American Curry Combs: History & Identification

This was initially published in the 2011 Jan/Feb issue of North South Trader’s Civil War Magazine. The culmination of a fifteen year passion and effort, I was significantly assisted by resarch materials provided by my old Yankee friend Ralph Emerson Jr. – I consider it one of my best works and humbly dedicate it to him. Ken R Knopp

                                                    AMERICAN MILITARY CURRY COMBS

                                                    THEIR HISTORY AND IDENTIFICATION

                                                                   By Ken R Knopp

                                                   With assistance by Ralph Emerson Jr.

If there is one article of military material culture that has languished in obscurity and neglect it is certainly the curry comb. Overwhelmed by confusing multiple patterns, hampered by little historical documentation, even less understanding and no respect as a collector’s item, the lowly curry comb has sadly been relegated to the junk box of indifference. To the “equine challenged” the curry comb is of unclear purpose appearing archaic if not downright abusive to horses. Yet for centuries the rubbing down of the horse with curry combs and hand brushes was regarded as essential to the animals general health and condition as well as appearance. As a primary grooming tool the curry comb was originally used to remove caked mud, dried manure, sweat, matted and dried hair from the coat and as a means to discourage parasites and finally, to massage the underlying muscles. This is how it was generally employed by the military of the 19th century. However, to prevent skin injury by the early 20th century British military orders and there is evidence the Americans too, dictated that the curry comb no longer be used directly on the horse but only as a tool to clean the horse brush while grooming. 1. Unfortunately, this clearly lead to its being deemed unnecessary, soon ignored and then, eventually forgotten.


Relative to horse grooming, the word “curry” was already being used in the late 12th century. It is an English word taken from the French meaning “to put in order, prepare or arrange.” Curry combs as we know them today, first appear in contemporary European drawings as early as the mid-13th century. (Figure A.) Ensuing English illustrations and excavations suggest their appearance remained relatively consistent into the 16th century. The more modern concept of a square back comb with knockers and multiple rows of teeth appears in the French “First Modern Encyclopedia” of 1751 but likely predates that time. (Figure B) At first, curry combs were fabricated by hand and not cheaply made for the masses but rather, well constructed and sometimes even decorative- designed for sale to the wealthy class but this soon changed. The English led the way with innovations to the evolution of the curry comb including the attachment of a mane comb directly to the curry comb in 1798 and, the invention of a machine to cut the comb teeth in 1799. 2.         


The industrial Revolution that began in 18th century England subsequently spread through Europe, North America and then the world. Manufacturing became prolific across northern England in the early 19th century with some areas becoming centers of influence such as Manchester for textiles, Northhampton for leather; Birmingham for iron and metal products and all of it augmented by the coal industry centered in South Wales. At first, these industries were dependent upon little workshops employing small numbers of skilled craftsman operating looms, presses, stamps and lathes by hand but soon the advent of factory based, steam powered machinery greatly influenced production. Many of the English towns and small villages of the era were hubs of specialized manufacturing. Birmingham, the “city of a thousand trades” was the world’s leading manufacturer of metal ware, but other goods were made there as well. Near Birmingham was Wolverhampton where the door lock trade had its center and Wallsall, which was the world’s manufacturing center for leather horse equipment and saddle lorinery (hardware- bits, spurs, stirrups, etc.) from the late 1700’s until just after WWI. 3. The leading English curry comb manufacturers were located nearby in Willenhall. Throughout the late 18th early part of the 19th century English made combs were considered the highest quality and exported to America in large numbers.

In Willenhall, James Carpenter was an iconic figure. He started making ironmongery in 1795 and patented several door locks and then in 1815, a curry comb. (Photo C) Sometime in the early part of the 19th century Carpenter promulgated another unique curry comb design that would become the preeminent civilian pattern of the 19th century. American manufacturers patented several of their own designs but it was Carpenter’s “333” pattern that has the distinction of being widely copied by American makers prior to the Civil War including being used as a model for Federal military contract made combs. 4. (Photo D)



MEXICAN WAR THRU DRAGOON ERA: No official mention of curry combs are found in the 1841 nor the 1850 Ordnance Manuals. Documentation during the Mexican War on the subject is scant but indicates three hundred dozen of an unknown pattern were contracted from the Philadelphia firm of Price Newlin & Co. 5. The first indication of an official army pattern comb was not until 1856 when Major Peter V. Hagner commander of the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia, where much of the pre war military equipment manufacturing was centered, was authorized by the war department to purchase two thousand curry combs. It is clear from his correspondence that the only pattern Hagner was adamant about receiving was “Carpenter’s No. 333”. However, he had difficulty in fulfilling such a large order. As a result he contracted with three different firms but had to wait for some of the combs to be imported from England. In the end, the order was apparently filled to satisfaction with the “333” but Hagner had to settle for at least 20 dozen of another unclear pattern described as, “8 bars, C 16”, which he was told were “equal in quality to Carpenters” No. 333. 6. (Photos E & F) :

