Dedication: 2 June 1816 AET 59 / Catherine Mary Walpole mourning ring

Dedication: 2 June 1816 AET 59 / Catherine Mary Walpole

Mourning bands adapted styles with changing fashion, however, there is a uniformity to their prominence c.1680-1900 that is as steadfast as a wedding band.

By its very definition as a band, the ring lends itself to mainstream typefaces in design, the dedication surrounding the band (personalised with a name or standardised with a memento) distils the loved one by their very name to the artistic motif.

More unusual is when the band adapts additional elements, such as this piece, with the hairwork memento placed on top. Its positioning seems clumsy in application, but its nature is essential to amplify the personal nature of the piece.

Also of note is the use of the white enamel (virginity, purity), one could assume for a lady of this age denotes her unmarried status.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
9 July 1810 mouring ring 	J Brougham

Dedication: 9 July 1810 / J Brougham

One of the more fascinating aspects of ring design and motifs in the early 19th century is the increased use of gems and stones. What had previously been relegated to fine jewels was becoming ubiquitous and taking over as a symbolic motif in their own right.

Pearl mourning ring

Pearls are the most popular and common to find in rings (many bracelets were strung with pearls, but surviving pieces are harder to find). Jet and turquoise are two of the other most popular materials and are important for their use in mourning custom and symbolism.

1815 mourning ring

Second and third stage jewels took very well to the enhanced use of colour, as reflective surfaces and colour were permissible, so hairwork jewels flanked with stones were not only an essential part of mourning, but a beautiful way to reflect and respect the loved one.

3rd stage mourning ring

Turquoise and Hairwork

These became prevalent from around 1810 and lasted well into c.1850, where larger, bolder styles and black enamel facilitated the changing fashion.

We have taken a look at some of the more unusual design elements at the turn of the 19th century jewellery, each reflecting a society adapting to new methods and tools of construction, access to materials and fashion that began to demand jewellery as a social expectation, rather than social denominator. With this little ring, we can see the use of machine turning to the gold-work in order to create an exact pattern across its entire body.

Inside, however, the hairwork memento still remains. This style did not adapt easily to the application of gems and stones, due to its uniform design, but makes a grand statement in its gold-work.

However, this is a style derived from the mainstream oval/rectangular shape of ring design, as opposed to that style being derived from this. Furthermore, the contour of the band reflects the earlier late 18th century navette/round styles, in that it isn’t a shank meeting the bezel to flatten out underneath, but a clear, circular contour.

Dedication: Jan 14, 1801 / M. Harris (age 28)

Following on from our previous look at the wonderful open-shanks of the early 19th century, we have this ring, with its chalcedony interior and pearl surround.

As mentioned in the previous article, the style of the shank disappeared within a period of twenty years and the bezels became rectangular, but the general style and construction remained the same. Compare that with the ring below:


And you can note the similarities. While this ring is more elaborate in its continuation of pearls along the shoulders, the general conceit of the ring is the same. Pearls, central area for hairwork or gem and dedication underneath.

This style remained popular until the mid-19th century and was used until the end of the 19th century in style, due to its ability to adapt and its sentimental simplicity. There was no need to change a style that was geared towards the personal sentiment of love, as the hairwork was placed in the centre and worn proudly outwards.

Do note that the use of other materials than hair in the dedication area of these pieces can often be later amendments. These rings are highly marketable when there is no clear indication of being for mourning or sentimentality (modern sellers often equate hair with death), so the hair and glass are easy to replace with a stone and when the surrounding pearls/turquoise/jet are still there, they are quite beautiful and command a good price.

19th century memento mori ring

The skull in depiction is a good way of understanding whether or not a mourning jewel is all it claims to be. As a collector, one has to be careful that there is no room for error when buying a piece, this is often overlooked, as many pieces can interest just due to their beauty and not their fact.

With this particular piece, one must make two assumptions; the skull is rendered contemporary for its time, but not as part of its original construction or that it is a much later addition to deceive or promote financial gain.

This is a difficult spot for the collector. Upon first examination, the ring looks remarkably correct in its style. The skull is an obvious anachronism, for it to be part of mainstream fashion when the ring is estimated to be constructed would make it an anomaly. However, the rest of the ring, with its black enamel shoulders and 1st quarter 19th century rectangular hair memento are seemingly correct.

Hence it comes down to the style of the skull being the only things we can take from it. Skull design in mourning jewels can be identified easily enough through matching detail with mainstream art and contemporary pieces. In this case, the skull is simply rendered, which does conform with earlier skulls, but isn’t definitive.

Highly detailed skulls, that you may see on modern rings would automatically default this piece to be a poor addition, but if this is modern or not can’t be discounted.

Perhaps one should question the taste in adding a skull to the remnants of a loved one, when this is the last element of the person that is left, especially in a time when the memento mori motifs were out of fashion.

Regardless, it is the curiosity in jewellery that makes it fun to discover. Each tells a tale, each resonates with personal history.

Further Reading:
> Spotting Forgeries, Fakes and the History of Reproductions

By the mid-19th century, bracelets adapted along with the evolution of costume. Voluminous crinolines and wide sleeves accommodated wide-weaves of hairwork and lighter, bulkier materials such as Jet to be worn easily at the wrist.

By 1854, the Hallmarking Act allowed for the use of lower grade alloys in jewellery construction, leading to a higher level of production of lighter clasps and fixtures in bracelets, many of which are very common for the collector to find today. Light materials, such as hairwork, when produced with the rolled-gold or pressed fittings led to bulkier designs being easier to wear.

It should be noted for today’s collector that hairwork does not equate to ‘mourning’, but was a sentimental material used in mainstream fashion, a misconception that many sellers automatically affix to pieces being sold today.

Note the evolution of the bracelet style from the previous century of the clasps seen earlier. This still retains a larger shape, but has adopted the Victorian Rococo revival motifs.

A piece with perfect enamel work is a rare treat to find. Too often, jewellery dealers and quick to repair enamel and clean gold work to a point where it is obvious.

Black enamel mourning ring 19th century 1830s

Even more obvious are repairs to enamel, as anything short of stripping a piece and beginning again will not be perfect and due to the cold process of amending a piece, it will never be perfect. A piece is better if the enamel is in its original condition and untouched.

Black enamel mourning ring 19th century 1830s

It is rare to see a piece that is as close to perfect as the day it was made – a piece as timeless as the literal tombstone used to commemorate the person. This is just one of those pieces – stunning enamel work, a sentiment that is perfect and an overall construction that resonates a special keepsake for the person it was dedicated to.

