For those of you who are new here, or who are not familiar with the wonderfully informative article that Hayden wrote about a mourning ring of mine, a ring I call the Ship Ring, please see the post from April 15, 2010. Here you will find the background for this post, in which thanks to a friend’s research, the identity behind the ring is brought to light. Once having learned to whom the ring is dedicated, the careful analysis presented by Hayden from last year’s post, and my own research into the personal history behind this ring can be seen as two separate routes of research that work in tandem with each other, helping us understand this ring in its entirety.

To summarize, Hayden’s analysis of this magnificent ring took into account a number of different aspects of the piece, that we shall see, make complete sense in light of the discovery of the true identity of the person mourned. In a nutshell, I purchased this ring online from an Englishwoman who really knew nothing about it other than it had been in her late husband’s family for over 50 years. The inside of the ring shank has the usual memorial dedication, with the date of death, and the age; however, in this case, rather than a full name, there are only initials (E. W.) with a crown, or coronet, in front of them. What intrigued me quite a lot when I first examined this ring, was a much larger coronet engraved on the underside of the bezel, along with a prominent initial “W” and then the two initials “A+T”. Here were pieces of a puzzle left to me to solve regarding the identity of the deceased: two coronets (inner shank, and under the bezel), initials E. W. on the inner shank along with the date of death (Dec. 1, 1841) and the age (83), plus two joined initials not matching the others (A+T). Where to begin?

Well, I decided to start with the coronet. I really felt that this crown was too large of a design to be a maker’s mark; it must signify something else, and something relating to the “W” below it. Not being familiar with English royalty and peerage, I had to do a bit of online research. I learned that in the peerages of the United Kingdom, the design of a coronet shows the rank of its owner. This is through the motifs of “strawberry leaves” and “pearls”, or “silver balls”, in two dimensional representations. The coronet under the bezel of this ring corresponds exactly to that of an earl. Because the coronet is featured so prominently on top of the initials W and A+T, and again on the inner shank before the letters E. W., I felt quite certain that this person was an earl; namely, the Earl of W___. But who could that be? Since I had the date of death, and the age of the person, I thought I might be able to discover who this was by utilizing these clues. Referring back to the post from April 15th of last year, you can read about how I used these to come to a possible identity, which, as it now turns out, is not correct. However, going with the assumption that this was an earl, I looked at all the possible earls of Ws, whose date of death and age matched the information on my ring. And I did come quite close; John Fane, the 10th Earl of Westmoreland. He had died on Dec. 15, 1841 at the age of 82. Pretty close, but not exact. Now, if you look at the photo of the inner shank of my ring, you’ll see that there was a piece of gold inserted on top of the original shank, and this piece had been engraved with “obit Dec. 15” .Would it be possible, I asked myself, if the ring had been mistakenly engraved- that is, the “5” from Dec. 15th left out, giving the date of death on the ring as Dec. 1? I thought it was possible, yes, but then we come to the mystery of the two initials, A+T. In my research of John Fane, I could find nothing that could relate to those two initials. So, for the time, I left that piece of information aside, and I moved to looking more carefully at the front of the ring. Here we have a ship, beautifully painted in sepia, moving away across the waves of the ocean. Surrounding the ship is a garter with a buckle made of seed pearls and hair. What of this ship? Did it refer to a naval career or one as a shipping merchant? No, I could not find anything like that for John Fane. However, as Hayden pointed out, the ship symbolizes the passage of the soul into the afterlife, and that certainly made sense here, for a mourning ring. And the garter? Well, I did find out that John Fane was made Knight of the Garter in 1793. Was all of this leading me towards the Earl of Westmoreland as the person commemorated here? I still could not be sure, but the use of the earl’s coronet, and the date of death and age on the ring so close but for one digit- these things made me feel I was on the right path. But now, what of some of the aspects of this ring that Hayden asked us to look at and analyzed? In reading his article, these could not be ignored and I felt that they played an important role in making sense of this ring. One of the main things to look at in dating rings is the shank. In the article we’re shown a comparison between this ring and one from 1786, with special attention paid to the sides of the shank and the way they connect to the front of the ring.

The similarity is quite apparent, and we see how the detailing of the shank in the ship ring shows the prototype for the style we see in the 1786 ring. This gives rise to the question of whether the ring was repurposed at the later date of 1841 to mourn a family member, but had been utilized previously in the late 18th century as a sentimental token. As we’ll see in the discovery of the true identity of the deceased, this is quite likely and makes perfect sense.