Three years later in December of 1859 Hagner had become dissatisfied with the quality of much of the horse equipment then available and purchased under contract. He was particularly critical of the iron combs (the “333”) made in England and was looking for a better way to furnish these needs in America. As with saddle trees, bits, stirrups and other malleable iron products made under contract, Hagner proposed moving to more consistent “Government manufacture” for these items (such as that recently with the McClellan equipments). As for curry combs, heretofore, Hagner had “taken every occasion to procure and recommend only that known as the best brand, Carpenter’s No. 333“. Now, writing to Chief of Ordnance Col. H.K. Craig, he became convinced this item could be made at “our Arsenals” in better quality by using steel plate instead of iron and as he says, “changing a little the style of manufacture at a small increase in price. Thus effect …the home-supplying of this article” 7.

Hagner began working earnestly on a new pattern. A month later several samples of current and proposed patterns were sent to Chief of Ordnance H K Craig who endorsed Hagner’s idea. The result was the M1859 pattern as described in the 1861 Ordnance Manual. 8. (PHOTO I) In the meantime, the inevitability of the war that was looming on the horizon was not lost upon the officers of the Federal Ordnance Department. A flurry of manufacturing, maneuvering and stockpiling of arms and equipment activity took place over the next year some of it for curry combs. Ironically, in March 1861 some fifty dozen of this, the U.S. Army’s first official pattern curry comb, were ordered by Capt Josiah Gorgas in surely one of his last official duties to the old army before resigning to become Confederate Chief of Ordnance. 10

Early in the war the Federal Ordnance Department was under tremendous pressure to arm and equip the fast assembling volunteer troops. First prioritizing arms and other equipment, curry combs were no doubt, low on the list of necessities. They filled the void by contracting copies of the “333” comb and buying wide varieties of combs off the civilian market. Which accounts for the large number of 333 knock offs and other non-descript commercial combs excavated from war time sites. However, by late summer 1862 the Federal Ordnance Department was ready to address the issue of large scale manufacture of curry combs and an entirely new pattern. (Photo H)
 One of the more prolific American makers of curry combs in the 19th century was the firm of A.A. Hotchkiss & Sons of Sharon Valley, Conn. Best known for his famous “Hotchkiss Shell” the incredible, almost fairytale story of the young, invalid inventor and genius Andrew Hotchkiss is worthy of another study. 9. Yet while well known for his rifled cannon projectiles Hotchkiss was also one of America’s largest makers of curry combs. In the 1840’s he “adopted” a comb pattern similar in appearance to the English Carpenter “333” pattern which he sold successfully in the civilian market. Then in 1849 and again in 1856 he patented his own unique curry combs. (Photo G) Activities which no doubt, brought him to the attention of the Ordnance Department. Since 1859 Major Hagner had been working closely with Hotchkiss & Co. to develop military combs including the M1859 and they now considered a new pattern. It is not exactly clear who invented the newest comb but it is certain Hotchkiss had significant influence. In any event, the result was the M1862 curry comb known hereafter as the “US”, “Y” pattern or Government comb.

That September, the Ordnance Bureau’s chief Gen. J. W Ripley, asked the Hotchkiss company to send samples of two grades of their best cast steel “US pattern” combs in various stages of manufacture to enable the Department to make rules for the inspection of the article. The correspondence suggests that this new pattern was not yet official nor in full production but, soon would be. Then on September 19th Ripley ordered Capt S. Crispin in New York to immediately purchase one hundred and fifty thousand of the “Hotchkiss No. 76 pattern” packed in cases of two hundred each- clearly meaning the new M1862 government pattern. (Photo J) Hotchkiss had also recently provided five thousand of the old M1859 pattern and had five thousand more readily available. Crispin was obviously not pleased with the new pattern pointing out among other things, that the shank handle of the Hotckiss comb was weak and easily broken. In its place Crispin respectfully suggested Ripley reconsider another government pattern- that made by the Allegheny Arsenal. 11.

Despite the fact that the M1859 had been given the government’s official blessing, the Allegheny Arsenal, known for their self appointed independence, went into production with their own curry comb in March 1861. Described as an “open back” curry comb with a “strong, well modelled handle-shank” its pattern is simple and very similar to other civilian combs of the period. In subsequent discussion with Crispin, Ripley thought that while the open back pattern of the Allegheny Arsenal comb was “preferable” he still favored the “US’ pattern telling Crispin…”the steel of the Hotchkiss is lighter and gives a cleaner look and better finish.” For uncertain reasons the Allegheny pattern would prove inadequate. Relatively few of this pattern were made with only 13, 318 manufactured at that arsenal during the war and none after June 1863. Although it remains likely that other firms also provided the “US” pattern comb during the war, it is clear Ripley also considered the superior manufacturing abilities and capacity of Hotchkiss & Sons. In any event, the army finally settled upon the M1862 or “Y” pattern comb. Thereafter, many tens of thousand were made by Hotchkiss and other firms for issue in the Union army. 12. (Allegheny Comb: PHOTO Y)

