After the previous looks at the Gothic Revival period and its affect on subsequent mourning jewellery, one of the things to consider is that while perception may lead to the Gothic Revival creating a period of jewellery design that was rather static, one must note that it only took the elements of the period, which were not unique to the period, but embellished, and used these concepts as a central motif.

Heavy black enamel was one of the most consistent styles that carried through. Black enamel had been considered a mourning motif for the previous 200 years, but when looking at Victorian style, note that the previous Neoclassical period was one of the strongest, unified mainstream styles ever to impact style on a fully Westernised scale. America, France and England adapted it in their own ways and it took over from a period where Rococo, Baroque and the memento mori symbolism had left off. Black enamel bands were popular since the 1500s and remained so throughout the 18th century, yet the adaptation through the Gothic Revival period and beyond produced rings like this to use the enamel as the bold mourning statement.

1850 Mourning Ring

The following ring comes from c.1850 and below, 1864, note the leap of the bold enamel to become prominent and also the change in font styling.

1864 Mourning Ring

Then let’s look at this piece from 1881, note again the enamel in play. This ring has adapted the Rococo Revival style and infused that within the black enamel on the shoulders. In terms of style, much of this can find its origins in the early 19th century, from the pearl-surrounded hair memento to the enamel itself..

1881 Mourning Ring

When it comes to styling, this particular brooch shows the Gothic lettering in full bloom. Yet the acanthus surround shows the 1860s influences, making the lettering a solid 30 years outside the idealised moment of the Gothic Revival. 30 years is a long time for any art style to be all-pervasive, but in mourning jewellery, the style makes the statement that could be understood 30 years before or after this piece was constructed. Its bold enamel, the hair memento leave no dispute as to what it is.

Mourning Brooch Gothic Revival

And then there are pieces like this from the late 19th century. Dating from 1885, this piece shows how the mourning style had become popular within the sentimental and non-death related styles of the same time. The culture had adapted well to the mainstream fashion of death and exploited it in other fashion designs.

late 19th Cenutyr Mourning Ring

When it comes to sentimental jewellery of the latter 19th century, styles had become bigger, alloys were typically in use and much of this was to accommodate fashion and the rise of photography in jewellery. Photography was a cheap means of obtaining a sentimental keepsake of a loved one and the technology was becoming more compact, enough to work perfectly in lockets. The latter 19th century, particularly post 1880, started to use silver as a popular material, yet base metals copied the look and feel of gold well enough, for mourning jewellery, Pinchbeck was quite common. In this, you can see the bold, enamel styles carry through with the statement of the Gothic Revival showing through. ‘In Memory Of’ and the standard statements were rendered in bold black enamel, often using the Gothic fonts and despite the inclusion of many mourning symbols, the adherence to the Christian paradigm in these jewels reflected the change bought about in the 1830s through the Gothic Revival.

So, there we have it. Three weeks of Gothic Revival exploration in culture and jewellery! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, as you never know what tomorrow will bring.

The Gothic Revival: Culture and Jewellery
Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
Part 2, c.1850-c.1900

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.

Charles I Mourning Ring FrontThis piece dedicated to Charles I is a display of affection that would eventually generate the popularity of the mourning custom. Looking at the piece, Charles’ eyes are turned upwards, which confirms the piece was created after his death. Pieces of this quality are historically important for their relevance to English history and in mourning jewellery. Incredibly rare, other examples can be seen in the V&A Museum. Though there is repair work to the shank, the style of the ring is a good indication of the mid 17th Century.

Rings of the time, particularly after the death of Charles I in 1649, used much of the memento mori symbolism (more on that in another post), but the difference of putting the portrait of Charles I (above), or pieces with the initials CR, shows a distinct change of memento mori as a statement to one of reverence.Charles I Mourning Ring Back Note that Charles’ eyes are facing upwards, which denotes the death of the subject. Earlier portraits (during his lifetime) had the eyes facing forward. These eyes are looking to the heavens. Pieces like this were created during the royalist movement (and beyond) and would eventually spur on the English Restoration leading to the instalment of Charles II.

Charles I Mourning Ring Inside

The distribution of rings had been written into wills of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Most famously, William Shakespeare in 1616 declared that in his will that his daughter and wife should have rings stating “Love My Memory” . This custom, though used, was not as popular as the latter half of the 17th Century would prove, though is provides a good basis for what was to come. Posy rings, typically bands with inscriptions, were popular for sentimental purposes during the 17th Century.

Country: England
Year: c. 1649
Dedication: Charles I “prepared be to follow me”
Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

Further Reading
How Society Entered Mourning: c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring
> Spotlight On: Ribbon Slides
> Charles I Enamel Locket
> Charles II Silver Locket
> Queen Mary II Memento Mori Slide
> Revisiting A Charles II Pendant

Following on from Part 1 of our little book review adventure, here are a few books that may or may not be essential to your collecting, but they are are great to have!

du Tertre, Nancy., The Art of the Limoges Box, 2003, Harry N. Abrams, Inc (Amazon)
This book certainly isn’t essential to the mourning or sentimental collector, but it does have some wonderful examples and shows the peripherals of what can be found in sentimental objects. The book is mostly pictorial and should really be entertained as such, a great little book for having handy on a lazy day or for referencing.

Evans, Joan., A History of Jewellery 1100-1870, 1953, Faber and Faber
Evans is one of the better writers on the subject of historical jewellery and this book shows why. With an unflinching knowledge of such a broad subject, she traverses the years with ease and shows some of the most intricate historical examples and how they weave into social history. Highly academic and highly entertaining, this book isn’t for the casual or the curious, you have to really look deep into the past for this one. Go get it, scholar!

Frank, Robin Jaffe., Love and Loss American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures, 2000, Yale University Press (Amazon)
Oh, how I adore this book. Frank really selects her pieces for display carefully, nothing seems arbitrary at all, as she weaves a solid, involving and intricate history of American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. I highly recommend this book to go with British Portrait Miniatures or The Portrait Miniature in England, you won’t be disappointed.

Hinks, Peter., Nineteenth Century Jewellery, 1975, Faber and Faber (Amazon)
There are some wonderful examples and anecdotes in this book by Peter Hinks, he unearths some little known facts about 19th century jewellery and that makes for a good companion piece to other jewellery books on the era.

Knowles, Eric., Miller’s Victorian Antiques Checklist, 2000, Octopus, (Amazon)
No, I don’t really know why this book is here at all, but I did buy it when the collecting beast was wildly prowling Eastern Europe for something shiny and old to buy. It only made those pangs a whole lot worse. Basically, it’s a pocket book that you can keep handy with a few photo references and small blurbs to go with each, as most Miller’s books are. Really quite good if you’re brand new to collecting and need a point of reference, also good if you’re starting out and need to know about other contemporary styles.

Luthi, Ann L. , Sentimental Jewellery, 2002, Shire Publications (Amazon)
Luthi is one of the finest writers and most knowledgeable people on the topic of sentimental jewellery, hence it is only fitting that this book is authored by her. For such a small book, this is deceptively full and quite handy for any collector. A great overview and a great point of reference with a very broad, global slant that covers all the necessary periods of sentimental jewellery. For the new collector, it’s one of the most invaluable books you can own, for the seasoned collector, you should have this anyway.