Note the band is without wear, the remarkable urn on the front and underneath the urn is the hair, or as band would say, the ‘Dear Remains’. This piece works in unison with itself; even the acanthus and floral Rococo Revival influence in the over-arching Gothic Revival style of the gold work that was so common during the 1810s-30s is here in its perfection. Use this piece as the cornerstone of other pieces for its time and reference it while looking through others in Art of Mourning.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Year: 1818
Dedication: (inner) Wm. Armstrong Ob. 31st March 1818 at 55 (outer): Sacred Will I Keep Thy Dear Remains

Further Reading:
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.190
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 3, Breaking Perceptions
> Rose and Yellow Gold ‘Cigar Band’ Ring / 1810
> When Mourning Tokens Are Personal: Mourning Bracelet
> Discovering New Styles In An Important Ring from 1836
> Bold, Simple, Clean – Design on a Mid Victorian Brooch

Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring- side view

His son John, I’m guessing, commissioned this mourning ring. His law career would have him fluent in Latin. He respects his father, loves him; he creates a memento to him. He wants to portray him as a great man, to have him remembered as a great man. He wants to elevate his father’s status to what he felt it should have been, and what Roger, as evidenced by his will and letters, was sure it was; enlightened, entitled, righteous, superior in mind, body, and spirit. Roger had felt his status would have been even higher, more noble, if not for the misfortunes that befell him, his King, and his great Country.

And yet, he was a broken man- broken in spirit, physically weakened and broken by the strenuous work that yielded him so little in the end, and broken financially- for a number of reasons, but laying blame almost fully on the Revolution. I quote from his will, which I have a copy of:

“…if my Estate should fall short and prove insufficient for this to me desirable purpose- my creditors as well as my son must impute it to no fault of mine, but to the inevitable misfortunes in which I have been involved in consequence of the late most accurs’d Rebellion. . .”

And now, we come back to the ring. A perfectly lovely ring in its simplicity, well-made, and with an admirable purpose behind it: for those who loved Roger Kelsall to honor and remember him by. It’s also piece of history, that is for sure. Of all the mourning pieces I have in which I’ve been able to find information relating to the person named there, this ring has yielded the most in the way of documents, letters, and related pictures. And yet, I don’t feel connected to Roger Kelsall at all. In fact, the more I find out about him, the less connected I feel, and to be honest, the less I like him. Here is a man who would treat a captive war prisoner badly, who would own hundreds of slaves and profit immensely off of their backbreaking labor, who would keep his own daughter and her mother enslaved, who would, after stating in his will that his creditors are not to blame him should his estate fall short of money, continue on to leave his “thirty-two Negroes” to his son and daughter. Thirty-two Negroes, and their “issue and increase” to his son and (white) daughter, and then to their heirs, “for ever, Amen, Amen”. No, I don’t think Roger Kelsall is an great man amongst men, strong of character and righteous, as the inscription would have us believe. No, I do not feel connected to Roger Kelsall.

Except for one thing.

In the end, he died.

And one day, I will die too.

Memento Mori

Related Articles:
> Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring, Part 1
> Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring, Part 2

John Kelsall, Jr.- Roger's son

Roger Kelsall’s father, John, of Scottish descent, came to the colonies from England and settled in South Carolina. He owned a large plantation near Beaufort. Roger and his younger brother, William, grew to be successful merchants like their father, and owned large plantations with numerous slaves to work them. Cotton is what Roger grew, even developing a special strain, called sea-island cotton which thrived on coastal lands, and commanded much higher prices than the inland variety. But due to conflicts with those fighting for their independence from the Crown, Roger Kelsall, a staunch Loyalist, moved from South Carolina to Georgia, where the English had a stronger hold. He settled in Sunbury around 1770, which quickly became, along with Savannah, a large and prosperous port city. Roger Kelsall, along with a Mr. James Spalding established a number of businesses there and was quite successful, becoming the leading Indian trade company from Georgia to East Florida. Though based in Sunbury, he also took 1,000 acres of land in British East Florida awarded by the Crown to its supporters, and established large plantations there. Despite all of this, he had to be always on alert, watching for the rebels. There were a number of skirmishes through the mid 1770s, with the British prevailing at times and the Americans at others, though the Americans never were able to completely wrest control of Georgia from the British. During this time, Roger served as a military colonel, and during one of the later conflicts, in 1779, Roger and another officer were captured at a plantation, but ultimately released in exchange for an American prisoner. The story goes that Kelsall was being escorted to the woods to be shot, when a local woman put up such a lament that the guard taking Colonel Kelsall agreed to let him go. But not before reminding him that several years earlier, their positions had been reversed, and Kelsall had treated his then-captive cruelly and with disrespect. Kelsall was then forced to admit that he had been less of a gentleman than the other man was.

The Loyalists continued to defend Sunbury from the Americans into the early 1780s, but their forces were spread thin around the area. Finally, after a few more conflicts of the same nature, by 1782, the British and their supporters had completely lost control of Sunbury and evacuated the town. The American Revolution was officially ended by a treaty with Great Britain in 1783. Roger Kelsall was forced to leave. He went to live and work exclusively in East Florida, where he’d still had property. But shortly thereafter, Florida reverted to Spanish rule and Roger once again packed up his remaining slaves and his cotton seed and sailed for the Bahamas. There, as in East Florida, the Crown had purchased most of the land there for those loyal to it to settle.

Roger Kelsall established himself in Nassau, and at an estate called Pinxton on Little Exuma, where he tried to grow cotton, but the soil was poor and rocky. He raked salt from a nearby lake in large enough quantities so that he could export it to Nova Scotia, Canada, and America. But it was not nearly as profitable as cotton had been, and Kelsall began to suffer financially.

Portia Kelsall

He was also alone; his wife had died over a decade ago, and his two children, John and Anne, had been sent to England to be educated. Roger took up with one of his slaves, Nelly, and she bore him a daughter, Portia. Apparently, at least for some time, Portia was accepted as one of the family by her half-siblings and cousins. But her mother was a hard drinker, and resentment of Nelly and her daughter by other family members made things very difficult. Because her mother was a slave, so Portia was also a slave. As the family fortunes dwindled, Portia faced a real threat of being sold. Though most of the family distanced themselves from her and her mother, her half-sister finally purchased her and her mother’s freedom in 1807. Not much is known about her after this time, but a portrait of Portia remains. A picture of it was sent to me by one of Kelsall’s descendants- someone I had contacted though a genealogy forum. Portia, in a simple dress and head wrap, stares out at us with large dark eyes from a shadowy canvas. Just a part of her face and upper body are illuminated. I find the picture strangely haunting.

Along with Portia’s portrait, came pictures of portraits of Roger Kelsall’s son, John, and John’s wife, Lucretia. John had earned his law degree from Cambridge and married the beautiful Lucretia Moultrie, daughter of John Moultrie, former lieutenant governor of East Florida. By contrast, their portraits, perhaps a marriage portrait set, are brighter, with both of them in the elegant clothes of aristocrats, though they each stare out at us as well. John and his sister Anne both settled in the Bahamas after their father’s death. Anne married a doctor and John became Vice-Admiralty Judge and Speaker of the Assembly before dying at an early age in 1803.