In addition to the two official government combs, other comb patterns were also purchased under contract. For example, a fine, heavy duty comb designed by Sarah Jane Wheeler, the first women in Connecticut to receive a patent, was made and issued in considerable numbers. This comb was simply but heavily constructed, utilitarian and cheap- perfect for mass production. Another pattern that was ordered for trial basis in August 1863 was a “flexible back” comb patented by John W Rockwell of Connecticut. The flexible back comb was unique. Rather than an iron back it had a back made of thick, oak tanned harness leather with the eight bars of steel teeth attached by rivets then clenched over the ends and, a leather hand strap instead of a handle of iron and wood. One thousand were ordered for trial. While it is not clear how they were received by troopers in the field nor, if any more were ordered, this was the very first of a leather back military comb that was subsequently adopted by the army in 1885 and used in various configurations until 1913. 13. (Photos K & L, M)

Unfortunately, it is probably impossible to know how many different curry comb patterns were issued by the army nor, how many combs were manufactured by or for the government. No doubt it would number in the hundreds of thousands. While there were only two official government patterns certainly other patterns were procured too. However, this is all somewhat muddled by the fact that the army sought out innovations and adopted or converted civilian patterns as readily as they oversaw the evolution of the government ones.


(See PHOTOS: T, U, V & W)
 For the Union Army, the procurement of curry combs posed little real problem for the mighty Northern industrial base as most American curry comb producers of the era were located in the northeastern and New England states. On the other hand, with little iron production capacity, the South had to rely on an antiquated and now suddenly overwhelmed manufacturing system. At the beginning of the war they were forced to draw almost entirely upon curry comb purchases from the available stock in local saddleries, harness shops and hardware merchants. In fact, few if any contracts appear to have been let for the manufacture of combs until early 1863. The most notable exception to this was the significant numbers of curry combs and horse brushes made at the Augusta Arsenal beginning around the summer of 1862 and shipped all over the Confederacy. Unfortunately, these proved to be very poorly made and in fact, it was these defective Augusta Arsenal curry combs that contributed to the resignation of one of the South’s key Ordnance officers. 14.
When Richmond’s Superintendent Of Armories, Major W. S. Downer began advertising for contractors to manufacture trooper’s horse equipment in early 1863, two of the most important items on his list were curry combs and horse brushes. That spring, contracts were let with several commercial suppliers for over 40,000 combs of which, some 33,000 were delivered by the end of the year. It was these curry combs, contracted and delivered in 1863 that were to provide the bulk of the Army of Northern Virginia issues for the entire war. Richmond’s biggest supplier of curry combs and, the single largest wartime source for all of the South was the Augusta Arsenal. 15
 In the first half of 1863, over 11,000 Augusta combs had been received in Richmond; however, due to a bureaucratic oversight they were not inspected either at Augusta nor upon their delivery in Richmond. Ostensibly, both arsenals thought the other would make the inspection. When this oversight error was realized there were already large numbers of sub-standard curry combs on hand which generated no small amount of recrimination among bureau officers. Although the defective workmanship was recognized fairly quickly, the large numbers on hand and the great demand for curry combs forced them to be quietly issued regardless of quality. However, that autumn the controversy re-surfaced with a vengeance when a letter of complaint about horse equipment including these shabby grooming tools, was received from a field officer and endorsed by Gen. R. E. Lee’s Chief of Ordnance, Lt. Col. Briscoe Baldwin: “ the curry combs and brushes are so inferior that it is impossible to groom the horses with them even when new…..the curry combs especially are so weak that the least thing breaks them.” 16.

An official inquiry launched into the matter involved several high ranking bureau officers. It was eventually determined that these flawed grooming tools had been manufactured at Augusta. Yet in spite of the fact that renown Augusta Arsenal commander Colonel Washington Rains had originated the contract, the blame for their receipt and continued issue fell squarely upon Downer’s office in Richmond. The subsequent incrimination and public censure by Chief of Ordnance Colonel Gorgas that January 1864, coming so close on the heels of another horse equipment debacle, that of the issue of inferior Jenifer saddles, sorely wounded the Major Downer’s pride and ultimately contributed to his resignation about a month later. 17.

With the South’s largest source of curry combs disgraced and a decreasing number of outside contractors capable of sustained iron production, supplies dried up very quickly. Colonel Gorgas desperately searched for well-made combs from the western arsenals, but apparently, with little or no success. A few new contracts were let in the autumn of 1864 but with the Confederacy suffering shortages of raw materials at all levels of supply, their eventual delivery fell dismally short of expectations.