Over at my website Art of Mourning, I’ve got a reasonably comprehensive list of the essential books to buy if you like the old jewellery and I’ll repost them here with some brief thoughts:

Bell, Jeanenne., Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewellery, 1998, Collector Books (Amazon)
Bell’s book on hairwork jewellery is a nice overview of the form and gives many random facts, I feel that it’s a necessary book to have for references (especially with the catalogues in the back) and her knowledge of hair weaves really comes in handy when you’re evaluating pieces. Her writing doesn’t discuss much about the historical context of the pieces or the references, but it is a nice collection of facts.

Burke, L., The Illustrated Language of Flowers, 1856, A. Routledge & Co.
Rather essential if you’re keen on learning all about the classification of sentimental symbolism. Also helpful if you’re an art critique, as the symbolism was quite transient across mediums.

Burns, Stanley., Sleeping Beauty Memorial Photography in America, 1990, Twelvetrees Press
An absolutely wonderful overlook of its time and subject. Burns quite rightly narrows his gaze to American photography and really excels at an academic and also entertaining view of photography (for the layman and scholar).

Bury, Shirley., An Introduction to Sentimental Jewellery, 1985, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (Amazon)
Bury is one of the foremost writers and academics on the subject of sentimental jewellery and even this quick introduction to sentimental jewellery puts anything I’ve ever written to shame. She has a wonderful way of knowing her subject, balancing it with its time and giving it perfect historical context in relation to other jewellery, culture and society. Magnificent!

Campbell, Mark. (Kliot, J & K, ed)., The Art of Hairwork Hair Braiding and Jewelry of Sentiment with Catalog of Hair Jewellery, 1989, Lacis Publications
You probably shouldn’t be reading this site if you haven’t got a copy, downloaded a copy or at least have seen pages copied in other books.

A great look into not only the hairweaving process, but the industry and society of the time.

This book is also a wonderful reference for your hairwork jewellery – matching your pieces to the book will give you a very good insight into how they were constructed.

Coombs, Katherine., The Portrait Miniature in England, 1998. V&A Publications (Amazon)
This book gets into the depth of the miniature portrait and also is very approachable. If you want to look at miniatures and their relation to society and other jewellery, go get it. In another post, you’ll see a beautiful companion to this book based purely on American miniature portraits (more on that another day), so if you have this book, you’ve got a wonderful overview of early modern portraits. For those who just like a good picture, beautiful images abound!

Cooper, D., Battershill, N., Victorian Sentimental Jewellery, 1972, David & Charles LTD (Amazon)
Cooper’s approach to sentimental jewellery is also a nice overview of sentimental jewellery and it’s wisely focused directly upon Victorian. This book doesn’t aim too board, so it can focus upon the many different variations of Victorian jewellery and its symbolism. A great reference if you were wonderful what peripheral symbols were in Victorian jewellery and their inception. This covers jet and everything in between.

DeLorme, Maureen., Mourning Art and Jewelry, 2004, Schiffer Publishing (Amazon)
DeLorme’s views on peripheral funeralia are wonderful and a joy to read. This is very much for the new collector and also a good reference for the veteran. Her approach, while global in intent, exceeds at giving an American perspective. Great references, images and more! Go get it if you haven’t.

In Memory of Collecting

A collector is truly the fabric that binds history. Without the collector, the history and the stories of all that have come before would be lost, we carry this knowledge from generation to generation and honour all that has come before. And of course, to collect means to be a part of a bigger whole, a community of collectors and storytellers who can take the message of this history out to a larger audience.

I created Art of Mourning as a way to weave together collectors from around the world, as a place to use my knowledge to share and expand upon this magnificent facet of history in jewellery. Mourning, memorial and sentimentality are at their essence love and to keep those memories alive by sharing knowledge down the generations means that the history and the people involved with these tokens of affection will never die as long as they are remembered.

So, it is on this occasion, much like the established Facebook Group (which I welcome you all to join!) that I share the blog with other collectors and historians. Marielle Soni, a fellow collector, will be sharing her brilliant knowledge and passion for memorial jewels in future posts. Her insights and history of collecting will no doubt inspire and educate generations of collectors, so look out for her posts in the coming days and weeks!

It’s Sunday morning and suddenly I’m not there to entertain you over breakfast for a healthy conversation about old symbols in jewellery. What happened?

Well, fear not, I’m currently writing an article for publication and just returned safe and sound from a 6 week Grand Tour of the planet Earth, so I’m decompressing and finding out ways that my tour can actually benefit the collecting/academic community at large – for those who want to travel and discover jewellery and meet like-minded enthusiasts.

So, this is where I need you! If you’ve enjoyed the Symbolism Sunday posts, I need you to comment below, in the Facebook group or on Twitter and let me know what symbols you’d like me to discuss. I’m very interested in hearing what you want and would love to write about any symbol out there (yes, even the ones that are incredibly difficult to tie back to memorial and sentimental jewels).

If you need a little help with this, there’s the listing of symbols relevant to the jewellery over at the main Art of Mourning site here, or you can look around in your collection, on eBay, Ruby Lane, Rowan and Rowan or anywhere that sells fine jewels. Thrill me, jewellery historians!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Lamb

Mizpah

The Maltese Cross / Cross Formée

The Rose

The Greek Keys

The Urn

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

Maltese Cross FobIt’s that time of the week again and we’re going to cross our symbols a little. Normally, this wouldn’t be the best way to go about it, but today’s Symbolism Sunday is a request and I’m just a boy who can’t say no. In fact, this is a great opportunity to dispel a few concepts around a symbol which has enough connotations in its own right. To do this, we have to be specific, so today’s lesson is going to move in some strange circles before we get to the heart of it.

If you’re a religious person, perhaps you may want to go to your Sunday morning service before reading this one and if you’re not, grab yourself a coffee, perhaps a nice breakfast and let’s begin!

The Maltese Cross (or Amalfi) is an unusual symbol. It has quite a lot of history behind it and its connections to the cross and how we see it in jewellery usage vary from the accurate appraisal to the incorrect usage as a terminology to refer to similarly styled pieces. To understand why this is so, we need to look at the Maltese Cross itself, what it represents, then look at the Gothic Revival period and then take a walk up to Golgotha with the cross itself.

For a symbol that has quite a specific title and, one would think, a specific purpose, the Maltese Cross is seen cross-culturally in everyday life. The symbol itself was first depicted (or at least, recorded) on currency c.1567, being the 2 and and 4 Tarì Copper coins. The Tarì was used in Sicily, Malta and southern parts of Italy c.913-1859 and stems from Muslim origin and manufacture, as a currency it was quite popular. It was the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, Jean de la Vallette-Parisot (c.1494-1568 / Grand Master from 1557-1658) under whose leadership provided the minting of these coins, hence the relation back to the nature of the cross as a Christian symbol and also its identification as Maltese.