So finally- who is the ring for?  Thanks to a friend who is an experienced genealogical researcher, who took the information about this ring that I provided (the information contained in the post from last April plus my photos) and researched it based on the death date, I have learned that this ring mourns the death of Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Winterton. Who is she, and how did my friend connect the information with her? Well, he tells me that he looked to see who of import might have died on the date given in the ring, and then looked to see if the age and rank matched. A dowager Countess is the wife of a late earl; in this case, the First Earl of Winterton, Edward Turnour. And what was Elizabeth’s maiden name? Armstrong. And there we have our earl’s coronet, the W, for Winterton, A+T for Armstrong + Turnour, and the date of Countess Elizabeth’s death in London at the age of 83 on Dec. 1, 1841. And now, knowing all of this, the items that were previously analyzed by Hayden fall neatly into place. We have the ring shank, pointing to a date in the late 18th century; that is, earlier than the engraved date of 1841. Certainly the ring could have been a sentimental or marriage token at the time of the marriage of Miss Elizabeth Armstrong to the Earl of Winterton, which was in 1778. At that time, to commemorate the union, the coronet and initials on the underside of the bezel could have been engraved on the ring. And symbolizing never ending love, we have the garter, and buckle motif. That’s certainly fitting for a marriage. At some point, the ring was enlarged- we can see the solder lines of where a small piece of gold was added to the back of the shank to make it bigger. At this point, or perhaps later, for a reason I’m not sure of, a larger piece of gold was added to the inside of the shank. And then, when the Dowager Countess died, the usual mourning dedication, with the addition of the appropriate coronet before her initials was engraved to the inside of the shank. And here we have the solution to the mystery, and a confirmation of both the ring being tied to an Earl of W____, and to one with a history prior to its engraved date, with a purpose more sentimental than mourning when it was first commissioned and presented.

And so we see how diligent and patient research, backed up by facts, as well as an educated stylistic analysis, are both equally important in understanding the personal history behind a piece of antique jewelry and in fully grasping the purpose of the item and its relation to its time and its culture.

*For those who are interested, or may need help with similar research, my friend directed me to this website: http://www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk/  -this is a resource for British Peerage and Baronetage. Here is the page he found for the First Earl of Winterton, Edward Turnour. Reading down, you’ll see the entry for Elizabeth Armstrong, his second wife: www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk/online/content/index419.htm

Hairwork Frame and Miniature Portrait 18th CenturyHairwork memorials can come in many different forms, sometimes as mourning pieces and sometimes as love tokens. This, dating from the latter half of the 18th century, is one of the most extraordinary pieces to survive to this day.

Hairwork Frame and Miniature Portrait 18th CenturyThe enormous amount of hairwork placed under the frame in a luscious weave with the miniature portrait in the middle makes it an incredibility portrait as much as it is a memorial.

Hairwork Frame and Miniature Portrait 18th CenturyThe young girl, whose hair is obviously as opulent as the hair in the frame is painted very delicately inside the ring of the joined snake (eternity – with black enamel on its body and blue enamel around the eyes). Such an odd and beautiful piece is a wonderful example of a personal token of affection.

Swiss 1855 19th Century Memorial ArtThis memorial dates from around the Swiss region c.1855 and combines hairwork with sepia to create a powerful memorial. The inscription is part of the tombstone and each part of the picture has been individually fashioned. Memorials such as these are common in Europe and America, often behind glass and with inscriptions.

1840 Memorial WreathHairwork has a large role to play in the creation of much memorial art. Other hairwork memorials such as this vary in style and concept, but are still related in their art. In this example, the piece stands at 42x36cm with five different kinds of hair inside. The hairwork is placed on a silk background and the frame is unique to the piece. Over the next few days, I’ll show some more examples on the blog so you can see how they changed and how unique a memorial was. Memorials such as this often contained inscriptions or dedications to a certain person. Flowers as well as the hair are often placed in the art as well.

Immortals, which would be hung from a vault or would stand on a grave were flowers styled with plaster over tin. Doves and clasped hands are were also created (most dating from the early 19th Century) and are highly sought after.

Frames and items associated the hairwork memorial are often as unique and personal as the pieces themselves.

Let’s get one thing straight; hairworking is a craft and an art. You can’t stop by any modern jeweller and simply as for them to weave hair (most don’t even want to touch it), that’s why it thrills be that there are people like Marlys Fladeland in the world and her resource for hairwork – hairwork.com (damn, I love that URL).

At her site, there are resources for selling your hair, buying horsehair, books on braiding, braiding tables and just about everything you would need to get started in hairwork!

That’s rather remarkable for this day and age, so remarkable that I’d even like to give it a try. I encourage everyone who has ever been curious about trying this to go out of their way, put aside a little time and money and re-introduce this art to a new generation.

Hairwork being done today. Music to your ears? Mine too. Hence why if you hadn’t heard about them, the Victorian Hair Artists Guild will make your heart skip a beat.

This is quite possibly the true answer to the question that touches my ears every so often ‘do you know anyone that does hairwork?’, and yes, there are still people in Europe and the US who do quite a bit of traditional hairwork, but this one has been around for quite a while, so let’s take a quick look.

Now, what makes them Victorian and not Georgian? Why not Stuart Era? Well, one can guess that it’s probably to do with re-invigorating a lot of Mark Campbell’s work in The Art of Hairwork Hair Braiding and Jewelry of Sentiment with Catalog of Hair Jewellery and the popularity of those weaves and the industry during the mid 19th century, but perhaps if I pay them a bit more they’ll do me some Georgian work.

Personally, I haven’t seen their work in person and I don’t know their processes, but if the pieces on their site are anything to go by, it looks rather nice.

So feel free to contact Sandra Johnson, Nancy Robertson, Lucy Cadwallader or Melanie Mead and discover their work (each have a special area of interest).

If anyone has any examples of their pieces or experience with them, I’d love to see it, so post below!

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