Those of you who know me a bit by now are aware of the pleasure I get from researching the person(s) commemorated on a piece of mourning jewelry. I’m by no means a genealogist, nor an historic researcher, but I suppose I can be persistent and patient when the need arises. When I’ve got a lovely piece of mourning jewelry in my hand, with the hair of a person long dead, and their name inscribed there too, the desire to know something about that individual, to put some shape to their life, is what challenges me to begin seeing what I can find out.

I purchased this gold pendant several years ago from an English dealer. She knew only what you can read here, in gold letters picked out in black enamel around the oval hair compartment: Robt Pouncy OB 27 Nov 1793 AE 37.

I began with a simple Google search. Usually I’ll try a few different approaches until I come up with a good lead. I may try, in this case for example- “Robert Pouncy died 27 Nov 1793”, or I may try to figure out the birth year (which is easy to do within a year or so when you have the age and date of death) and then plug that in as well. Or, I may try one of the genealogical sites that have free, basic information available. If I’m pretty sure the person was English, as I was in this case, I might go onto some archival sites for the UK that have birth, baptismal, death, or burial records. Luckily, church and county records in England are quite good, and go pretty far back. The only question is whether they have been put online. Another avenue to try is to find a genealogy forum for the family name and contact someone from there. I did that in this case, and heard back from a distant relative of Capt. Pouncy who was aware of him and from his own extensive research was able to tell me the names of his parents. If memory serves me though, the first item I found which led me to others, was a guide to documents held at the British Library in the Asia, Pacific, and Africa Collections. This guide had a list of contents of the journals, logbooks, and ledgers from a merchant ship, the Sulivan (var. Sullivan), operating under charter to the British East India Company (known as an East Indiaman) in the late 18th century, and a summary of basic information contained within, including the notation that a Captain Robert Pouncy had commandeered her on 3 voyages to India and China. In fact, this paper gave the dates of those three voyages, from departure from England, the ports of call along the way, the return date, and the return port city. From this I learned that the last voyage Capt. Pouncy made returned him to England in August of 1793. The locket tells us that he died only 3 months later, in November. How did he die? I have yet to find out, but my inclination is, he caught some dread disease on his last voyage, and it did him in. After all, he was only 37 when he died.

Also online, I was able to find two notices in London newspapers regarding court cases between Capt. Pouncy and one or more sailors who were contesting some punishment he had meted out to them while at sea (Capt. Pouncy prevailed).

With the names of his parents from the genealogist, I did more online searches and found that Robert Pouncy was born in Dorchester, Dorset, England. It seems he later moved to London; he was married there in 1785 to Ann Chassereau. They had two daughters- Anne (born 1788), and Sophia (born 17??). Mrs. Pouncy undoubtedly saw little of her husband in their short life together, as he set off on his first voyage only 4 months after their wedding, and didn’t return until July of 1787. Each subsequent trip took him away from home for approximately the same length of time. His daughters probably barely knew him. Finally, I found that his will is in the National Archives of England, and for a reasonable fee, I was able to obtain a copy of it. It was written just one day before he died, and makes mention that he is sick and weak (but of sound mind). Thus, he knew his time was up.

As I mentioned, the logbooks, journals, pay books, and ledgers for the Sulivan are housed in the British Library, and more information pertaining to vessels of the British East India Company are in the National Archives Maritime Collection. The Harry Ransom Center at the U of Texas also has one of Robert Pouncy’s logbooks in its collection. How it ended up there, I have no idea. I could order a digital copy of the logbook, or select pages from it, but it’s rather pricey, and I’d rather go read it and the ones in London in person. I imagine in there I might find a clue to the cause of Capt. Pouncy’s death, information on the goods carried back to England, and details of the voyages. In addition, I’d really like to find a portrait of Captain Pouncy, showing him with his fine dark brown hair. With persistence, and in good time, I hope to accomplish all of these things.

Mourning Locket for Commander Robert Pouncy

1914 Memorial Sampler

January 11, 2011

From 1914, this piece shows the great difference in style from the previous century.

In many ways, it is more naive, though has the symbolism of the anchor and cross.

1914 Needlework SamplerUse of ribbons in this piece may have been a personal preference by the weaver, but that shows just how unique these pieces are. The formal style that was popular not long before (and still popular at the same time as this was produced), is simply not used because of the personal nature of the piece and its defiance of external stimuli.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: 1914

“In loving memory of our darling boy Thomas Holden
Who died Feb 11 th, 1914
Aged 14 years.

“A lovely child a father’s pride a mother’s hope with tears of love
For we were constant by his side till he was call’d to heaven above
Deeply Mourned

To Aunty From Edith

Mary Urbas Photographic MemorialMade for the young Mary Urbas, this piece was a purchased and tailored (possibly by the funerary arranger) to accommodate her image. The poem, much the same as grave inscriptions, was chosen by the family from a series of poems as was the artwork.

Mary Urbas Photographic MemorialThe frame and the artistry of this piece is a testament to the art of the early 20th century, as this was the standard for funeral art. Its frame is original (with corner embellishments) and its symbolism from the angels to faith, hope and charity are exquisite.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: 1904

Loving Rembrance of Our Dear Daughter, Mary Urbas, who died, April 7, 1904, aged 2 years and 9 months

Gone, But Not Forgotten

We had a little treasure once,
It was our joy and pride;
We loved it, ah, perhaps too well,
For soon it slept and died.
All is dark within our dwelling,
Lonely are our hearts to-day,
For the one we loved so dearly,
Has Forever passed away.

A Joyous Christmas

December 25, 2010

White Terraces destroyed by eruption 1886. A joyous Christmas.

White Terraces destroyed by eruption 1886. A joyous Christmas.