Characteristics of the Cross
We must now reflect upon the style of the cross and its characteristics. What is it about this cross that seems to capture the imagination enough so that it is such a popular symbol in so many of our day to day lifestyle? Firstly, note the indentations on the points of the cross and how they form an arrowhead shape with eight points. This is incredibly important to distinctively spot a Maltese Cross in our jewellery collecting, whereas many of the pieces popular in the early 19th century are based upon the Cross Formée (stemming from the subgroup of Cross pattée / St George Cross). Naturally, the cross as a motif is has its Christian basis, however, the Knights Hospitaller evolved the design, which stemmed from Crusader interpretations for other Christian warrior identifiers.

Symbolism of the Cross
Reasons for the mistaking of the Maltese Cross for its use in jewellery not only stem from its characteristics. The symbolism behind it, relating to piety, loyalty, generosity, bravery, glory/honour, contempt of death, helpfulness towards poor/sick, respect for the Church are all ideal reasons for why a piece of jewellery would be constructed and worn. In terms of symbolism, many of the pieces we have in our collections don’t have this level of detail. These are the reasons why the cross is so widely used in coats of arms around the world (namely Australia), aviation, medical services (particularly ambulance), sporting clubs and various other institutions. Bravery, loyalty, piety; all the things which construct the foundations for a respectable service or unity of like-minded individuals. Hence, this is why we see the Maltese Cross so frequently in society. It is produced and worn as an item of dress in uniforms, so it becomes more than simply a motif on a flag, it becomes physical and much of this has to do with why our jewellery collections have pieces referred to as the Maltese Cross, when this is a symbol that splintered from what much of us understand or collect.

Relation to Jewellery
The first half of the 19th century saw such a radical swing away from the culture that had preceded it since the second half of the 18th century. Christian values were starting to rebel against the seeming decadence of the Neoclassical society and art around, or at least reclaim the religious underpinnings that had dissolved when society started to merge into a more humanist view of the world. Where the symbols of death had been obvious in earlier jewellery of the 17th century and early 18th, figures of personal scenes of people in mourning were typical. The cross as a symbol of final judgement was almost anachronistic in its formal style and when used, relegated to a secondary symbol in many of these pieces. It was the person, front and centre, depicted next to an urn or tomb, weeping or looking away to watch the soul depart.

Cross Formée pin 1820
And then we have the Gothic Revival. The symbols that pushed their way back into mainstream society were not simply stark and bold as a sudden revolution back to Christian values, but they infused with the current mainstream style and blended the classic Christian motifs with the Neoclassical designs to produce pieces like the above. And what do we have there? You might think that it is the Maltese Cross, but it is the Cross Formée (note the lack of indented points), used as a way to reclaim the same ideological identifier as the Crusaders who developed this style of cross themselves. The Gothic Revival was capitalising on literally ‘reviving’ the Gothic period, its art and simplistic style. Here is a cross being re-appropriated for its time. A cross that was developed between c.1144-1271 is now becoming mainstream fashion. And while it isn’t the simple grand statement of a straight cross, it has enough style and flourish to be consistent with an opulent time in art. Notice how this cross is encrusted with foiled flat topped almandine garnets with glazed locket compartments, displaying hairwork and the names ‘Marmaduke Hart Hart’, ‘Agustus Tulte’, ‘Caroline Gordon’ and ‘Ja(me)s Peard Ley’. The humanist nature of the piece is not lost in any way, it’s beautiful, decorative, displays the dedication of the people who were loved and still has all the Christian symbolism that one would expect from a pious household. So, just because the Gothic Revival meant a swing back to Christian ideas, it didn’t dissolve what had come before.


This was a style that persisted into the 1840s, which was followed heavily by the return to the stolid cross itself. As you can see from the piece above, it’s a prime example of an agate Gothic Revival cross in memorial jewellery, with the heavy gold-world reminiscent of the Rococo style and dedication of hairwork and name. But pieces like this are still sold today under the impression of a Maltese Cross, when that has its dedicated eight points.

Here is where we need to consider one again the symbols at play. The Maltese Cross has its aforementioned symbolism, but here we have a stylised cross and it is a symbol that, as it became more and more adapted into the lexicon of an official cross for countries and institutions, there wasn’t the demand for its seemingly established symbolism to represent the self. However, regular crucifixes worked in the same capacity as one would expect from this style, so why not simply use a crucifix in the latter 19th century?

So, who is to blame for all of this mess? Well, I’m going to blame the Crusaders, just because I can. Otherwise, it’s simply a matter of interpretation!

‘Oh Hayden,’ I hear you say, ‘the Maltese Cross was still produced as a decorative item in the 19th century!’ Well, that’s true.

The Maltese Cross could be found as a charm or as a pendant on a fob chain. Much of this denotes the connection of the wearer to the institution, be it ambulance, police, relation to Malta or the Knights Hospitaller themselves. So, it has never left the cultural lexicon as an item of jewellery for as long as these institutions survive or for as long as its symbolism of strength, loyalty and piety remain.

I think that should do for the Maltese Cross. It certainly is a wonderful item, but one that just needs a little more clarification before you go antique shopping on this lovely, fine Sunday and see a cross that’s referred to as ‘Maltese’.

What are you waiting for? Finish your breakfast and go shopping!

(oh all right, let’s see some more of that cross, just because I like to look at it)

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Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Rose

The Greek Keys

The Urn

The Poppy

The Forget-Me-Not

The Belt/Buckle/Garter

The Upside-Down Torch

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

Let’s light the way this Sunday with one of the more unfortunate symbols in jewellery history, a symbol that would otherwise denote the pathway through the darkness, but here, shows the inherent darkness that we must face.

Yes, it’s Symbolism Sunday and it’s time to look at a motif through the eyes of a 19th century grieving family.

The torch is a symbol that represents several concepts, concepts which harken back to its literal interpretation, for when there is darkness, there is light to guide the way. One of these representations is hope. Hope, as a concept, provides an optimistic future that the birth of a child or the continuation of a family will bring. Without this continuity, the family would be lost to the darkness, without hope, tomorrow is lost. Hence, a torch as light, beacons the new day, the new era and a path that is brighter than what has come before.

Let’s now look at how that reflects upon the torch as enlightenment. Once the torch is lifted into the sky by its barer, there is an inherent reflection upon the torch as a beacon for intelligence, thought and progression into the future from the darkness that falls before it. Hence, it is the torch that shines the way for modernity (or liberté, égalité, fraternity, if you will). Thought, theory, truth, modernity and humanity come together in a design and a symbol of progression.

Let’s take that all in for a moment.

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

In today’s symbolism example, we have to apply these concepts back to the family as look at the design as an overarching motif.

We are presented with an upside down torch. Everything, the very essence, of the family that the upright torch represents is turned upside down and shut off, That bright light which would pave the way for the next generation is gone and lost, the continuation of hope is gone and so is the enlightenment that the family could progress with.

When combined with the Victorian views on mortality and the concept of the family (see the articles about the Gothic Revival period and its impact on 19th century culture here), we’re looking into a bold and very profound statement of mortality that has all the stoicism that the late 19th century generated in the family and the gravity of that symbol when placed over the heart in a locket.