Lucretia Moultrie Kelsall

So, into this sparsely-populated, sea-based colonial island, came Roger Kelsall, having run from one place to the next, losing more of his wealth as he went, embittered by his losses, most likely with feelings of superiority toward the old inhabitants who were easy-going, and accustomed to quite a different life than Roger had, and than Roger wanted. Different too were the master-slave relationships here, and it was a place with a large free black population that outnumbered the whites. Here he was, with his driving ambition to remake his fortune and to assume positions of leadership within the community and perhaps within the government. Here he was, alone, with his cotton crops failing, clearing land for more planting that would also fail, and not knowing what else to do. And so he set sail one final time- this time back to England in 1786. I’ve not been able to uncover what he did while he was there. It seems he was exhausted and sick. He wrote his will on 29th of July, 1788. On 5th of December of that year, he died- 51 years after he was born.

It seems that we, as mortal beings, with hopes and dreams like any other human, find a connection with the past and with other human beings, when we learn about their lives, and sometimes their deaths, through researching the name that appears on a piece of mourning jewelry. Maybe it comforts us, knowing that we too must die one day, to have a piece of someone who once was (the hair), and tangible proof that that person who once was, was loved, respected, and remembered (the dedicated jewel); in short, to have those parts of them still remain, both physically and emotionally. This window that opens onto the past through discovering the life behind a name usually elicits for me feelings of a shared humanity, of a certain closeness, simply because that person too was a person who moved in the world, had connections to people and places, and to history, and ultimately was a fragile human being, because they died, and we too share the same fate, no matter who we are. It’s easy then to find some connection and even like that person, as little as we really know them, if only for the shared commonality of being human and being mortal. These are the feelings I’ve had with all of the mourning pieces I’ve researched and connected to a once-living being. That is, until I found this ring.

Here we have a simple, almost austere, mourning ring of the late 18thcentury. Its shape is an elongated oval,

Inscription in Latin

almost a navette. The shank is tapered, and of plain gold. A gold bezel, with just a touch of decoration to the edge, a band of black enamel, and a thin beaded border suffice to frame the simply woven hair memento; hair that’s almost lost its color, having more white than brown in it. This is a perfect example of a basic, typical mourning ring of its day. However, underneath, there is engraved, in elegant script, a dedication entirely in Latin. This is not the shortened Latin using obit (died) and aet (for aetat- at the age of) that we normally find on mourning rings, but a more complete dedication which states: Rogerus Kelsall diem obiit 5 Decembris ’88 circiter 51 annos natus. Translated this means: Roger Kelsall died on (the day of) 5 December ’88 (1788) approximately 51 years after he was born. So, why the more elaborate Latin? I have a few ideas, one based on an educated guess having to do with the person who probably had this ring commissioned (which I’ll get to later), and one simply because it lends the memorial a feeling of high respect; it imparts the sense that this was a great individual,both intellectually, morally, an even physically, by relating it to the Classical age of poets, philosophers, statesmen, great military commanders.

Well then, who was Roger Kelsall? There is quite a lot of information about him out there, much of it I have not yet delved into. In the next post, I will explore more about the man’s history.

John Barry Miniature Portrait 1785

An oval double portrait miniature attributed to British artist John Barry (active 1784-1827); one side has sepia miniature portrait on ivory of a gentleman (the father) wearing a powdered wig with a verre eglomise border.

John Barry Miniature Portrait 1785

Upon the other side a watercolour portrait on ivory of a young girl (the daughter) in a rose gold frame set upon a light brown hairwork base. Note the symbolism in the border and the costume of the subjects.

John Barry Miniature Portrait 1785

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Further Reading
> Symbolism Sunday Memorial
> Property of a Lady: 18th Century Costume, Mourning and Art in a Neoclassical Miniature
> For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow
>A Jean Petitot Louis XIV Enamel Pendant?

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

When presented with a beautiful piece like this, one can’t help but emote. There are so many reasons why this pendant enters into the higher echelon of beauty that requires one to stop and consider it from every angle. Not only is it a beautiful time capsule for Alice herself, but it is also a perfect example of its culture and heritage. To take this into account, we have to look at its shape, its hairwork and its design motifs.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

For starters, this piece was created in 1730, a period of relative stability in comparison to the previous century of British civil war and restoration, indeed, this period shows the culmination of the results of the restoration, with greater focus on the parliament and a society experiencing the early stages of cultural mobility. How is this relevant to the piece? This particular style carries over much of what came before, an interpretation of styles from the mid-17th century and is forging its links to the styles of pre-Neoclassicism of the mid-18th century, so it truly bares the height of its fashion for this time.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

Let’s look at the ribbon motif. This was a popular design in mourning and sentimental jewels, with this period of the Baroque/Rococo transition influencing jewellery designs with style carried over from Europe. The ribbon and bow served its function for many purposes; it was a functional design motif, as can be seen with the inscription of the name/dedication on the ribbon, such as that of a banner, it is an elegant style that carries through the mainstream fashion into the jewel, it frames the piece nicely and the symbolism involved of eternity and proximity are closely related to it. Immediately, the sentiment towards the person it is dedicated to shines through.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

The black enamel is another motif that was popularised and cemented into the mainstream of mourning jewellery, we can draw our conclusions that Alice was not young/unmarried from this (aged 80, as you can see). Stylistically, it’s appropriate and conveys the messaging on the ribbon.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

Its shape, close to that of a heart, is another important factor. The heart is an eternal symbol of love and one commonly used in jewellery and art. Most typically, the “Georgian Heart” is referred to as its peak in sentimental jewellery design, but the motif obviously is one of the most famous and used symbols today. However, this style is a precursor to that of the Georgian Heart, with this symbol being used commonly very close to this piece’s construction:

And to show the ribbon in as a dedicated motif:

Also, the ribbon as a bow:

Internally, we have the hairwork, which I think is even more remarkable. The eternity twist of the hair is very common for this time, as it was a popular motif and worked well (symbolically) with the ribbon motif. It was an easy weave and when placed between the transparent halves of the glass or crystal, we have that transparency of affection towards the wearer shining through the hairwork. Truly, there is no closer the loved one could be placed towards the heart.

Below is a ring with very similar style and construction – note the transparency for the hair and the ribbon:

Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725 Mourning Ring


And another with the ribbon motif:


Many more examples of these can be found at Art of Mourning in the Pendants section or the Rings section!

Dedication: The Hon Alice Nugent Died / Aged 80 20 Decr 1730
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama (Alice piece) and Barbara Robbins

This mourning locket and chain are an excellent match, but are actually two separate pieces.

The fittings only compliment the hairwork of the chain itself and do not become the prominent focal point. The tight hairwave ensures that there’s a sturdiness to the chain and the weave is comfortable for the wearer.

Necklaces like this are common throughout most of the 19th century, though as discussed in the past, there is a large variation can be found in the style of the hair weave and occasionally the gold fittings. Pieces like this can be dated quite well through looking in original catalogues of the time, pieces like this were quite common from the 1870s.

