Page 28 Excerpt from
Antique Combs and Purses
by Evelyn Haertig
with photography by Milt Haertig
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 Section I ~ Chapter 2

Comb making in America developed in part at least from three oddly related factors; the harsh new England winter, the release of a mercenary Hessian following the British defeat in the American Revolution, and the loss of the British market for imported combs.

During the long winter months which prohibited working the land, farmers turned to comb making as a means of supplementing their incomes. There was a steady demand for combs of both the decorative and utilitarian types and the Revolution created a vacuum which had to be filled. Enter the enterprising Yankee who ultimately overtook the market by creating a superior product at lower price, though the Europeans continued to manufacture and export fine combs to the United States for nearly a century.It must be kept in mind that all women, with out exception wore their hair long. Such styles required numerous pins, combs and ornaments, and a great deal of time and attention was lavished on the maintenance and embellishment of these tresses. Men of the upper classes wore wigs and long hair was fashionable for most men, so the comb was an essential toilet article for everyone regardless of sex or social station.It is difficult for us for whom the comb is such a commonplace thing to imagine a time when the lowly comb was so highly prized that it was specifically mentioned in estate settlements and was considered so valuable that we read, "In 1653 Captain Edward Hull, a pirate, robbed a trading station at Block Island owned by one Captain Kempo Sebarda, and among other goods stole one hundred of Combs, 2 lbs. 10 shillings." and in 1666, Nicholas Vanden, a servant who ran away from his master, Robert Cross, of Ipswich, was accused of "beaken open a cheast steelin' a come cost 12 pence money."

These early combs were invariably made of three materials; horn, tortoise shell, or ivory, and they were often works of art intended to last several lifetimes,and they did!

As the domestic manufacture of ivory combs was limited due to the exotic nature of the material and the difficulties in working ivory, it is best to examine the two remaining natural substances in detail, returning later to consider ivory.

Most authorities credit Enoch Noyes of West Newbury, Massachusetts, as the founder of the comb industry in the United States, although Doyle in his book, Comb Making in America (Perry Walton, Boston, 1926), mentions a certain Captain Robert Cook of Needham, Massachusetts, as a "horn breaker and comb maker" a few years prior to 1759 when it is thought Noyes cut his first horn comb in that town.Little is known about Cook's comb making, but he was a captain of the Colonial militia and served his town and country in many political capacities such as selectman for a number of years, a treasurer for thirteen, and represent- ative to the General Court for three terms. It is not surprising that such an active public life left him little time to engage in the less profitable comb making occupation.Noyes, however, devoted his full energies to making combs which he sold to the townspeople. He was joined in his efforts by a former Hessian soldier named William Cleland who had brought his comb making tools with him from Germany, as it was the custom of the mercenaries to carry the tools of their trade with them in the hope of making " a little money on the side." Cleland taught Noyes how to make more sophisticated combs than those which he had cut with a pen knife and hatchet. Both men ultimately used a variety of hand tools with great skill in their basement shop.

Of the various kinds of animal horns available to Noyes and other comb makers, it was found that steer horn was the most suitable. Readily and cheaply obtained, least brittle and thinner than other horn such as buffalo, oxen, antelope, deer, etc., it was more easily shaped and clarified. Originally, comb makers purchased cow and steer horns from neighbouring farmers and later obtained them from the slaughter

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