This symbol is surrounded by the buckle, which if you’ve read my writing before, you know well enough what the means, but I will discuss it in another Symbolism Sunday, however, the upside-down torch is loss at its most basic.

Reflecting upon the symbol as that of lost hope, let’s look at how the Neoclassicists depicted this symbol a century before.

Faith jewellery sepia

Faith, hope and charity were (and still are) common symbols for their representation. Cross (faith), hope (anchor) and charity (heart) are still common motifs today (read more about them in my Symbolism Sunday about Faith, Hope and Charity). Their depictions on the symbols in Neoclassical art are often that of the weeping woman, surrounded by the willow and holding onto the (or surrounded by), the symbols which depict the grief. The grief becomes beauty and depicts a serenity that can be appreciated for its artistic merit, rather than its depth of meaning.

There are scenes of the woman clinging to the cross, even upon the anchor, which reflect an outpouring of grief, but the stoicism that the 19th century provides for the matter-of-fact Christian, high mortality, industrialised reality of the black-upon-gold symbolism is its own gravity, it is a statement that doesn’t overcomplicate the design, but enhances it beyond what the prior society would flow around the idea of the concept with humanitarian depictions.

Upside-down torch in jewellery

At this point in today’s lesson, remember that the upside-down torch is the life cut short, the loss of hope and enlightenment. Bereft of future.

Looking at today’s subject of a youth as the focus of the locket, it makes the symbol so much more poignant. The child which would, for the previous three hundred years, be characterised by white enamel becomes a statement for the family’s grief, be it masculine or feminine, the child is lost and the family suffers.

Furthermore to this, the flame as regeneration when held upright is lost. Flame burns, regenerates and feeds of the very air around it, lose this and you lose your familial regeneration.

Other interpretations of the torch are more romantic in basis or for their liturgic reasons, however, we’re looking at the upside-down torch and its representation in mourning jewellery.

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Peacock

Wheat

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

For those who visit this site and experience a new/different area of jewellery that is part of cultrual and social history, I welcome you and thank you for your time to read my ramblings.

Art of Mourning has been around for 6 years now and I’ve been collecting for a further 10. The idea for writing down my knowledge came about from my hope to educate, inspire and ignite a new interest in this wonderful area of social/art history to promote new collectors and even a new industry based around the culture of mourning and sentimentality.

This is a concept based upon love, not morbidity or the affectation of death, but love itstelf.

So, to commemorate the occasion, please click over to an interview with me at Collectors Weekly to discover a little bit more about myself, search through the archives of Art of Mourning or visit the parent site itself.

> Link: Hayden Peters Interview with Collectors Weekly

As usual with mourning, there is never an end, but a continuity and memory of everything before and we have much ground to cover. Keep reading, as there is much to come!

Read More:

Mourning and Sentimental Symbolism in Jewellery

Spotting Forgeries. Fakes and the History of Reproductions

Symbolism Sunday, Wheat

February 27, 2011

It’s another Sunday and you’re no doubt very hungry this morning for a good brunch, so to get you in the mood, let’s take a look at one of the more prolific symbols in neoclassical pieces; wheat.

Wheat has its symbolism baked deeply into the Bread of the Eucharist (Mark 14:22-24), a motif resonant of everlasting life through the belief in Jesus, this is when the motif is bundled with grapes. Within funeral art, we must also consider that wheat within the divine harvest would eventually be reaped (note the link back to the memento mori scythe symbol), denoting the life cut and the renewal (or resurrection) of the soul.

Why is wheat such a popular motif during a time when jewellery and art symbolism was retreating from heavy ecclesiastical symbolism? Its beauty as a symbol and apparent ambiguity as an appealing symbol makes it one of the symbols to survive the Neoclassical period through to the Gothic Revival and into the Victorian paradigm shift back towards monarchy/church/family values. Thinking that Neoclassical values led to a fundamental reaction against the church would be incorrect. Looking at the Church of England during the Restoration period on through the 19th century, there was a swing towards the importance of the self and though the values of the church were historically being challenged, there wasn’t a movement to challenge the fundamental beliefs. Hence, Neoclassical symbolism interprets much of the traditional Christian motifs into Neoclassical depictions. This is why such a magnificent symbol has lasted through to today in jewellery design. Even at a time when symbolism had reached its zenith as catalogued and indoctrinated in the mid to late 19th century (without the multiple Neoclassical interpretations), wheat was used a prominent symbol. This could be seen even in the high influx of silver pieces post 1880, with wheat flanking a centralised symbol or dedication.

Etched in bracelets, rings, lockets, set in enamel on silver or gold, encrusted with pearls, the wheat sheaf is one of the symbols that lasted into the first quarter of the 20th century on existing memorial jewellery, even when the industry itself was reaching non-existence.

Wheat flanking the hairwork in gold

Another reason for its popularity is that the wheat sheaf was one of the simpler and more decorative weaves when tableworking hair. as such, it can be found in mourning wreaths, brooches, lockets, rings, woven with gold wire, feathered or simply glued into position. Because of this versatility, wheat became more of a prominent symbol, particularly in the 1820s-60s, in hairwork, rather than a secondary symbol (though it was used for this purpose as well).

Now you can proudly go out, order your eggs on whole-wheat toast and marvel at the symbolism you’re about to eat. Enjoy the day!

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

Pine

Ivy

The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp

Drapery

The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily

After the previous looks at the Gothic Revival period and its affect on subsequent mourning jewellery, one of the things to consider is that while perception may lead to the Gothic Revival creating a period of jewellery design that was rather static, one must note that it only took the elements of the period, which were not unique to the period, but embellished, and used these concepts as a central motif.

Heavy black enamel was one of the most consistent styles that carried through. Black enamel had been considered a mourning motif for the previous 200 years, but when looking at Victorian style, note that the previous Neoclassical period was one of the strongest, unified mainstream styles ever to impact style on a fully Westernised scale. America, France and England adapted it in their own ways and it took over from a period where Rococo, Baroque and the memento mori symbolism had left off. Black enamel bands were popular since the 1500s and remained so throughout the 18th century, yet the adaptation through the Gothic Revival period and beyond produced rings like this to use the enamel as the bold mourning statement.

1850 Mourning Ring

The following ring comes from c.1850 and below, 1864, note the leap of the bold enamel to become prominent and also the change in font styling.

1864 Mourning Ring

Then let’s look at this piece from 1881, note again the enamel in play. This ring has adapted the Rococo Revival style and infused that within the black enamel on the shoulders. In terms of style, much of this can find its origins in the early 19th century, from the pearl-surrounded hair memento to the enamel itself..

1881 Mourning Ring

When it comes to styling, this particular brooch shows the Gothic lettering in full bloom. Yet the acanthus surround shows the 1860s influences, making the lettering a solid 30 years outside the idealised moment of the Gothic Revival. 30 years is a long time for any art style to be all-pervasive, but in mourning jewellery, the style makes the statement that could be understood 30 years before or after this piece was constructed. Its bold enamel, the hair memento leave no dispute as to what it is.