Much less is known about curry combs manufactured in the western Confederacy. Like the east, with few exceptions most early war acquisitions were from existing commercial stocks, however these yielded relatively small numbers. By 1863, the seven major Western arsenals were issuing a small number of curry combs, but it is not clear how they appeared nor in what numbers. Records for the arsenals at Atlanta and Augusta provide the only available clues. From March through December 1863, the Atlanta Arsenal “received” 3,174 combs including nearly a thousand sent from Richmond. Of these over 1,300 were issued. Once again, Augusta appears to be the region’s largest single provider during the war, shipping over 10,100 combs to several western ordnance facilities including those at Fayettville and Charleston. However, since each arsenal largely controlled its own local manufacturing efforts, their comb patterns, construction and quantities were inconsistent and sadly remain unidentifiable. 18.
 Little more is specifically known about curry comb manufacturing in the west but by the spring of 1864, the production of all manner of horse equipment was painfully inadequate. In reply to criticism by General Joseph Wheeler’s Chief of Ordnance, Atlanta commander Moses Wright defended his efforts, “on the subject of saddles, etc. I can only state, that we give you everything in our power and surely thought that we had issued spurs enough for half the army, much less the cavalry, and curry combs, I think we send nearly all called for…..We have not unlimited resources and the army must bear with us with what we can do.” Unfortunately, supply in the West would continue to decline to the end of the war. 19.
Identifying the official Confederate curry comb is impossible. Simply put, there was none. Where the North fairly quickly determined a consistent pattern, the South wandered directionless with no official design or even guidance. The surviving historical record taken from Confederate correspondence variously describes a vague, “closed back” pattern curry comb of either six or eight iron (or sheet tin) “bars” of teeth. The wooden handle was made of ash with the tang of the iron handle shank “to come through the wooden handle & clinch on a burr.” 20. Excavated samples from Confederate sites are generally either common pre-war civilian designs, Federal patterns or, quite often, coarse imitations of both. Most show very crude iron and brass construction in a variety of patterns reflecting the autonomous nature of design and manufacturing at Southern arsenals. Few have survived.


With large surpluses on hand, it was not until the 1870’s that the U.S. army began exploring other patterns of combs for issue. A questionnaire seeking recommendations for changes to cavalry equipments including curry combs was submitted to cavalry field and command officers. A board of officers was convened in 1874 the partial result of which was the approval, manufacture and issue of a new comb- the M1874, patented by Major Lewis Merrill of the 7th Cavalry. An initial order of one hundred dozen was ordered in June 1876 with a larger order of five thousand that August. In July 1879 this pattern was modified by General Orders No. 76 to replace the single bar frame to the more sturdy and familiar “Y” frame similar in appearance to the M1862 pattern. Unfortunately, a serious charge of patent infringement from a key manufacturer relative to these patterns created a considerable amount of angst in the Ordnance Department over the next three years. Nevertheless, at least five thousand of this altered pattern were ultimately made but not until 1882. However, the trouble thus created caused the Ordnance Department to consider and manufacture other patterns including one designed in 1882 by A. Mordecai at the Watervliet Arsenal N.Y. that had a metal handle bent over the back of the comb. It is clear some of these were made for trial basis but, it does not appear they were made in large numbers. 21. (Photos and Drawings N, O & P)


US MILITARY COMBS OF THE 20TH CENTURY: PHOTO Q: M1904 flexible back comb. The military changed from black leather to russet in 1903. This fairly common comb was similar to the M1885 but now using russet leather and, four rivets on each side holding seven rows of teeth and one dust plate. In 1908 the army converted some of their M1904’s by attaching a swivel hoof pick designed by Capt. George Vidmer, 11th cavalry. The M1908 pattern is a very rare comb! Courtesy Ken McPheeters.

PHOTO R: M1912. Another flexible russet leather back comb but reduced in size by one fourth. It now had five rows of teeth and a dust plate, as well as a new attached swivel hoof pick designed by Sgt. Westbrook, Troop G, 15th cavalry. Photo courtesy Edgar Simon.

PHOTO S: M1913: The body was now made entirely of iron sometimes tin plated. A six bar comb with five rows of teeth and one dust plate and attached swivel hoof pick. The new hand strap was made of Olive Drab (OD) webbing (variations include leather straps). This appears to be the last model curry comb issued by the U.S. Army. Large numbers were made. Surplus of the M1913 were often bought by civilian commercial suppliers and re-configured. Some with metal handles. Courtesy Ken McPheeters


Although American patents of curry combs go back at least to the 1840’s the post civil war proliferation of the commercial saddlery and catalog trade saw an explosion of varieties and patterns of curry combs. All manner and types and of cast iron, brass and wire combs were invented for the prosperous and increasingly indulgent riding class in the last quarter of the 19th and early 20th century. Significant comb factories under names like Kellogg, Kohler, North & Judd and Fitch sprang up in places like Troy N.Y.; Canton, Oh; and Connecticut which served large retail outlets for horse “furnishings” located all over the country and in a quickly expanding mail order catalog trade. The only exceptionally innovative commercial design was the aptly named Reform Comb patented in 1896– the now familiar oval comb with a strap across the back and concentric circles of teeth on the business side. Its clones included Fitche’s Nuform of 1910 and the post-1920 North & Judd made Duplex, as well as numerous later versions in rubber and plastic.

