Playthings and Curios: Historic Inuit Art at the Canadian Museum 
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According to Jenness, among the Copper Inuit "combs were not highly regarded. Many women employed their fingers instead and those who did possess combs, used them only rarely" (Jenness, p.59). In contrast, Boas reports that "ivory combs are very much used by the tribes on the west coast of Hudson Bay ... most of the modern combs have etched designs or other forms of elaborate decoration" (Boas, 1964, p.108).

The carving and decorating of combs were certainly included in the tasks expected of a hunter-husband. Some of the combs are plain in form and lacking any decoration; others are more intricately shaped and embellished with incised designs such as the circle/dot pattern.

Almost every collection from the various regions of the Arctic represented in the CMC collection includes combs. Since these combs are often attached to a needle case, and are quite small, it is possible that they were used in the preparation of skins, as well as for combing hair. Mathiassen features several combs in his report on the material culture of the Iglulik Inuit. He claims that combs were used for dressing the hair and combing out the lice (Mathiassen, p.209).

The hairdos in some regions were quite elaborate, featuring, for example, a bun at the back, with two braids folded over the ears and joining the knot behind. Was this accomplished with the help of these very small combs?

Boas, Franz
[1888] 1964 – The Central Eskimo. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Jenness, Diamond
1946 – The material Culture of the Copper Eskimo. Report of the Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913–1918, vol. XVI.

Mathiassen, Therkel
1928 – Material Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921–24, vol.VI, no.1.

Comb, 1877?
Kangiqsualujjuaq (Whale River) ? , Nunavik
2.5 x 3.8 x 0.2 cm
CMC IV-B-1052
Collected by Dr. Robert Bell
during fieldwork on behalf of
the Geological Survey of Canada
  Comb Top

There is a whole series of small, elegant combs such as this in Bell's collection. The two openings in the upper part were perhaps designed to allow a better grip. The user could have put two fingers through these openings while combing hair or removing lice.

Hair Comb Hair Comb, 1915
Area around Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut
Ivory with black colouring
7.2 x 2.9 x 0.4 cm
CMC IV-C-1035
Collected by Danish anthropologist Christian Leden during his expedition to the Keewatin from 1913 to 1916


Leden lists this specifically as a hair comb, even though it is hard to imagine that it was used as such. None of the teeth are missing. The elegant decoration and the comb's pristine condition point to the possibility that it may have been made as a model to be put on a grave.