Mourning Brooch Gothic Revival

And then there are pieces like this from the late 19th century. Dating from 1885, this piece shows how the mourning style had become popular within the sentimental and non-death related styles of the same time. The culture had adapted well to the mainstream fashion of death and exploited it in other fashion designs.

late 19th Cenutyr Mourning Ring

When it comes to sentimental jewellery of the latter 19th century, styles had become bigger, alloys were typically in use and much of this was to accommodate fashion and the rise of photography in jewellery. Photography was a cheap means of obtaining a sentimental keepsake of a loved one and the technology was becoming more compact, enough to work perfectly in lockets. The latter 19th century, particularly post 1880, started to use silver as a popular material, yet base metals copied the look and feel of gold well enough, for mourning jewellery, Pinchbeck was quite common. In this, you can see the bold, enamel styles carry through with the statement of the Gothic Revival showing through. ‘In Memory Of’ and the standard statements were rendered in bold black enamel, often using the Gothic fonts and despite the inclusion of many mourning symbols, the adherence to the Christian paradigm in these jewels reflected the change bought about in the 1830s through the Gothic Revival.

So, there we have it. Three weeks of Gothic Revival exploration in culture and jewellery! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it, as you never know what tomorrow will bring.

The Gothic Revival: Culture and Jewellery
Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
Part 2, c.1850-c.1900

Jet

January 25, 2011

Due to its black colour and easy translation into mourning costume, jet is a material which suffers from mourning connotations, when however it is one of the oldest jewellery constructing materials used and a fashionable material to wear. In actuality, mourning has a very small role to play in jet jewellery when one considers the scale of the industry and contemporary fashions, hence why it’s not a subject I cover often on Art of Mourning. However, it is a fascinating material and it does have a strong role to play if your focus is on 19th century mourning, so an analysis of jet is important for historian and collector.

What is Jet?
Jet is actually a type of brown coal, or fossilised wood of an ancient tree, containing around 12% mineral oil with aluminium, silica and sulphur. The trees which grew to produce this were similar to modern Araucaria trees and date from around 180 million years ago. Upon its death, a tree which fell/was carried to a body of sea water would become broken and waterlogged, then sink to the bottom and remain there to be covered by sediment. As it remained there, it would become compacted by the pressure and over time the wood would convert to jet. Chemical analysis has shown that jet was formed under sea water, however it has been suggested that softer jet was formed under fresh water.

Despite the names of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ jet, there is not a great difference in density between soft and hard, simply that soft jet is quite brittle and often cracks when heated.

The Romans coined the term ‘black amber’ for jet, as in the 19th century they had considered jet to be a hard resin. Jet conducts static electricity when rubbed on silk or wool and is also light, but under intense magnification, jet shows its origins as a product of wood.

Found in Russia, Germany, Turkey, France, Spain, Portugal, North America and of course, England, various densities of jet were mined and used, however the finest is considered to be from Whitby. Mining jet in Whitby began c.1840 and lasted to 1920, peaking in the 1870s with between two hundred and three hundred miners.

Early History

‘It is black, smooth, light and porous and differs but little from wood in appearance. The fumes of it, burnt, keep serpents at a distance and dispel hysterical affections… A decoction of this stone in wine is curative of toothache…’ – Pliny, Natural History, 1st century AD

Jet’s history dates to the prehistoric, as it was a material used for various artefacts (amulets, shaped as animals, beads, combined with amber, bones, teeth, etc) dating back 10,000 years in the France, Germany, Switzerland regions. More complete pieces have been found from Yorkshire to Scotland from 4500 years ago.

Romans used jet for rings, bracelets, dagger handles, necklaces, hairpins and die and excavations have found workshops dedicated to jet production in York (Eburacum). Pieces of possibly York origin have been found and are on display in Cologne.

In America, Pueblo Indians (around the Utah and Colorado regions) produced jet jewellery, combining it with shell and turquoise, which, in light of the Spanish jet industry, pre-dates the Spanish arrival in the area.

As a popular and reasonably simple material to carve and construct items from, jet never completely disappeared as a usable material. It leant itself well to medieval construction, due to its properties of keeping away evil spirits and ecclesiastical jewellery used jet as a material liberally. By the 14th century, a jet industry emerged in, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. Jet turners and carvers formed separate guilds, producing mostly ecclesiastical jewellery, declining only by the point of the Reformation.

Late History
Despite the lack of a large jet industry in Whitby post-Roman times, jet was known and referenced during the 18th century, but products tended to be mostly crude.

Muller argues that the transition from lighter Regency-era dresses to the heavier crinolines and larger styles of the 1850s and 1860s required larger jewellery to work with them, hence jet’s lightweight appeal and larger size provided to perfect accompaniment. Jet was presented to the public at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and its popularity grew exponentially, facing almost immediate Royal patronage from France, Bavaria and of course, England. Thomas Andrews was the ‘jet ornament manufacturer to HM the Queen’ from 1850, and this would be a most prodigious position to hold, as upon Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria only allowed jet jewellery to be worn at court. Society followed on from court etiquette and mourning fashion and culture swiftly became part of mainstream culture.

By the 1870s, the annual turnover of the Whitby jet industry was said to be over one hundred thousand pounds, with a jet craftsperson earning between three and four pounds a week. From 1832, there were only two shops employing twenty-five people to 1872, where two hundred shops employing fifteen hundred women, men and children, taking over the landscape of Whitby. Development of machinery, such as the lathe, also helped to facilitate the growth of jet production meeting the high public demand for jet pieces. However, demand was so high that soft jet was imported from Spain and France, mainly for beading (as previously mentioned, soft jet tended to crack and many surviving pieces reflect this today), giving the jet trade what was considered to be a ‘bad name’, hence the attempt in 1890 to trademark ‘Whitby’ as a quality of jet. Jet was also seeing great competition in lesser-quality imitations which were far cheaper and by 1936, only five craftsmen were left. By 1958, the last Victorian trained jet carver had passed on.

But was it just the competition of imitation jet that started its decline? The entire mourning industry was in a decline from the mid 1880s – an entire generation of a culture with once fluid fashion changes had been living under the shadow of mainstream mourning culture from 1861, due mostly to a queen perpetually in mourning. By 1887, for Victoria’s golden jubilee, she had started to lessen the mourning restrictions and re-emerge in public, but there was even a cultural shift that had begun with women who lived as the centre of household mourning starting to rebel against the older ways. Style had remained largely consistent with little movement since the 1860s, though women’s clothing had lost the heavier crinolines, bold mourning jewels remained bold and prominent. This female paradigm shift had started to become an outward rebellion, with some women even wearing their veils backwards as an act of defiance. The Art Nouveau movement emerged as a breath of fresh air, with its opulent, organic, styles, using nature as its dominant motif, rather than retroactively mining the past for revival styles. Jet was not conducive to this new art movement and did not adapt. Black stones used as a material following this period in Art Deco were often onyx or glass, which became, and remains, popular to this day.