Further Reading
> A History of Hairwork (Series)
> Bending Your Brain with a Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain
> Hello ‘Mother’! A Hinged Hairwork Band
> One Family in a 19th Century Hairwork Bracelet

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

It’s been a while since I did a good analysis of a piece, life sometimes gets in the way of memorials, but without living, how can there be anything to reflect upon? So, for today’s warm-up session, let’s get intimate with this wonderful hairwork fob chain, a piece that reflects sentimentality and I think are a great place to start your collection. Why is that?

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

Firstly, they are cheap to buy. Fob chains (those that haven’t been melted down for precious metal or converted into a necklace – a popular thing during WWI) are redundant fashion. In terms of the mainstream, once the wristwatch became cheap and miniaturisation/mass production led to the wrist taking up the real estate for the watch, cumbersome pocket watches seemed dated and obsolete. Necessity of using the wrist for a quick glance to see what the time is and have your hands free was a very handy (excuse the pun) thing to have during wartime as well.

Secondly, we have hairwork as a less than marketable material for audiences today to comprehend and use. Hairwork deteriorates rapidly when worn close to the skin due to oils and temperature change which accelerate rot and bacteria growth. In my youth, I’ve nearly lost two pieces due to this. Also, it’s scratchy and uncomfortable to be adapted to a necklace, though they do exist. Different weaves can be a little softer, but rule #1 still applies.

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

So, why is it great for the collector? Look at the fittings above. These, often rolled gold or Pinchbeck, show the symbolism-filled Rococo Revival, so popular in the latter 19th century and can be roughly dated due to their mass production and catalogue ordering. Yes, you can buy reproduction jewellery/store catalogues and easily spot the age of a piece due to its fittings. And, as they aren’t precious enough to destroy, melt down or adapt, the fittings often exist today.

Take a look through the Symbolism Sunday series and see if you can spot all the symbolism in the flowers. Often, these are disregarded ads being common Victorian design-work, but the symbolism actually enhances the piece and we have to pay attention to these nuances if we’re going to determine what the piece was worn or used for. The quick answer is ‘mourning’, but look a little closer and let’s think about it for a minute.

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

The hairwork is a dual-colour weave. Yes, we have two different kinds of hair used. This would have been colour matched professionally from sourced hair, rather than donated by the wearer. So, we have the idea of two kinds of hair entwined. Love, even when two are apart is what we have to consider. Then, it’s how it was used. This was worn attached to the vest or waistcoat, affixed through the buttonhole, with the watch at one end. Usually in the centre-fitting, you will find charms hanging (often the acorn, flowers, etc). This piece wasn’t so lucky, but it makes up for it with the remarkable serpent clasp.

Here is where you can find a more concrete date for the piece, though they were mass produced between the 1880s and 90s both in Europe and the US. Due to higher levels of travel and mass transit with a very mobile social structure, identifying a piece like this to a certain area is much harder. Here, the serpent clasp was seen in several fashion warehouse catalogues and could be interchanged for piece selection and production, so it could ideally be narrowed down to stockist.

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

Back to the symbolism of the serpent and how it’s coiled back over itself, forming the loop of the entire chain, creating the eternity circle. Once again, the love motif shines through.

So, we have a very sentimental piece and quite a common one that was part of a gentleman’s daily wardrobe. Hairwork was a common and relatively cheap material that was quite ubiquitous in mainstream fashion, so finding a gentleman wearing this as a nod to his loved one would be quite typical.

Late Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain

How was that, burgeoning jewellery historian? Why not track some down (you shouldn’t be paying over $150 for a decent chain) and do an analysis, or go through the Art of Mourning archives and do your own appraisal?

Further Reading
> Spotlight On: Fob Accessories
> A History of Hairwork
> Symbolism Sunday: The Acanthus
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.1900


The Victorian appropriation of the Rococo style is something that overtook the mainstream and led to many good pieces of art and jewellery. Influenced by Romanticism, you can see the impact on this particular ring:

Rococo Revival Ring

Rococo Revival Ring

Rococo Revival Ring

Sleep in Jesus Locket / In Memory Of Black Enamel

Gold back and front memorial lockets with various designs were ubiquitous mourning jewellery items in Victorian England and the United States. Here we have a 9 carat gold mourning locket with intricate engraving on the back and front, bold black enamel Christian cross motif metamorphosing into stylised ivy and the familiar ‘In Memory Of’. These types of lockets could be purchased from jewellery stores with photos, hair and other personal dedications added later. The locket is of its time, reflecting the fashion of the day and steeped in Christian belief and symbolism, but let us open it up and see what more we can learn.

Sleep in Jesus Locket / In Memory Of Black Enamel

The original glass on both sides is intact. The Left side has reverse,  hand-painted text reading: ‘Hannah Taylor born June 23 1872 died July 30 1876’. The naive quality of the writing reveals to us that this was undertaken in the home as opposed to a professional jeweller / engraver. On the right side purple silk is visible; a square piece of paper has been sewn on to it. The paper reads ‘Sleep in Jesus’ and this appears to have been mass printed – possibly a church or local paper or perhaps businesses offered such paper dedications for home memorials.  Atop the paper, most beautifully sewn, are separated curls of delicate brown hair – that of the cherished 4-year-old Hannah.

Sleep in Jesus Locket / In Memory Of Black Enamel

This locket represents a meaningful glimpse into the world of the unknown Taylors. Why did they need to paint the dedication themselves – was it desire or necessity? This locket was purchased from the US, is that where it originated from? Were these people from a remote rural area who ordered in the locket, but with no services, or perhaps no further money, for a professional to create the dedication? Can you imagine the feelings of love and loss while touching & sewing the hair, all that remains on this earth of your beloved child?

One thing we can be sure of as there are so many clues – their Christian belief in life after death.

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” – I Thessalonians 4:14.

Sleep – the ideal death, a Victorian obsession with death, to sleep and pass peacefully – to live in God. Sleep is a euphemism for death which we are all still very familiar with. The use of the text ‘Sleep in Jesus’ is most telling, one can assume the mother (logically the one who crafted the dedications?) is aware of I Thessalonians and she believes that her child will also go to God, sleeping in this life but alive in Heaven; hopefully gaining much needed comfort in this belief.

However, she may also be familiar with this phrase  through popular hymns, notably ‘I know of a sleep in Jesus’ name’ by M.B. Landstad (1802-1880) of Norway but published in official Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal books in the US. Also, ‘Asleep in Jesus! Blessed sleep!’ by Margaret Mackay of England, but printed in the Protestant Episcopal Church Hymnal of the US in 1871.

Now, let us re-introduce the ivy and the cross from the front of the locket. Ivy, in the Victorian era, symbolised fidelity and undying love, it was also associated with femininity. Traditionally (pre-Christianity), ivy symbolised rebirth and eternal life due to its evergreen properties. Here, we have the Christian cross, the most potent symbol of resurrection and eternal life, combined with ivy – a strong image of enduring love and spiritual life after death.  In addition, we have ‘Sleep in Jesus’; the message is clear.

A mother’s loss unfathomable to bear, but perhaps made easier by touching, keeping and cherishing the tiny locks of hair, which is all that remained with her worn atop her heart; and the belief that Hannah now sleeps peacefully in Jesus where once again they may meet.

