hair. For some groups this continues for a fortnight. After the last rites the men shave off their hair while the women get back to the earnest job of combing the tangled mass. Indian mendicants take the vow of not combing their matted locks. It dangles in knotty splendour and revered by all. In mythology the River Ganga splashed on to the matted locks of Lord Shiva to find shelter and support.
Combs are universal and no corner of the globe is without it. But each has its own style and use of special material. Wooden combs are still quite common in village fairs in Asia. Usually these are made of boxwood and wood of cherry and pine trees. The best wooden combs are made by hand and polished. Some combs are made from the horns of buffalos. The early ones were made from ivory and bones. Silver, gold, tin and brass were also used. Tortoise shell and horn combs were more pliable and soft than other ones as these could be easily moulded. Generally combs are shaped from the raw material specific to the locality. It has its down side. The Chinese Kingfisher’s exquisite turquoise feathers were used to make classy combs and led to the near extinction of the species. The collector of African combs will be able to identify the locale from the wood used in each specific comb.
When the sentiments for ivory was getting two strong and supply becoming low, two brothers, Isaiah and John Hyatt in 1869 after playing around in the laboratory for some time discovered celluloid.  The first plastic consisted of nitrocellulose and camphor. A revolution was kicked off in the world of combs. They became cheaper and faster to make while keeping up the appearances of ivory and tortoise shell. It meant good news to the animals that got a breather to comb the nature reserves without fear. 
In USA one Enoch Noyes opened a mini shop selling combs made from cattle horns. A German named Cleland joined him with technical know how and tools. Within few years a number of skilled horn smiths found employment under them. Leominster in Massachusetts came to be known since then as the Comb Capital of the country.
Combs are no longer the prerogative of humans. All one has to do is to pay a visit to the pet shop. There are various types of combs and brushes for cats, dogs and horses. There are different varieties specific to each family of dogs and cats. 
Combing has an acupuncture effect. The nerves get stimulated. Holistic medicine practitioners strongly advise the use of combs to get over a feeling of depression. To come back to a feeling of well being with a bounce just vigorously comb your hair. For the best effect keep changing the comb so that the teeth are sharp and pointed for the required results. To avoid infection it is best to observe comb hygiene. Like the toothbrush there should be a separate comb for each individual.     
Collectors can share interesting experiences. One collected a delicate honey-amber coloured piece with 21 teeth still intact, from an African flea market! A woman’s crowning glory is her cascade of long tresses. The comb not only smoothes it out but also can be used to keep it in place. Some were carved and decorated with rhinestones. In yesteryears men fell in love with the rippling long tresses of women. Another big sized comb with its back broken off had its top made of rhinestone. It came from a church white elephant sale.
  
Research in combs is still relatively new but efforts are on to rope in enthusiasts and scholars to find out more about the oldest tool in the history of mankind. This led to the formation of a club in 1993, The Antique Comb Collector’s Club. It is a non-profit organization intense in its search to comb the past for information and antique pieces.

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