Use in Mourning Costume
Jet was a wonderful material for use in mourning, obviously for its black nature and how that relates to the 19th century stages of mourning. First mourning lasted one year and a day, outdoor garments for this would be shown by the plainness and amount of crape, jet jewellery was permitted. After one year and a day, Second stage was introduced. This involved less crape and its application to bonnets and dresses became more elaborate. It was frowned upon if this period was entered into too quickly and it lasted nine months in all. The Third stage (or Ordinary stage), introduced after twenty-one months, involves the omission of crape, inclusion of black silk trimmed with jet, black ribbon and embroidery or lace were permitted. Post 1860, soft mauves, violet, pansy, lilac, scabious and heliotrope were acceptable in half mourning. This period lasted three months. The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine stated that ‘many widows never put on their colours again’ and this was quite a statement for the identity of the woman, which was held under the veil of mourning and family symbolism for the rest of her life. Hats, shawls, mantles, gloves, shoes, fans all changed during mid century, and pagoda sleeves from 1850-70 were fashionable, designed to be stitched to the outer sleeve to cover modesty from the lower arm and wrist. Wide skirts from the 1850s-70s, tie back fashions of the late 1870s and the ‘S-bend’ look of the early 1900s all were adapted to mourning fashion, without a clear definition of difference between them. Throughout the post 1880s decline, in the 1890s, women would wear their veils at the back of the head only, showing hair beneath bonnets at the front for first stage mourning. This defiance was quite bold and marked a large turning point for mourning structure.

Use in Jewellery

Jet and Hair Earrings

One thing that is important to note is that jet wasn’t simply a mourning material, which is often a common misconception. It was another jewellery material and quite fashionable, hence giving tokens made from jet doesn’t in any way denote death. Often its black nature and use in early stage mourning gives the impression that it automatically defaults to death. However, brooches from the 1870s, pendants, lockets, trim, beading, necklaces and personalised mementos (such as pins) are quite commonly found as love tokens and items held in high fashion, with only a small percent being used directly for mourning. Jet was also used as a secondary material in many rings, such as jet beading surrounding a ring’s hair memento, creating wonderful embellishments. The ability for jet to be highly polished made it a lustrous and attractive material.

What to Look For
One of the problems with jet come from the multitude of imitations made to replicate it. Once can discover the origins of a jet piece, as it produces a brown streak when rubbed against porcelain, is warm to touch (as it is a poor conductor of heat and a glass imitation would be cold in comparison) and if you heat a needle and put it to a piece, it will give off the faint smell of sulphur. Look for imitations of jet where the piece looks like it’s moulded – jet was carved and couldn’t take the obvious rounded shapes of horn or Vulcanite.

Further Reading

Hellen Muller’s exceptional book Jet from Butterworths is a collectors primary point of reference to learn more about this remarkable material. Muller is without a doubt the leading historian on Jet and its history, so if you can track down a copy, prize it in your collection. I would also like to thank Muller for without whom, this article would not be possible.

Once upon a time I was travelling the continent and happened upon a small shop on the outskirts of an even smaller city.

Being a lad who still has a mediocre grasp of the English language, I was bumbling around this European city with mostly sign language and exaggerated facial gestures.

Nevertheless, I found this small shop that was overcrowded with collectables, dust and dirt. The acrid air hung heavy with mould and dampness. My little heart raced with excitement, as I felt there was a treasure to be found.

After thirty minutes of rifling through cardboard boxes and other assorted bric-a-brac, I was resigned to leaving empty handed. I walked out, rather jaded.

I had lunch in a café not very far away and decided to walk back past the old store. It was shut, but I thought I’d look in the window. And there I saw it. A beautiful neo-classic ring, buried under silverware, broken picture frames and pottery. The piece looked dusty, but otherwise in good condition. It was the unmistakeable weeping widow beneath the willow with the tomb in the centre. The piece looked to be in relief, with the tomb itself built up.

After my heart started beating again, I walked to the door and knocked. No answer. For the rest of the afternoon, I travelled back and forth waiting for them to reopen. I even continued to after sundown.

The following day, I was there at dawn. Still closed. All through the day I continued to stalk the property (I’m surprised the police weren’t called). Still nothing.

The tragedy was that I had to depart that city the following day. They never opened, even after trying to talk to the locals to see if they knew who owned the store.

So, my question is, have you ever lost out to that ideal piece? As collectors, sometimes you have to learn to let things go because it wasn’t meant to be. For you, what’s the one that got away?

Replacement Glass on Neoclassical Mourning RingYou may not believe it, but if you’ve paid a very high premium from a distinguished and respected dealer, you may not be getting what you think.

No, it’s not a fake or a fraud, but re-enamelling, touching up, replacing glass and doing things which some purists may be alarmed by is quite a typical practice.

I’ve talked with dealers who don’t bat an eyelid and have spoken about selling some primary historical examples but admit to having re-touched them up. I even recall one doing such arbitrary patchwork that would make even Arthur Evans blush.

There are some tell-tale signs, often glass is hard to replicate in the same manner with convex glass, even the glass can be replaced by a plastic.

Sepia re-touching isn’t uncommon, if your sepia looks very crisp, there’s a good chance coloured ink or some paint has been applied. Some things don’t keep well for over 200 years and the ability of a particular dealer to keep finding that amazing piece time and time again can start to make you think.

Are these things wrong? Not at all, they turn some mediocre pieces into much more desirable and marketable ones. That said, I prefer honesty in a piece. If something has been tarnished, flaked, knocked about, I want to know that as a collector. If ever a piece needs to be changed, that’s my decision and I’ll base that on its history and my opinions.

Due to some overwhelmingly kind words and requests, Art of Mourning is going to be doing some changes to the daily update schedule! The blog will now be updated three days a week, which will give me time to spend on writing larger articles about mourning culture between the years of 1550 and 1920, showcasing jewellery and teaching you all how to be jewellery/art historians.

I will be posting more immediate news and updates based around antique fairs in between this three day schedule, so there is a good chance you’ll get daily updates as well, but the major three days will be spent getting under the skin of this wonderful area of history.

How committed am I to doing this right? Well, I’ve already got enough articles written to take us into early next year, featuring a series of in-depth looks at the history and use of mourning and memorial symbolism in jewellery, another series on memorial art and its evolution and a very thorough look at jet and its imitations.

Of course, I’ll be evaluating and reflecting upon various pieces of jewellery (feel free to submit pieces for my analysis if you like) to open these marvellous treasures from the past up for discussion.

Yes, it’s going to be very busy for all this memorial madness and I just can’t wait for you to come with me on the journey!

Previous Articles:

> Textiles Tuesday
> Faux Friday
> Spotlights on Various Jewellery

Contemporary Piece Matching
Always match a piece that you are looking at to another. Be it from books, a collection, museum or even this website, find a reference point of the piece in order to properly justify what it is. If a piece does not match with others that it is trying to emulate, then one must wonder why and see if it is a later piece or an oddity for its time.

Symbolism
Conflicting symbolism is a big problem. It is also hard to identify, as different cultures used symbolism at earlier periods than others. French pieces may have a higher quality and propensity for delicate symbolism and in the 18th century mix popular 19th century motifs with contemporary ones. People who commission pieces may have put in antique or unfashionable symbolism, so judging by symbolism alone can be difficult. However, when a piece does have obvious conflicting symbolism, these can be easy to spot. Usually memento-mori replicas can be spotted because of overly detailed skulls.

