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Object NameComb
DescriptionHair comb. Cellulose Nitrate, which is commonly known as Celluloid after the most famous material trade name, was the first semi-synthetic plastic material. It was discovered by John Wesley Hyatt in 1868. Celluloid was originally developed as a substitute for ivory in the production of billiard balls. The darker lines running through the material are intended to duplicate the natural graining of ivory. One of the first large-volume uses for celluloid, in comb-making centers such as Leominster, Massachusetts, was as a replacement for cow horn in the production of combs. Previously combs and other toiletry and grooming items were typically made of ivory, horn, tortoiseshell, and metals. Celluloid or the other plastics made of cellulose nitrate marketed under different names were widely used as a replacement for natural materials due to their lesser expense to manufacture. Combs like this one imitated ivory in color, though the regularity of the striations reveals its true material. Cellulose nitrate combs were made in the time period of 1880-1935. This comb was probably produced sometime between 1900 and 1910 since later combs were not as thick. In 1934 handmade combs of this type began to be replaced by injection molded combs.
Date Manufactured1900- 1910
MaterialCellulose Nitrate
Manufacturing ProcessCombs were made from celluloid sheet cut with blanking press in to comb-shaped blanks tha t were then worked by machine and hands to make finished products. “Teeth were formed either by cutting out the waste material between, or in a “twinning” procedure more economical of material, by cutting a wide zigzag down the middle of a double blank that separated to form two combs.” Jeffrey Meikle, American Plastic, p. 24
Number of Objects1
Accession Number2010.041
DonorOn deposit from Glenn and Patsy Beall.
Broad SubjectPersonal Care and Toiletries
For More InformationPlease address inquires to the Public Services Librarian, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library (e-mail:, tel. 315-443-2697).
RightsPublication of images from the Special Collections Research Center is subject to approval and fees may be charged for such use. Publication includes the following media: print, electronic/digital, videotape, film, or microfilm. Permission to use images must be obtained in advance and in writing from the Special Collections Research Center by writing to or going to . These fees are separate from any which might be assigned/assessed by the copyright holder.


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