“Asleep in Jesus! Far from thee
Thy kindred and their graves may be;
But there is still a blessed sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep.’ – Mrs Mackay, from US Hymnal 1871.

R.I.P. Hannah Taylor and those who loved her!

        Marielle Soni, 19th July 2011

Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725 Mourning RingAh, another delight torn from the clutches of London! This one came from a collection of an antiques dealer in Portobello Road and when I saw the eternity twist in the domed crystal with its completely free-floating transparency, I had to have it. Excuse the pictures, photography isn’t my forte.

Dedication: Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725

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When it comes to hinges in rings, there are many variations of the kind and it’s only when a style is at its absolute peak does the commonality and perfection of the form match the jewel itself.

And what do I mean by this, I hear you ask? Indeed, there have been unusual forms of hinges in rings dating back to pre-history, but for sentimental and memorial jewels of the late 19th century, you will find the hinged hairwork band to be one of the more common popular jewels produced. This leads into a lot of what was mass produced in the late 19th century in terms of jewellery design.

Jewellery design was at a point where it transcended socio-economic boundaries and found itself trapped within the necessary lexicon of moral standard. This is particularly true of mourning jewels, which had their set factors in time of the dictated mourning periods (1st, 2nd and 3rd) in Protestant-based Western culture, rather than sentimental jewels which were worn with reasons of personal beauty and random affection.

It was also a time where other styles of art, from the popular Arts and Crafts movement and subsequent Art Nouveau movement began to permeate the mainstream society and influence the style of jewellery design that was quite locked into the static social standard that had existed from the 1860s to 1890s. While the society was rebelling against these pre-established concepts, we have to look at what was also influencing it.

Mass production becomes a major factor here; a society locked within its very formal ways was being facilitated by high levels of production and low cost for items that were necessary within society. Look to establishments such as Jay’s Mourning Warehouse; places which tailored the mourning experience (and travelled!) to the individual and basically created a fashionable culture around this social necessity.

Mother Hairwork Hinged Ring

How does this impact this ring? Indeed, this ring comes from a time when this formalisation was becoming set, yet it has a wonderfully individual slant on the style. By the 1870s, society from the UK to America was finding these measures of standardisation in production, with the catalogue being the primary source of purchase and rings in particular (with fob chains, brooches and pins) being the more obvious items of fashion for day to day wear that denoted affection. Note how this ring is detailed within the hinge itself and the curvature to the band. It becomes almost an adaption of the style, which is clearly visible in the ring itself. Hair bands of the 1860s and 70s set the precedent for the mass production of the 90s, with a noticeably heavier weight in gold, thinner styles and greater differentiation with the shield or dedications on the front. In this, we have the formal Empire flourishes to the surrounding shield with ‘mother’ written very elegantly inside. The interior is dedicated ‘T.H. Morris’ and the woven hair is still in excellent condition.

Mother Hairwork Hinged Ring

One can draw inferences about how and why this ring was worn, certainly the dedication speaks for itself, however a good way to begin this form of esoteric analysis is to look at the condition of the piece and then draw some conclusions about its interactivity with day to day life.

I’ll leave that there, I won’t want to muddy the waters of fact with any sort of blind romanticism!

Enjoy the ring, because I know I will – I have a special affection for hinged bands.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Dedication: Mother / T.H. Morris

For a collector of the memorial and sentimental, it’s quite common to find white, black and blue enamels, but when you find a contrasting colour, you have to take notice.

With this very early 19th century pendant, the gorgeous red guilloche enamel surrounds the hair memento and is generously surrounded with paste. In this case, the sentiment is purely love, red meaning passion. If you were to look at the hair inside, notice the elegant ribbon bow entwining the simple palette worked hair, almost as if it had been cropped off the head of the lover and simply placed inside (while obviously there’s a bit more work involved than that).

Due to the use of this for its sentiment and the tight weave of the hairwork in the back, this piece matches closely with other French pieces of the time, so it wouldn’t be difficult to make this assumption.

Hairwork bracelets are popular forms of sentimental and mourning jewellery, being always fashionable and relatively cheap to produce.

As much as the manufacture of the clasp or gold-work in a bracelet, the hair itself is the focal point of the construction.

As a memento, entire families could have different hair woven into the band, or a loved one could offer their own in a more intimate manner.

Other than the hair itself, the clasp is important to judge the latter 19th century pieces for their age and quality. In future posts, I’ll discuss more about the 18th century Neoclassical pieces, which differ greatly with these pieces (using miniature portraits, pearls and other materials). In this example from 1858, there are seven initials from the family members and with the tableworked hair in three colours constructing the band. A simple weave of hair is also displayed inside the glass compartment and on the reverse, the initials of each individual are represented.

Further Reading

> Bracelet With Miniature

1836 LocketCourtesy: Monique Charvet
Dedication: obt July 14th 1836 / Giles C Dana & Ruth Ann Dana

This particular style is quite typical of the 1830s and 40s, basically coinciding with the transition of the Neoclassical movement to the Neo-Gothic style that was prevalent at the time, you can often find pieces like this with the Neo-Gothic lettering of ‘In Memory Of’ or other sentiments surrounding where the black enamel is on this piece. The surrounding floral work to the gold is very popular in the 1830s and can be found in rings, lockets and other peripherals in jewellery. This style actually dates back to around 1811, but didn’t really gain traction until later. Some call it a ‘pie crust’ surround, but I don’t like that term, as I find it denigrates the floral patterns and the stylistic transition in art. For more on that, check Art of Mourning in rings and lockets for the 1830 period, also, I’ve got some posts on the blog about it as well, so have a search.

They can be quite small as well, I’ve seen variations down to 1cm (with a small twist of hair in the back) in diameter and increase up to about 5cm. Due to the rise in photography post 1840, you’ll find a lot of locket variations from about 1845-50 with early photography inside. This style was popular enough that it was often made in both low and high gold content, so it’s best to get it tested if you care about that sort of thing.

1836 Locket

It’s obviously a mourning piece, from the black enamel to the charming dedication. The wonderful dual hair is much more rare for a piece like this and to find it possibly re-purposed for another family member or dedicated to the passed individual with the living one having their hair or dedication inside isn’t unheard of, but it’s much more uncommon than finding the singular dedication. To me personally, I find that dual dedications are more precious than any diamond, as it is much more personal for the family and that love is what it’s all about for me.

The hair itself is a bold and basic weave with the twist, which I think makes it a little more personal, as professionally table-worked hair can often put the sentimentality in the back seat, as it were, so this is a really nice and seemingly instant (as the hair would have been cropped without pre-planning for it to be made), so the dedication and the piece would have been commissioned close to the passing of the loved one. As such, the piece itself would have been manufactured first and purchased/tailored to the person who commissioned it, rather than being a one-off made for the occasion. Once again, very sentimental.