As can be seen in this article, there are many reasons for a piece to not conform to a particular style or period from which it came. However, this does not necessarily mean it is a deliberate forgery, and could instead be the result of a piece being handed down in one family and added to throughout the years, or the updating of pieces to reflect new fashions and sensibilities. Having said that, the collector must always keep a questioning mind when examining pieces and ensure that the story to be read in a piece is an authentic one. This means examining a piece’s construction, any marks present and any signs of a marriage of two pieces. A good knowledge of the different art styles and periods relating to sentimental and mourning jewellery also aids this process. Armed with this knowledge, the collector will be able to discern quality pieces from those which are of lesser quality.

Use of plastic or materials that are not developed in the contemporary time frame of a piece are obvious things to look out for. There is quite a culture of ‘doctoring’ pieces by removing scratched or worn glass compartments and replacing them with plastic (or glass). Remember to test if you are unsure, but usually unnecessary bevelling and flat pieces of glass or plastic may take the place of an elegant Neo-Classical curve to a brooch, pendant or ring.

Enamel work is also a popular aspect of repairing. Spotted enamel work (mismatching) or a piece looking just far too clean for its age raise many questions. Be careful with anything that seems too perfect and remember that most pieces have lived many hundreds of years.

Also, materials often dictate their times; some older materials were in fashion at later dates (such as silver and marcasite).

Different Metals
Metal mismatching in jewellery is used for effect or not at all. When a piece, such as a pendant and chatelaine combination, does not match, or a ring has an odd shank and bezel, one must wonder why these pieces are mismatched with their metal work. Often they are marriages of pieces and there is a culture of constructing greater pieces from lesser in order to gain more money for them.

Solder Marks
Solder marks are a good sign of repair work or change in a piece. The biggest problem with earlier pieces is that they have been converted from one type to another, such as brooch to ring. Solder marks are good ways of spotting changes to pieces and one can often find a good continuity to the life of a piece if studied correctly. These may be as small as the change of a brooch clasp or as large as the conversion of a ring.

Faux Friday: Hallmarks

June 4, 2010

Hallmarked Chester 1913

Hallmarked Chester 1913

Hallmarking is the best standard to identify a piece, but unfortunately (although mostly illegal), jewellers are known to falsely stamp pieces. Hallmarking is the process of stamping precious metals, as they are intended to be stamped by the Assay Office to guarantee purity of the piece.

When collecting, it is necessary to bring a hallmarking book along to assist with the identification of pieces, as the listings are so vast that there is no way to fully comprehend each and every stamp.

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Gold and silver were marked with the same standard until 1798, when the introduction of 18 carat gold required standard gold marking. However, 22 carat was stamped with the same marks as sterling silver until 1844. The demand for cheaper gold watch cases in America saw 9, 12 and 15 carat added to the marks in 1854. This means that by 1854, there were marks for 9, 12, 15, 18 and 22 carat. 14 carat was introduced in 1932, replacing 15 and 12 carat, creating the current four standards: 9, 14, 18 and 22.

Gold marking is a difficult standard to follow, as (pre 1906) some countries did not stamp and quite often, pieces are unstamped regardless of territory. Most commonly, the US used 10K, 14K and 18K marks; many memorial pieces were 9 carat, given their popularity and ubiquitous nature post 1854. In Europe, marks are generally for the fineness of the metal and the following carat indicators are not exactly accurate representations of the numbers: 750 / 18 carat, 375 / 9 carat and 625 / 15 carat.

Pinchbeck, a form of brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) is a very popular material used in mourning pieces from the middle of the 19th century. Be sure that when buying a piece it is not for its gold content in these cases. Often, the clasps are marked, with other fittings pinchbeck.

There are many tell-tale signs of a forgery. By “forgery”, I mean a piece that was constructed in order to dupe the collector into buying what they perceive to be an authentic piece. However, by gaining knowledge (through this website and other sources) about styles, art and fashion that are relevant to mourning and sentimental history, the collector will soon be able to analyse and judge a wide variety of pieces.

While a general knowledge of different styles and periods is necessary before analysing pieces, the construction of jewellery is the area where a true forgery may be spotted, or at least its provenance called into doubt.

Late 17th Century Memento Mori RingFirstly, let’s look at the terminology that may be used. Memento mori is one of the most commonly used terms that can make a seller quite a lot of money very fast. These early styles of mourning jewellery command a hefty premium due to their symbolism. Why is this? The ever increasing popularity of the skull and crossbones, the skeleton, cherubs, scythe, all these timeless representations of death and memorials will always be marketable and it doesn’t take much to convince someone to buy them. Simply putting the terms memento mori and mourning in the same sentence will pique the curiosity of even the non-collector.

Let’s look at the history of it. Memento mori did not start off as strictly mourning, it was a statement of living and final judgement. There was a philosophy behind it, but as the mourning industry took flight and greater social mobility allowed mourning paraphernalia, the marriage of these funeralia symbols and fashion was only inevitable.

So on the whole of it, we have two different kinds of memento mori jewellery moving from the 1400s to the 1600s, earlier pieces (are they the prototype or a different thing altogether?) may be considered what is pure. But then again, that would invalidate what is popularly considered memento mori jewellery during the 17th and 18th centuries!Early 19th Century Memento Mori Skull Ring

The skull and crossbones motif continued even when it was out of popular fashion in jewellery and is considered an anachronism. Pieces from 1760 onward (after the advent of the neoclassical movement) are still prevalent, as this was and is considered a standard funerary motif.

Then there are the various memento mori revivals, which try to re-spark the philosophy of the earlier period. Revivals and reproductions of 16th and 17th jewellery were also quite popular across Europe in the 19th century and it’s quite easy to be fooled by some pieces. Combine this with the various fraternal and ‘secret’ organisations of the period that used the skull as a motif and you’ve got a great deal of items that can cause a lot of head-scratching and critique.

Memento Mori 19th Century Revival Walking StickBut, are these pieces all considered fake? It’s the terminology of the modern seller than can cause that kind of reaction. Lack of knowledge by a seller can turn a very respectable 19th century piece into something that may irritate the collector. The genuine forgery is the one that tries to copy a piece or mimic a style exactly under the pretence of subterfuge and deceit.

So, when you’re looking at a piece, be sure to critique it for its merits and when it doubt, question everything!

If a piece has conflicting styles, such as an enamelled skull with an art deco shank or if a piece were a crystal in silver with marcasite, one must consider that there is a degree of mystery about it. On the more positive side, the real odd piece are full of questions and can be very rewarding to research. On the negative side, they are more often than not forgeries with inept construction. Conflicting style is more prevalent in modern pieces where the aim is to reap the rewards of the forgery. 19th century conflicts of style in forgeries are harder to discern, as they may have an honest pedigree with conflicting styles being part of a piece’s aesthetic.

