©IMG_7280|Laurent Girousse

Horn combs

A thousand years of know-how

The manufacture of horn combs was one of the main activities in the Pays d’Olmes over the last few centuries. These products enjoyed great success and were sold to the 4 corners of the world! Today, passionate craftsmen still make horn objects, and the Musée du textile et du peigne en corne preserves and promotes this precious intangible cultural heritage.

A success story


Comb-making has been an industrial activity in Pays d’Olmes, mainly in Laroque d’Olmes and the Hers valley, since the Middle Ages, with the manufacture of boxwood combs, a resource abundant on the banks of the Hers. The products were exported as far as the Netherlands, Germany, Algeria, Italy and Belgium, via fairs organized by Toulouse merchants.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, some forty companies set up along the Hers, using hydraulic power to operate their machines.

The market for horn combs was national and international. The reputation of French products for toilet accessories facilitated exports.



Whole sacks of horn from the southern hemisphere arrived in Pays d’Olmes. The raw material was first sawn into sections, then heated by the biscayeur (a skilled worker who represented the elite of the profession) to be flattened into slabs into which the various comb sizes were then traced. In the final stages, the comb teeth were cut, polished and packed.

In all,some fifteen stages were necessary, depending on the desired comb finish.

But in the 1950s, the arrival on the market of plastic came to compete with horn, mostly sourced from Africa or South America. Despite the recognized qualities of this natural material, which does not cause static electricity and is very gentle on the hair, demand collapsed. The local industry, although highly mechanized, was unable to adapt its production to plastic and declined inexorably.

Today, the transmission of this intangible cultural heritage is ensured by the textile and horn comb museum in Lavelanet, and the age-old skills of creating combs and horn objects are still employed by two passionate craftsmen.