Indeed, the rise and fall of the curry comb industry after the Civil War precisely mirrored the growth of the Horse and Buggy Age (along with improved roads) during the above period. Curry comb design and production boomed too. Although thousands were made of some patents and virtually none of others except prototypes, from 1872 to 1930 over three hundred and eighty Patents were granted for curry combs. The peak years were the 1870’s- 1880’s when one hundred and sixty seven Patents were granted. From 1890 to 1900 seventy-nine Patents were granted. In the ten years from 1910 through 1920 an ever dwindling seventy-two patents are recorded and then only eight in the 1930’s. By this time America was changing. The invention and afford ability of the automobile dramatically and quickly rendered the horse as obsolete and, their equipment suppliers increasingly less profitable and necessary. 22.

For centuries the horse was man’s primary mode of land based transportation. Sadly, in today’s digitalized, techno-driven computer age our understanding of 19th century horses, training methods, horse equipment construction techniques and purpose is being lost- perhaps forever. As trivial as it may appear, maybe now at least one long neglected, arcane and mis-understood military relic of that by-gone age has been saved from obscurity.


 Unfortunately, original un-excavated Civil War era curry combs are rare indeed. Those on display in museums, collections and for sale at militaria shows are usually “not” war time period but rather, post war commercial patterns. How could that be…? Confusing patterns. For example, the basic “Y” pattern comb originating in 1862 continuously evolved as a popular commercial pattern well into the 1960’s. Other commercial combs, even patented ones were often similar to early patterns. In addition to the distinct patterns noted herein there are three other ways to distinguish Civil War era and earlier curry combs.

1. Angle of the Handles: The handles on “most” war time and earlier combs were usually flat or, horizontal with the comb back. Beginning in the 1870’s commercial combs were increasingly made with step-ups or, angled handles.

2. Ornate Wooden Handles: Period combs had tapered- sometimes finely lathed or even ornate wooden handles of stained ash, poplar and oak. Military comb handles were often but not always painted. Whereas commercial manufacturers of the late 19th century increasingly moved to thicker handles, often of pine and almost always painted black or red.

3. Rivets: Rivets used to attach the teeth bars on period combs were of solid iron. Hollow, tubular or split rivets commonly used on post war combs were not invented until the early 1870’s.




AUTHOR’s NOTE: The author wishes to express his most sincere appreciation to collector, historian and WWII cavalryman Ralph Emerson Jr. This humble effort could not have been accomplished without access to his considerable research. Therefore, this article is especially dedicated to you, my friend. Thanks also go to other contributors and historians: Bill Adams, Howard Crouch, Fred Gaede, Terry Heilman, Steve & Joyce Henry, Ken McPheeters and, curry-comb guru Edgar Simon of Owanka, SD. For more information on leather and horse equipment of the Civil War go to Ken Knopp’s web site at


1. THE MEDIEVAL HORSE AND ITS EQUIPMENT, c. 1150-1450, Edited by John Clark, Museum of London, HMSO, London, 1995, pgs 158-168.

2. IBID.

L’ENCYCLOPEDIE, By Diderot Et D’Alembert, 1751-1780. Plate XXVII

3. The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Annals of Willenhall, by Frederick William Hackwood

4. A Gazetteer of Locks, By James Evans, Gazetteer Museum, Willenhall England. The 1815 comb was patented in England (no. 3956).

5. Stanton, Col. Henry to Price, Newlin & Co., January 12, 1847. Acct. 5365, Voucher Aaa No. 7, Box. 795, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of Treasury, Entry 523, Settled accounts & Claims, 15 March 1817 – 30 June 1894, RG 217. National Archives, Washington DC. (hereafter NAWDC)

6. Knorr Nece & Co. to Maj PV Hagner, Frankford Arsenal, 16 Jan. 1856, Philadelphia, Pa., Frankford Arsenal, Ltrs Rec’d, 1856, RG 156, NAWDC.

Bvt. Jam, PV Hagner to Knorr & Nece, Jan. 19, Jan. 28 and Feb 21, 1856, Frankford Arsenal, Ltrs Sent, July 1853 – Sept 1856, unpaginated, RG 156, NAWDC.

7. Maj PV Hagner to Col H K Craig, Dec. 29, 1859, H-503 OCO 1859, Entry 21, Letters to Ord. Officers, RG 156, NAWDC.

8. Hagner to Chief of Ordnance Benet, Oct 30, 1880,Waterliet Arsenal Ltrs Sent, 1878-1881, Pg. 443, RG 156, NAWDC.

9. Capt W Maynadier, Frankford Arsenal to Hotchkiss & Sons, April 12, 1861, Frankford Arsenal Ltrs Sent, Jan 1860-June 1861, Pg. 377, RG 156, NAWDC.

