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Michael Bachman Ltd.

Ivory & Gold Hair Comb, probably Zanzibar, c. 1800
Middle East
18th-19th c.
length: 12.5 cm; width: 5.5 cm

A fine and extremely rare ivory comb that is a beautiful example of what is most likely Islamic East African craftsmanship. Cut from a single piece of ivory, it has sixteen prongs and is inlaid on both sides with chased gold plaques. There are no losses either to the gold or the ivory. The combination of ivory and inlaid gold disks and bands is typical of Zanzibari work.

A sword with a related hilt inlaid with gold plaques identical to those on this comb was offered for sale by Sotheby’s London, ‘Arts of the Islamic World’, April 5, 2006, lot no. 158.

Most likely used to comb long, wet hair to help with the drying process, the comb undoubtedly was an item of considerable prestige for a high-ranking Muslim woman and probably was given as a wedding gift.

Zanzibar, a small island off the east coast of Africa, has a long association with maritime trade. In 1698 it was brought under control of the Busaidi family, who ruled the Sultanate of Oman. Clove, ivory and slave trading in Zanzibar made the Omanis rich and in the 1840s, the seat of the sultanate was moved from Muscat in Oman to Zanzibar. Palaces and mansions were constructed, many in a Middle Eastern style.

all text & images Michael Bachman Ltd.

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