So, when you see a piece like this without the black enamel or dedication, they were sold as love tokens as well, they’re not all mourning (which is a great problem when people discuss/sell these pieces with hair, they always skew to the morbid), though this one is quite obviously morning. It was a popular style and one must question what the purpose of the piece was for at all times and how it would have been worn. Also, the style was popular in the UK, to some degree on the Continent (France, Germany and Eastern Europe) and also in the US.

Judging from the title of this little piece, you’d think the article was based upon hairstyles of the Neoclassical era, but I’d like to focus on the jewellery aspect of it for a bit.

mourning ringOf the many different methods of constructing Neoclassical scenes in jewellery, forming a scene from hair itself is one of the most original and unique. Often, hair was ground into sepia paint and used in the typical scenes of the time, in other occasions, the hair was woven, glued and created part of an urn or created a high-relief or three-dimensional level to a scene, be it in a tree, plinth or tomb. But more interestingly is this particular style.

Ribbon Slide Crystal Mourning Memento MoriSilk is embroidered with hair, creating the depiction of the mourning or sentimental scene itself. What is wonderful about this style is how it has survived and how intricate it was. Indeed, this style had its roots in the 17th century, but not to the delicate extent of this. Embroidering fabric with hairwork, usually in initials or just integrating a hair weave into the material itself with gold initial cypher on top or an enamel/metal mourning/sentimental symbol.

Embroidered Hair Mourning Ring 1780

Even more interesting is that the construction itself could be performed by professionals and practiced in the home as well, making a wonderful variation between the higher-end quality pieces and those that veer into folk art. Usually the higher-end of the scale would emulate the classic mourning/sentimental sentiments and symbols with sheafs, flowers, urns, ribbons and the like, but more unusual examples are often the singular pieces, which didn’t need to hit a commercial prerogative. These, such as the one pictured, can be as strange as to emulate moss agate with hairwork. As stated by Ward, Cherry et al, it was ‘time-consuming work (which) was designed to occupy over-abundant leisure’.

So, there is a rather wonderful little curiosity from a magnificent era. I’ll be focusing on some of the more specialised techniques in jewellery as time goes on, so keep your eyes open for more!

Courtesy: British Museum

Hair Wreath / Art

January 21, 2011

Hair WreathWreaths can be an exceptional symbol of love from the family unit, often constructed with the hair of the entire family. The simple nature of the weaves and the size of the pieces make them memorials that could be constructed at home, much the same as a sampler. They can relate to being a form of folk art, as they are culture specific and each is unique to its own family.

Frames range from the naïve to the opulent and the hair artistry can be as simple as weaves of hair into primitive flowers or rich bouquets involving several colours of hair. Sentimental words can also be found in hairwork wreaths, with the statement being the popular memorial of the time (such as ‘in memory of’).

Hair WreathWreaths did transcend the family unit, however, as professional weavers could be commissioned to produce a hair wreath. These would be displayed in the home, affixed to a wall or on an easel. This particular wreath shows a great depth in the kinds of hairwork, the fine work to the flowers and its organic design.

French 1851 Hair Art / MemorialThis sublime and elegant work still has the original maker’s details and appears almost untouched by age. The thick curls of the hairwork blend seamlessly into the hair artwork, creating several sentimental symbols.

Featuring two kinds of table and palette-worked hair, this French piece shows magnificent dimension in the willow, forget-me-nots and the over-arching hair, which is locked together in an eternity knot at the bottom.

This piece is important for several reasons, one being that it’s a prime example of French hairworking, which never reached the popular heights (due to more transient fashion on the Continent) as it did in the UK and US, but was largely popular for a time in the 1850s.

French 1851 Hair Art / MemorialFrench hairwork, and the jewels that encompass the hair, tend to be of a higher quality and more delicate than their English counterparts. Mourning culture, while popular, did not reach the heights of popularity that it did in England and the expense and quality of the jewels were farther removed from the poorer classes. Hairwork weaving is as grand in its construction, as with middle European hairwork, with a higher propensity for matching necklace / bracelet / earring sets.

In 1858, fashion magazine La Belle Assemblè referred to the French hairwork artist Limmonièr in a revolutionary light. La Belle Assemblè expands on the association with hairwork as a sentimental device and identifies it as a jewellery construction material in its own right, not simply “in which some beloved tress or precious curl is entwined”.

“(Old styles) gave the appearance of having been designed from a ‘mortuary tablet’. Have we not all met ladies wearing as a brooch, by way of loving remembrance, a tomb between two willow trees formed of the hair of the individual from whom their crêpe was worn, and which from its very nature must be laid aside with it? But the new hair jewelry made by Limmonièr is an ornament for all times and places. He expands it into a broad ribbon as a bracelet and fastens it with a forget-me-not in turquoise and brilliants; weaves it into chains for the neck, the flacon, or the fan; makes it into a medallion, or leaves and flowers; and of these last the most beautiful specimens I have seen have been formed of the saintly white hair of age. This he converts into orange flowers, white roses, chrysanthemum and most charming of all, clusters of lily-of-the-valley.”

Hair bracelets advertisement

La Belle Assemblè provides a very good advertising spiel for Limmonièr but also provides an insight into how the French perceived hairwork in 1858. By the latter half of the 19th century, hairwork was nearing a phase of unpopularity in France, though this article shows how hairwork was removed, or was attempted to be removed, from mourning and memorials.
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Dedication: TC 16 Novembre 1851
Year: 1851

Often when critiquing a Neoclassical piece with art, you’ll often find me reference the quality of the painting itself. Be it colour or sepia, there’s often a wide degree of variation between pieces in how they are depicted.

Watercolour Pendant 19th Century Ship

Much of the variation comes form the instant nature of the art itself. Remember that memorial and sentimental art is very immediate. If a lover is parting on short notice and a token of regard and affection has to be bought or commissioned without pre-planning, then the jewel is born of necessity. If there is a financial issue that causes the person purchasing the piece to have to choose an item of lesser quality or even if the person wishes to embed their own art into a piece (such as their own placement of hairwork in a locket, photograph, personal memento), then it’s not so much about the level of the execution, but comes back to the personal nature of what the piece is for. Yes, these pieces can be naive, but they can also be unique and beautiful individuals, pieces that have no precedence and never will again. It captures the moment between people, that instant affection inside a jewel.

Which leads us to this piece. This particular painting is obviously very instant. Detail to the piece is quite low considering the complexity of the depiction and yet the hairwork on the reverse is quite delicate, with the Albert curl and gold wire cipher. This is set in a low-grade pendant and underneath glass, so what can we make of it?

Firstly, the symbolism is rather simple and direct. There’s little other allusion to context outside of the ship sailing into the distance and the Neoclassical female pointing to it sailing away. The cliff, tree and surrounds merely act as scenery, rather than enhancing the piece with further sentiments. Note the figure of the female herself. Her hair is set in a more contemporary style for the time, rather than harkening back to the Ancient Grecian idealised style, though her dress is classical in intent, but the flowing lines and folds of the dress are lost to simple strokes of the artist. The face is rather simple, the eyes are simple black dotes, as is the nose, yet the artist has taken care to shade the piece and give her more contrast than the art is perhaps worthy of. Then there is the ship sailing away, note the inclusion of the flags and their colour.