10. Andrew Hotchkiss: American Inventor & Genius, By Elizabeth Ward, NSTCW, Vol 33, No. 2 2008, Pg 40.

11. J W Ripley to Hotchkiss & Sons, New York, Sept 5, 1862, Ltrs, Relative to Mfr, & Procurement, Vol. 1,(Jan 62- June 63), Pg 198, Entry 13, RG 156, NAWDC.

Brig. Gen. J W Ripley, Chief of Ord to Capt S Crispin, New York Agency, Sept 19 1862, Ltrs, Relative to Mfr, & Procurement, Vol. 1,(Jan 62- June 63), Pg 221, Entry 13, RG 156, NAWDC.

Capt S Crispin to BG J.W. Ripley, Sept 20, 1862, N-303, OCO, Ltrs Rec’d, Vol 32, 1862, Entry 21, RG 156, NAWDC.

12. Brig. Gen. J W Ripley, Chief of Ord to Capt S Crispin, New York, Sept 29 1862, Ltrs to Ord. Officers, Vol. 22, Pg 626, RG 156, NAWDC.

Quarterly Totals of Manufactures at the Principal Arsenals, Records of the Allegheny Arsenal March 1861- June 1866.

13. Sarah Jane Wheeler Patent for Improved Curry Comb, # 31,199. U.S. Patent Office, Scientific American Monthly, Munn & Co.,Vol. 4, 1861, pg 93.

J W Ripley to Capt S Crispin, August 4, 1863, New York, OCO, Ltrs, Relative to Mfr, & Procurement, Vol. 2, , Pgs 43-44, Entry 13, RG 156, NAWDC.

John W Rockwell Patent, Improvement in Curry Comb, # 40,946, U.S. Patent Office

14. Downer to Gorgas, Richmond, July 16, 1863, Records of Ord. Bur., Vol. 90, War Dept. Coll. of Confederate Records, NAWDC.

Abstract of contracts and correspondence from Ordnance Department Arsenal records. Several dozen volumes: Vols. 8,9,19,78,100,104,105 for the Nashville and Atlanta Arsenals; Vols. 33,34,36, Augusta Arsenal; Vols. 32,101,3,4,6,7,36, 58,59 1/2,83 Macon Arsenal; Vols. 90,91,91 ½, 92,93,94,96,97 Richmond Arsenal/Clarksville Depot. Vols. 140, Savannah Arsenal and others, Ibid.

Files of Capt. Henry Pride # 203; Capt. James Dinwiddie #76, Major William S. Downer #78, Col. M. H. Wright #265; Capt. Richard M. Cuyler #69, Military Service Records, Ibid.

The Augusta Arsenal shipped over 22,000 combs during the War, most of which went to Richmond. Richmond issued 56,903 curry combs during the War. A comparison of Ordnance correspondence and records of curry comb manufacturers substantiate 86% of these issuances. Augusta Arsenal “Ordnance Stores turned over the Quartermaster for shipment, July 1862-Apr. 1865”, Records of Ord. Bur., Entry 33 and “Record of Ordnance and stores ready for shipment”, Entry 34, War Dept Collection of Confederate Records, NAWDC.

15. Files of relative firms: Boyle & Gamble; Cottrel & Co.; E. Kemp & Co.; Smith & Harwood; Stover; and Yale & Co., Citizens Files, War Dept Collection of Confederate Records, NAWDC.

Augusta Arsenal “Ordnance Stores turned over the Quartermaster for shipment, July 1862-Apr. 1865”, RCOB, Entry 33 and “Record of Ordnance and stores ready for shipment”, Entry 34, War Dept Collection of Confederate Records, NAWDC.

16. Downer to Gorgas, Richmond, Jan. 20, 1864; Downer to Gorgas, Richmond, July 16, 1863; Downer to Col. L. Broun, Richmond, July 18, 1863; Dinwiddie to Col. Broun, Richmond, Nov. 27, 1863 and Downer to Boyle & Gamble, Richmond, Mar. 17, 1863, Records of Ord. Bur., Vol. 90, Ibid.

Major J. G. Haskel to Lt. Col. Briscoe Baldwin, Nov. 20, 1863, Briscoe Baldwin File, MSR, NAWDCCR.

17. Gorgas to Downer, Richmond, Jan. 19, 1864; Downer to Gorgas, Richmond, Jan. 20, 1864; Downer to Gorgas, Richmond, Jan. 26, 1864, RCOB, Vol. 90, Ibid..

Special Order # 21, Feb. 22, 1864, RCOB, Entry 39, Ibid.

