To Replace or Not to Replace (Glass)

March 3, 2011

Often when discovering a new piece, one can be swayed with the eternal question of price vs quality. Let’s take a look at this wonderful brooch from 1846 and discuss this very point.

1846 Mourning Brooch with Broken Glass

This particular brooch has quite a lot of history behind it. To its credit, it has a wonderful inscription, dedicated to ‘Nathan Slofson – Born June 24 1838 – Obt Sep 7 1846. Aged 8 year and 3 mo’, a dedication which denotes a full name, age and date. For many pieces dating from the 19th century, the pieces were re-appropriated and many of the dedications have been lost over time – often removed by jewellers looking to resell or used again within the family. This is nothing new, it happens today, as a piece with a blank slate is obviously much more marketable towards someone who may want to use it for their own personal grief or sentimentality.

As well as this, we have that the glass is still in place and the hair is underneath. Moving back to the idea of re-appropriation, often the glass has been replaced by a jewel. This can be for second/third stage mourning if created this way in its original format, however, much of the time it harkens back to a seller trying to remove any taint of previous sentimental attachment or selling the piece again under the pretext of it not being used for mourning.

Mourning has a stigma of being morbid and a fascination that has become disconnected with the honest love and sentimentality of the time. More so, this was a fashion, related to presentation of family sentiment in accordance to social necessity. High mortality rates combined with the harder 19th century return to the ideals of the Christian family unit (in Western culture) created the establishment of the matriarchal centre of the family. Hence, a woman in mourning becomes the focus of the family in mourning.

Reflecting on this piece, one can note the floral Gothic Revival articulation to shape and design that became popular from the 1830s. Here, the sharp edges have taken over from the rounded shapes of Neoclassicism and the heavy floral gold-work (called ‘pie-crust’ by some) shows the dense acanthus design prevalent with Gothic Revival mourning rings and peripheral jewellery. The hairwork is naive, but perhaps affected by the broken glass in the centre.

1846 Mourning Brooch with Broken Glass

Leading us back to this piece is the question – ‘should I buy it due to damage?’ I’ve covered off in my Faux Friday articles that many pieces have been doctored throughout history by sellers to improve value. This is a hard thing to reconcile, as (much for the reasons why I educate on the topic of mourning jewellery), the collector should know what they’re buying. Often, however, a piece is sold as perfect and clean when it is not. It doesn’t matter the level of the seller, high or low end, these pieces exist and sometimes aren’t completely known to the seller, but quite often they are.

So it comes down to personal preference. Could you alter a piece in a modern environment that doesn’t have the same techniques to restore a piece to its original state? To alter this piece, the glass would be imperfect. Glass replacements to find a convex dome that would emulate this 1-1 is quite difficult today and to do it properly would cost more than the value of the piece and probably more than it would ever be worth. So, is it an emotional attachment that would make a person do this?

You can find pieces like it with replaced glass (sometimes plastic) that have bevelled edges, which is a telltale sign. Personally, I find it important to understand what you’re buying and if the price is right, then do it.

But to alter a piece that is as honest as this, with the dedications in place, the passage of time that got it to this point is written upon its face. This piece tells a tale of living through the centuries in its perfect form and this is how it should be appreciated.

Dedication: Nathan Slofson – Born June 24 1838 – Obt Sep 7 1846. Aged 8 year and 3 mo
Courtesy: Amanda Legare

One Response to “To Replace or Not to Replace (Glass)”

  1. S Says:

    Thank you for this article. I learned a lot and really enjoyed the thorough discussion of the piece.


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