Watercolour Pendant 19th Century Ship

The hairwork makes this piece easier to date and gives the naïve painting context. With its curl and attention to detail in the table-working, this piece stems from around the 1820s, a time when the Neoclassical style of large miniature paintings had been on the decline, with smaller, angular jewels and sharp, clean lines in enamel and stones/pearls surrounding hair mementos taking their place. Hence the instant nature of the painting or the lack of style can be understood as either being a primitive interpretation of the earlier styles, rushed for necessity, a personal sentimental gift or a pre-designed and cheaply bought token of affection.

Travelling miniaturists sold pre-designed miniatures to a public for lower prices and would customise scenes to either incorporate a loved one (say, a soldier’s face may be inserted into a piece during the Napoleonic Wars). If one were to consider this as well as the instant nature of the piece, the symbolism with the ship and the time it was created, then one may consider it to be stemming from the Wars of the time, however, this of course is supposition and the only truth can be told by the person who commissioned it.

Either way, the facts remain that it is indeed a curiosity, still wonderful to look at and entertaining to consider!

Testing for 14K yellow gold and at the elegant size of 2” x 1”. This brooch comes from the Philadelphia area; Walnut street is still in existence, but 266 does not exist now.

As a piece constructed in 1850, this shows modesty and elegance in an oval shape reminiscent of the 1820s. For a time when brooches were becoming bigger and surroundings more elaborate, this keeps the oval shape and charm of its materials (hair/gold). As seen last week, the 1850s showed a period of design in jewellery that was in flux, coming to grips with the evolving fashion and adoption of new styles. There seems to be a level of fluidity to the period of 1820-1850, obviously with huge social changes reflecting back upon fashion of the time. Through two monarchs, increased social mobility, Empire building and increased transit, communication and lifestyle was advancing faster than ever before.

In this brooch, the gold finely encapsulates the dual-weave hairwork, creating a luscious balance of colour and entwined sentiment. The detail of the inscription is very fine as well, pushing this into the realm of fine jewellery and a powerful personal statement.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Dedication: “My Sister and My Darling April 21 & 22 nd 1850 266 Walnut Street.”

Clara Pendant

One of the more fascinating aspects of being a mourning and sentimental jewellery collector is that we’re blessed with having inscriptions and dedications in the pieces we collect. Unlike many other forms of jewellery, which may be discovered through manufacturer, style or material, we have an instant connection with the people who wore these pieces. This proximity makes collecting mourning and sentimental items closer to art collecting in sentimental intent.

Clara Pendant Back

This is why it’s wonderful when a collector discovers genealogy of a family through pieces. I’ve spent many hours trawling through census documents on the hunt for full family detail over pieces, and today’s research performed on a very wonderful locket is superb.

Clara Pendant Top

Of course, photography still exists in lockets and pendants today, making it one of the most resilient forms of change ever applied to memorial jewellery. The change that came about in jewellery to adapt to this new technology changed the face of sentimental jewellery and is arguably the single most popular surviving aspect of sentimental jewels today. Photographs are cheap, easily accessible (especially with the advent of digital printing) and where hairwork, or wearing the hair of a loved one, has become distant in many Western cultures, wearing the photograph of a loved one is quite common.

Clara Top

This particular piece shows exceptional engraving and a perfect balance between the photograph on the front and the hairwork on the back. Being a pendant, this takes its precedence from the turn of the century pendants with the open face and hairwork on reverse.

Clara Name Pendant


This particular piece has a significant history. Owner and collector Sarah Nehama has researched the history of this piece and below is the product of this effort:
1. A copy of the death certificate for Clara Wilkinson. Cause of death listed as phthysis pulmonalis, or tuberculosis.
2. Page one of the Franklin family genealogy showing the relation to Benjamin Franklin through Clara’s maternal line.
3. Page two of the Franklin family genealogy showing the relation to Benjamin Franklin through Clara’s maternal line.
4. Page three of the Franklin family genealogy showing the relation to Benjamin Franklin through Clara’s maternal line.
5. Four pages of Franklin family genealogy showing the relation to Benjamin Franklin through Clara’s maternal line.
6. A postcard from 1880 showing the entrance to the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston, site of Benjamin Franklin’s parents tomb.
7. A postcard from 1906 showing the tomb of Josiah and Abiah Franklin, parents of B. Franklin in the Old Granary Burial Ground.
8. Detail of of Melksham, Wiltshire, England, pertaining to Matthew Wilkinson, Clara’s father.
9. A picture of a stained glass window from All Saint’s Parish Church, West Lavington, Wiltshire, UK, commemorating Clara’s parents. Her father was the vicar of this church when Clara died.
10. Stained glass window from All Saint’s Parish Church, West Lavington, Wiltshire, UK,.

Dedication: Clara Wilkinson
Year: June 2nd 1851 – June 28th 1867
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Been somewhat of an odd sort myself, it’s when I find the oddities and individuals in sentimental and mourning jewellery design that I get somewhat excited.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Often, it is the oddity that turns into a new and popular movement in mourning and sentimental jewellery, such as how was a popular art integrated into these fashionable tokens of affection that could be displayed on the person or otherwise, how did a method of construction develop from an original idea into something that was adapted? From the collection of Marielle Soni, we have this very unusual locket ring. And what do I mean by locket ring, dear reader? Well, no, it’s not that the hair memento compartment is hinged, but the entire band is hinged and locks into the bezel.

Firstly we must look at the gold content of the ring, which tests to 18ct, on top, we have the latticed hairwork under glass and the shape is rectangular. From the look of the hinge and how it recesses into the bezel, one must consider that the ring was an original, contemporary creation, but we’ll get to that later. Inside the band, we have the sentiment ‘God for me appointed thee.’ Outside the band, there is a somewhat worn design with three lines followed by three circular shapes.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Starting with the bezel, the contour of its underside conforms with the shape of the finger. One thing that would be considered when looking at a piece so unusual is that it may be a marriage of styles. Often, ribbon slides, brooches, pins and bracelet clasps were reappropriated to become rings or other forms of jewellery, this is quite common and there is a remarkable amount of them surviving today. These marriages have no set date, one must consider when the change may have occurred. A 16th or 17th century piece may have been adapted during the 19th century (early 19th century conversions are quite popular), however, in this piece, the bezel conforms and shows the mechanical recess of the hinge. Note how the mechanism splays out from the bezel itself to the undercarriage of the hinge, creating a ring that wouldn’t pinch the skin when clasped. The designer understood form and function by looking at this.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Note etching

Next are the designs on the bezel, note the high relief of its construction and the etched lines that flow with its contour. This is a method reminiscent of the emerging geometric line-work of c.1800 through the Regency Period which complemented the bold form-factors of Neoclassical jewels. Often, there’s a clear distinction between the navette and oval shapes used for housing ivory to the rectangular, square and even diamond shapes with the hair memento placed on top.