18. Annual reports of the Atlanta Arsenal turned into Richmond by Col. Moses H. Wright, Moses H. Wright file, Military Service Records MSR, War Dept Collection of Confederate Records, NAWDC.

Augusta Arsenal, RCOB, “Ordnance Stores turned over the Quartermaster for shipment, July 1862-Apr. 1865”, Entry 33 and “Record of Ordnance and stores ready for shipment”, Entry 34, Ibid.

19. Wright to Capt. S.P. Kerr (Ord. Officer to Gen. Wheeler), Atlanta, April 28, 1864. Moses H. Wright File, MSR, Ibid.

20. Downer to Boyle & Gamble, Richmond, Mar. 17, 1863; Downer to Gorgas, Richmond, July 16, 1863; Downer to Gorgas, Richmond, June 11, 1863, RCOB, Vol. 90, NAWDC.

21. Lewis Merrill, Philadelphia Penn., Patent Curry Comb, No. 151146, May 19, 1874, US Patent Office.

Hagner to S.V. Benet Chief of Ord., July 27, 1876, Watervliet Arsenal, Letters Sent, Jan. 1876-June 1878, Pg. 101, RG, 156, NAWDC.

Various correspondence between Hagner, Benet and Mordecai, Oct 1880- Nov. 1882, Ltrs to Ord Officers, Vol. 62, RG 156, NAWDC.

Gen. Orders No. 76, A.G.O. Washington , July 23, 1879, Letters to Ord. Officers, Vol. 56, Pg 70; Watervliet Arsneal Letters Sent 18780-1881, Pg. 298, RG 156, NAWDC.

22. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,

U.S. Patent Searching,




FIGURE B (Above): French pattern from the last half of the 1700’s illustrate the more modern pattern with a square back, multiple rows of teeth and “knockers” (metal extensions) used to strike against a hard object to remove hair and dust from the comb. This pattern dates at least to the 1650’s.

Courtesy French L’ENCYCLOPEDIE.

FIGURE A Above: Medieval comb excavated in London is missing its wooden handle. Combs with tripartite or dual tang handles were common through the 17th century. Variations of this pattern with two to four rows of teeth were made well into the 20th century. A605, Courtesy Museum of London.


PHOTO C Above: James Carpenter’s original 1815 patented curry comb which “inverted the handle over the comb back”. After Carpenter died in 1844 his son and son in law took over the business changing the name the next year to “Carpenter and Tildesley”. Excavated from an old home site in Savannah Georgia the maker’s plate on this comb is barely legible but has the words “Tildesley” and “Patented” indicating this comb was a Carpenter 1815 pattern made after 1845. While specializing in the lucrative lock plate business the firm continued making curry combs into the 20th century. Author’s collection.


PHOTO D (Above): The Carpenter & Co. “333” curry comb made by the English firm of (James) Carpenter & Co. of Willenhall England probably dates back to the 1830’s or earlier. It was a common, well known commercial pattern in the 19th century and considered the very best quality available. Issued and used as a model for Federal government contract combs prior to and during the Civil War, its general pattern was also widely copied by American makers for civilian sales. This comb, made sometime prior to 1845 is hefty and well made. The back is japanned and has the firm name and “333” on the center brass plate and at the handle. Note the knockers.



PHOTO F (Below): Carpenter & Tildesly “Albert” pattern comb. This unique oval comb was a pre war- English made pattern commemorating Prince Albert- the husband of Queen Victoria. These have been found in the U.S. – one excavated at Manassas. It was still found in English catalogs as late as the 1890’s. Photo courtesy Edgar Simon.



PHOTO E (Above): “Trowel”, a.k.a. “Pad” comb. Originating in England but also widely copied by American manufacturers this was a common, very early 19th century pattern. Author’s Collection.


PHOTO G (Above): A.A. & A Hotchkiss Co. of Sharon Valley, Conn. civilian curry comb patented July 1856. Hotchkiss patented at least two curry combs in the 1840’s and 50’s but made two dozen different styles. This simple, light weight comb was known as an “open backed” comb due to its slated back exposing the comb bars as opposed to a solid back comb. The firm supplied a large number of curry combs to the Union forces during the war and continued to patent combs into the mid-1870’s. Author’s collection.


PHOTO H (Above): Hotchkiss & Sons Co. made knock off of the Carpenter 333 Comb- an English civilian pattern adopted to US military use. Variations of this comb (a.k.a. the “Fat Lady” comb due the portly image of its back strap) made by Hotchkiss and other firms often had brass center discs. Discs from the 1850’s and war time civilian manufacture are noted with brass disc variances like “222”, “No 100”, horse & rider emblems and patriotic themes such as “Uncle Sam” or Eagle motifs. Another common comb of this pattern but of unclear origins had a brass disc with “Mary Veal Patent New York”. Author’s collection.



PHOTO I: M1859 (Above): The Federal army’s first official curry comb developed by Maj. Peter V. Hagner and described in the 1861 Ordnance Manual. Ironically, it is very similar to a common civilian comb of the period..