Of note is this piece to the left. Now, the obvious question must be asked; is it genuine? Upon looking at the piece, even the untrained eye can spot the conflicting colours of the metal from the band to the bezel. This should immediately raise alarm bells for the collector, as it is not natural for a piece that it is trying to emulate. How so?

The band itself is using Rococo-styled flourishes, a method that would try and pin this style of piece (on the other side is a crystal with gold cypher initials which looks reasonably genuine.) S0, the seller has tried to put the piece into the paradigm of the early to mid 18th century, however the execution of the band is so naively done that it completely detracts from the reasonably genuine nature of the bezel.

Compare this with the piece to the right. The delicate gold work and the attention to the Rococo stylings is what one should look for in such a style, so for a collector, one must wonder when the Rococo band was added to the first piece. Would you consider it to be a 19th century addition, and if so, does that make it worthwhile in your eyes? Or do you think that jewellers of the 19th century would treat their subjects with a little more care, having been closer in years to the reality of the art style and using less mass-produced methods of construction?

The one reality is that it is a marriage of styles and any conflicts in a piece must be addressed before you buy.

This will sound like sacrilege to a collector, but quite often, I just don’t care for auctions.

Oh come on, surely you get a little tired of either putting your hand up at an auction and having someone shoot you and angry glance, then joust their hand high in the air as if they were saluting an invisible dictator. Surely you get a little tired of the auctioneer’s constant baiting and ribbing. You may even get a little sick of the auction house premiums…

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Marriages provide the most common identification problems with jewellery. Many 16th and 17th century pieces were added to with 19th century embellishments, but more often than not, the central jewel is consistent. This is across the board with jewellery and not simply relegated to mourning or sentimental pieces. A piece may be added to in order to be worn with current fashion or in order to enhance its sentimentality to the wearer, and often these additions do not detract from the price, but add another level of mystery to a piece.

Mourning jewellery is unique in that an entire family can be held inside a ring or bracelet. A piece constructed in 1780 can have a lifespan of 100 years and be dated in 1870; this is not unusual. As pieces pass through the hands of family members, they are added to, hair mementos may be taken out and replaced, new inscriptions added on the back.

Identifying these pieces can be very difficult and require the collector to make a leap of faith in understanding the history of the piece. They are also difficult for dealers to part with, as many people may assume that they are forgeries.

Accessories?

May 3, 2010

QuestionI often get asked the question about memorial and sentimental accessories. What is the definition of this? Well, that’s largely subjective, people may consider the jewellery to be an accessory of clothing, others perhaps the other way around.

Some consider the accoutrements on the periphery of fashion or the transient items that follow a short cultural phenomena in fashion to be the accessories. The superfluous things that one generation couldn’t reuse and an item that may have had a short production life.

Personally, I tend to look on the smaller items made for mourning to be the accessory, jewellery and costume are the most presentable and vocal pieces of personal mourning or sentimentality, whereas cuff-links or hat pin may be on the outer fringe.

I’ll be discussing this topic more in the future, but I’m opening up the floor and I want to know what you think is an ‘accessory’?

Were there complete 19th century reproductions of 16th-18th century pieces? Of course, the development of the exact forgery is not a new concept: as it happens now, it happened then. But whereas now the culture of the collector has developed, 19th century reproductions would be based upon historically important or opulent pieces that could generate a heavy price or be fashionably desirable. The point of replicating a small, personal and unfashionable mourning piece would not be worth the price of the gold or effort to do it at the time.

Were there complete 19th century reproductions of 16th-18th century pieces? Of course, the development of the exact forgery is not a new concept, as it happens now, it happened then. But whereas now the culture of the collector has developed, 19th century reproductions would be based upon historically important or opulent pieces that could generate a heavy price or be fashionably desirable. The point of replicating a small, personal and unfashionable mourning piece would not be worth the price of the gold or effort to do it at the time.

Old techniques, such as the silhouette, which were fast and cost effective, became quickly obsolete. Silhouettes in rings, pendants and lockets were popular in the early 19th century, but only began to fill a necessary void in a middle / lower class demographic demand. Miniature paintings, such as the eye portrait were treasured for their personalised nature and that they could be worn close to the person without making a display of the jewellery. The photograph in jewellery took these precedents and built upon the desire in the market for cost effective and accurate memorial pieces.

Often, hairwork was outsourced and the provided hair wasn’t that of the loved one at all in a piece of jewellery, with a photograph, the wearer could guarantee its authenticity and hold it as dear as an eye portrait could ever have been. Lockets especially were highly in demand because of this, causing wide variation in the styles of lockets available. Lockets were produced that could hold up to as many as eight photographs and ingenious techniques of construction aided this process.

Hairwork was often placed opposite the photograph of a loved one inside a locket, keeping the hair and the face always next to the heart. Not only used for mourning, these pieces were strongly sentimental, given to a loved one (either family or after a formal declaration of marriage), when a partner was away from the other for some time. Because the locket could be reused over time, pieces that may have been dedicated to hairwork have since been replaced with photographs, often in a short period of time. Demand and necessity (such as the placement of smaller photgraphs) led to different styles of locket or brooch (many of which can be seen in the Lockets and Pendants or Brooches sections). The locket is one of the strongest surviving pieces of mourning jewellery, many other forms of jewellery with photography (apart from brooches) are contradictions to the rule, but lockets still are used today. Bold lockets with ‘in memory of’ or other mourning sentiment are still marketable pieces for sellers who take out the previous owner’s memento and start the piece anew.

Lockets as sentimental gifts (old and new) are also incredibly popular, with people giving photographs inside lockets as a common practice. The photograph has made sentimentality in jewellery a greatly personal enterprise, both fuelling the other’s necessity.

Further Reading:

> Photography in Jewellery Part 1
> Photography in Jewellery Part 2
> Photography in Jewellery Part 3
> Photography in Jewellery Part 4
> Photography in Jewellery Part 5
> Photography in Jewellery Part 6
> Photography in Jewellery Part 7

The 19th century was the most retroactive culture where memorial and sentimental symbolism was concerned.

There were revivals of memento-mori symbolism (two notable times and throughout the century) that can fool people into mistaking the provenance of a piece. The problem with memento-mori symbolism is that the symbols are timeless. The skull and crossbones have been used for various reasons throughout history, be it from a personal standpoint, a warning, a status symbol of the 16th and 17th centuries or to represent a society. It is often hard to identify the use of the skull in these instances: in the early 19th century, a great deal of skull symbolism was used in jewellery, which was then mixed with 19th century symbolism.

Skulls were painted on top of rings; this style culminated around the middle of the century. By the 1870s, there was another revival of the symbolism in jewellery (especially prevalent in fashionable gentlemen’s accessories). When a skull is used in jewellery throughout this period, one must identify its origins. Stylistically speaking, they are usually in conjunction with the fashionable style of the time, so dating is rarely an issue; however, much concern has been given to some pieces being direct forgeries.

In order to determine if these pieces are forgeries, one first needs to think of how these pieces were developed at the time of their construction. Were they used in a revival period? Were they a symbol of a society and not memorial or sentimental at all? Was it a personal matter of the individual who commissioned it in order to reflect mortality? The pieces that can be identified are honest to their nature.

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