This ring falls into this category and along with various other examples of experimental jewellery designs of the time. Also, the high relief of the bezel is considered to be a good method to house both the hair and the hinge in construction, which doesn’t make for high practicality when wearing, but there’s a definite experimental leaning with getting this style right.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Diamond shaped 1800 ring

unusual diamond shape c.1800

The symbolism and motifs on the band are also unusual. They appear to be earlier, commissioned specifically or simply flourishes of the designer of the time. It is because they simply don’t correlate with contemporary jewellery and popular styles that one can ascertain this. There is a definite hint of naivety in the design, but with the wear, it makes it harder to consider. Putting emphasis on the meaning of the design is completely subjective, however, there may be the influence of ‘eternity’ within, but the unbroken circles.

What we can understand is that the ring is sentimental in intent and the anachronistic posy dedication ‘God for me appointed thee’ is a clear indicator of this. Indeed, the nature of the posy was that its intent was private and many were constructed under personal commission by various socio-economic methods. Many range from the poorer end of the scale to the very high end, but that underlines that they were indeed created for the purpose of being a direct love token, rather than a piece chosen from a catalogue post-mortem as mourning jewels often here. Does this piece conform to that, or is it a certain regional style? Is it a marriage or simply experimentation over a period where some of the most elaborate jewellery design experiments were undertaken? Why wasn’t the style adapted? The elaborate construction, the ease of how it may break, difficulty sizing and the general discomfort wearing may have played a part in that, but all we can do right now is wonder.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Despite what we may think of the piece today, someone wore this on their finger at a certain time and felt the love for someone through it and what could be more beautiful than that? Enjoy the images, because I know I am!

Courtesy and Thanks: Marielle Soni

On the face of it, this Pinchbeck brooch shows a significant amount of damage and its physical price would not be very great (I don’t really like talking about prices as they are transient and mostly in the eye of the beholder). We have the oxidisation to the top of the piece, a layer of high gloss enamel that shows signs of very rudimentary repair and water damage to the hair inside the memento. The piece is light and hollow, with the damage to the exterior frame showing being knocked and bent, with even one of the flourishes missing from the bottom of the frame itself and enamelled over.

On the face of it, a collector would look the other way, but underneath it all, one must wonder why they are collectors. Is it to buy every/any piece that comes along in order to expand a collection and does that provide gratification?

For me, I find infinite delight in this for many reasons, its age and damage tell a story – the person who wore it did so with love. One can only assume that from the damage, other than a century of careless or apathetic behaviour from future generations, the piece was worn for the sentiment it was designed for. It was worn, rather than kept hidden from site and displayed the love token with intent.

It is a wonderful little time capsule for that reason, but also I just love the artistic and design of it.

The Neo-Rococo Victorian design that frames the piece is bold and marries together the earlier tight floral style that surrounds the hair itself, showing a transition of the old to the new. It really is a transitional piece, the large size (around 6cm across), shows the growth of brooches from the 1840s to the 1860s, as their prominence around the neck became larger for the latter stages of mourning and rings became smaller. So, it tells a story, this piece. It tells a story of its history and any further than that is merely subjective, but the fact is there.

So, did I buy it to take space? No, I bought it because it’s a link in a chain and one that will continue on for long after I’m gone.

And you, dear reader, do you collect for sentimental reasons or for quality reasons? Post in the comments or discuss over in the Facebook group!

Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Firstly, let’s look at the context of this piece. During the first quarter of the 19th century, the world was dealing with some of the most rapid social change with a scale unlike any seen previously. There is the emergence of the independence of the United States in 1776, colonial Australia, the French Revolution and the continuing Napoleonic Wars, new discoveries and uses for steam power in transportation and electricity began to influence rapid transit, industry was on the rise and of course, then there was fashion and art. Fashion became more and more elaborate to match a society that was relishing their individuality and status. Dandyism was popular with young men and ladies reflected the popular neoclassical styles that had been heavily influenced art, creating the ‘Empire silhouette’ and losing much of the heaviness and pomp that had surrounded costume in previous generations.

So, how does this reflect upon this pendant? Firstly, let’s look at the sentiment itself:

Besty Robinson
Obt 3rd Octr 1809
AE 28 Yrd’s
Affectionate Wife,
Mother and

Sentiments like this, worn so prominently on the person, were simply not typical previous to the neoclassical movement. As this movement developed, with the increasing focus on the person as the important individual, rather than the purpose of the family as a group or the church as an idyllic standard of living, the nature of the individual became paramount and beautiful. Love became something to be worn prominently, as fashion. This is previous to the Victorian installation of the family as virtuous unit under the crown and god and it’s amazing to see what the difference of thirty years can make. In difference, this is almost hedonistic and rampant narcissism through the standard of living culture.

But, there it is, a very large, very personal sentiment that still resonates today as being an incredibly loving memorial to one’s partner. ‘Mother and Friend’ are also two very important sentiments with this piece. Speaking from the perspective of the husband, the term ‘mother’ is almost superfluous (unless the deceased passed quite early in the relationship without having child), as the expectation of the lady as a mother, at the very least, the latter 19th century ideal of the female as the matriarch of the family is a given.

‘Friend’ is the most touching sentiment here, I think. Beyond all else, wife or a partner should also be a best friend and here it explicitly states that. I am somewhat emotional just looking at the piece now.

As for the quality of this piece, let’s look at the sepia work to the font. Note the very fine calligraphy; it’s not at all rushed, but very methodical and is the art for one side of the pendant. Certainly not an inexpensive piece, even the little flourishes surrounding the font and the mixture of upper and lower case show careful planning. It’s a personal sentiment, as well, so it was certainly commissioned with the sentiment in mind. Do note the slant to the name against the ‘IN MEMORY OF’ – this may show that the ‘IMO’ was pre-written and the sentiment below personalised.

Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Then on the reverse, we have the dual hearts, an eternity knot of hair, initials and the sentiment ‘THE UNION OF HEARTS CONSTITUTES OUR HAPPINESS’. There is somewhat a French influence to this piece, from the quality, to the size to the etching of the gold. Stylistically, I would lean towards this being an American piece, however, there’s not enough data to substantiate this as of writing. Nevertheless, the sentiment seals the love that is imbued within the piece, it’s an eternal statement about the person who wore it and I should think that such a firm sentiment is quite a rare one and puts us, as the viewers, in an almost intimate proximity between the two lovers involved with this piece.

Besty Robinson Obt 3rd Octr 1809 Pendant Sepia Hairwork

Overall, this piece shows us how far society had come and changed during the early 19th century. Today, we’re not so far removed from them, as society is still as volatile, borders are changing, more so than ever, we’re rampant consumers who parade ourselves in costume to the world and new discoveries are found each day, but at the end of it all, it’s love which defines us and binds us.

Tomorrow I take a look at how damage affects cost in jewellery and I hope you all join in on the Art of Mourning Facebook Group, where you can meet like-minded individuals, post your jewellery pictures and have a chat!

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
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