PHOTO J (Above): M1862 Curry Comb a.k.a. as the “US’, “Army”, “Government” or “Y” Comb. This is the early pattern made by the Hotchkiss & Sons Co. These were sometimes marked No. “76” and “US” on the tang handle. Unfortunately, the wrought iron shank handles had the tendency to break. Later models of this comb were improved using up to two rivets to attach the iron shank to the comb back and were often marked with “Cast Steel” and “Army Combs” on the “Y”. Photo courtesy of Terry Heilman and Howard Crouch.




PHOTO K (above): The Sara Jane Wheeler Curry Comb was invented and patented (Jan 22, 1861) by Sara Jane Wheeler of New Britain, Conn. It has a unique concave back that added to its strength. A common issue comb to Federal forces in the eastern theater, many are dug there. This comb was retrieved from the wreck of the artillery barge the “General Meade” at the site of the 1864 Confederate sabotage explosion on the James River at City Point Va. Author’s collection.


PHOTO L (above): The December 1863 patented “Rockwell” flexible back comb. Made with a back of heavy, well stuffed, russet, oak tanned harness leather, 4 x 4 3/4 inches it had eight bars of teeth and a leather back strap. At least one thousand were made for trial during the war. A variation of this pattern subsequently adopted in 1885 remained in army issue into World War I.


PHOTOS M (above): Two more variations of Federal made combs found on the artillery barge “General Meade” sunk at City Point Va. in 1864. On left is a variation of the M1859 missing a part of the handle shank. At right is an improved M1862 “Y” pattern government comb marked “Cast Steel” and “Army”.


PHOTO T (above): This six bar comb dug a the site of the Nance Shop Virginia battlefield is nearly identical to an 1850’s civilian eight bar pattern. Confederate combs are notoriously inconsistent but typically identified by their similarities to pre-war civilian patterns yet very coarse manufacture. Few excavated and virtually no intact examples have survived, they are therefore quite rare. Courtesy Steve & Joyce Henry.


PHOTO W (above): Two crudely made Confederate combs. On left is a Confederate knock-off of the early trowel pattern dug at Blackford’s Ford- Antietam. The comb on the right dug near Atlanta, is a crudely made, straight bar comb similar to the M1859 Federal military pattern combs. Author’s collection


PHOTO U (above): These similar but crudely made Confederate combs are a knock off of an early civilian pattern. On left is a fairly sturdy iron comb dug from the White Oak swamp in Virginia. On right is a brass back with iron handle comb dug from Genl’s. N.B. Forrest and Earl Van Dorn’s 1863 campsites in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Author’s collection.



PHOTO V (above): All that remains is the brass frame of this six bar comb dug from an N.B. Forrest’s camp site in West Tennessee. Unlike any typical civilian comb, others of this probable Confederate made comb have been found in northeast Georgia. Author’s collection


PHOTO N (above): M1874 Pattern Curry Comb.Major Lewis Merrill Patented “straight bar” curry comb was designed so that the user griped the body of the comb during use rather than the handle. Another innovative feature was the attached hoof pick- which proved to be dysfunctional. Although adopted in 1874 it was not manufactured or issued until fall 1876. Rare! Only about six thousand were made


PHOTO O (above): M1879 Pattern Curry Comb or Merrill’s Modified curry comb. Modified by “re-adopting” the “Y” frame for more strength, the resulting complaints of patent infringement by various manufacturers although without litigation, nevertheless led to its delay and ultimate demise. Approved in 1879 it was not manufactured until late 1882 then replaced in 1885. A “US” is stamped on the handle. Rare. Only about five thousand were made. Author’s Collection.


DRAWING P (above): M1885 Pattern. The flexible body was made of black leather (4 3/4 x 5 inches), three rivets held the each of the four double rows of teeth. The handle was also of black leather embossed with “US”. While the first official military comb made of leather they were not new to the army. A similar pattern was patented in 1863 by John W. Rockwell with at least one thousand made for issue to the Federal forces.


PHOTO Q: M1904 flexible back comb..



PHOTO R: M1912


PHOTO S: M1913:




PHOTO X (above): Note the flat and ornately curved handle on the M1862 comb excavated from the General Meade barge. The comb on right with the “step-up” handle is a more modern early 20th century commercial copy of the same government pattern comb. Despite hundreds of thousands of war time era curry combs being made very few, non-excavated and intact examples survive. Author’s collection.


PHOTO Y (above): The Allegheny Arsenal Pattern curry comb. Barlely visable across the back strap are the embossed words “Allegheny Arsenal”. Several of this these were dug by Don Mindemann in Maryland, near an area called the Binard defensive line, the Northern line of defenses for Harpers Ferry, W. Va.













2 thoughts on “American Curry Combs: History & Identification

  1. Thanks a lot for providing these valuable research resources for us collectors. It is very helpful.

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