Even if you’re not terribly religious, Christmas is undeniably a sentimental time, one that can at the very least be spent with loved ones. So, from myself at Art of Mourning, I hope you have a wonderful day!

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

With mourning being a constant earner of capital, events draw quite a large amount of memorial paraphernalia, as seen in the previous examples.

Never outdone, the US has mass produced memorial pieces dating as far back as Washington. Lincoln items are notable in that he died not long after the Civil War when the American memorial industry had become centralised and large enough to produce many different items.

In this JFK piece above, the style still retains the black border and a prayer (common for memorial cards and that he was a Catholic). There was another version of this card produced, which Mrs Kennedy had destroyed due to her dislike of the picture, though some are still in existence.

Further Reading on Memorial Ephemera

Photography + Ephemera

George V Memorial Card

Ephemera: 1915 Australian Memorial Card

Memorial Card and Hairwork

Queen Victoria Funeral Programme

The Graphic: Funeral of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria Funeral Card

Parnell Mourning Ephemera

Prince Albert Memorial Ephemera

A Look Back on Ephemera

Photography + Ephemera

October 6, 2010

Photography and memorial ephemera are intrinsically linked and the use of photography within memorial ephemera only grew as the process became more cost effective.

As for the printing and the artwork itself, this piece shows the development of the neoclassical symbolism that had by now (early 20th century) become strongly linked to the mourning industry. Used here to surround the photograph, the symbolism is highly embellished, with the dove, columns, flowers, Christian symbols all being framed by a black curtain that is seeming to be pulled back.

Artwork like this had always been linked with Christianity, but this had become increasingly more prominent, with standard artwork being used for the majority of Christian denominations.Neoclassical symbolism had transcended Protestant and Catholic in the mainstream, with generic bible quotations and symbolism.

Further Reading on Memorial Ephemera

George V Memorial Card

Ephemera: 1915 Australian Memorial Card

Memorial Card and Hairwork

Queen Victoria Funeral Programme

The Graphic: Funeral of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria Funeral Card

Parnell Mourning Ephemera

Prince Albert Memorial Ephemera

A Look Back on Ephemera

One of the most important moments in the history of the memorial industry was the death of Prince Albert on December 14th, 1861 which caused a massive upheaval in the popularity of mourning jewels and culture. Obviously, this was due to the national state of mourning and Queen Victoria’s subsequent perpetual period of mourning.

As for the card itself, this particular piece is embossed (a method that was standardised), with the sentimental content being specifically chosen; which would have been produced in quantity for Albert and available to the masses. The weeping angels, cherubs, urns and forget-me-nots are all popular motifs carried through from an earlier time and evolved to their current status in artwork of the 1850s/60s.

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

1830 Memorial and Hairwork with WreathWith its hairwork and wreath, this piece is quite a unique piece of funeralia that is certainly relevant. This piece shows a standardisation in memorial art that would have a degree of consistency over the next seventy years. The black and the bold symbolism with quite innocuous font are all reminiscent of a style that remains prominent over the following Victorian period (which suffered through numerous artistic revivals). Untouched even by the artistic heights of its time, this piece truly transcends its events in history, even showing the forget-me-not that would prove an even more popular motif in the following years. The hairwork itself is quite cleverly constructed, using a series of curls to create its own design. A very beautiful piece that has stood the test of time.

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

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

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

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

If you’re in the UK and happen to be near Bath, this is one to mark on your calendars. The University of Bath is holding a lecture from Dr. John Troyer about historical tattooing and their use as memorials on the body. Below is from

In 1891, Samuel F. O’Reilly of New York, NY patented the first “…electromotor tattooing-machine,” a modern and innovative device that permanently inserted ink into the human skin. O’Reilly’s invention revolutionized tattooing and forever altered the underlying concept behind a human tattoo, i.e., the writing of history on the body. Tattooing of the body most certainly predates the O’Reilly machine (by several centuries) but one kind of human experience remains constant in this history: the memorial tattoo.

Memorial tattooing is, as Marita Sturken discusses the memorialization of the dead, a technology of memory. Yet the tattoo is more than just a representation of the dead. It is a historiographical practice in which the living person seeks to make death intelligible by permanently altering his or her own body. In this way, memorial tattooing not only establishes a new language of intelligibility between the living and the dead, it produces a historical text carried on the historian’s body. A memorial tattoo is an image but it is also (and most importantly) a narrative.

Human tattoos have been described over the centuries as speaking scars and/or the true writing of savages; cut from the body and then collected by Victorian era gentlemen. These intricately inked pieces of skin have been pressed between glass and then hidden away in museum collections, waiting to be re-discovered by the morbidly curious. The history of tattooing is the story of Homo sapiens’ self-invention and unavoidable ends.

Tattoo artists have a popular saying within their profession: Love lasts forever but a tattoo lasts six months longer.

And so too, I will add, does death

An Illustrated lecture with Dr. John Troyer, Deputy Director, Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath
Date: Tuesday July 20th
Time: 8:00
Admission: $5
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

Thanks to Sarah Nehama for sharing the link!

Commemorative medallions, such as the piece above, are a popular part of the mourning industry.

Princess Charlotte Augusta, married to Prince Leopold, was mourned nationally, an event which which had grown with the passing of popular / royal figures and would continue further.

An example of this can be seen in the piece from Queen Mary II, but the custom was a popular one, notably used for Lord Nelson and reproductions of the Lord Nelson mourning ring made to commemorate his death.

Queen Victoria, Lincoln, Washington and many other popular figures would continue to be commemorated in this fashion (18th, 19th Century), which ties directly into the mourning industry. And facilitated a tremendous industry. Only by the first world war did events of this kind not hold their original resonance, however public memorials and mourning are still commemorated. Memorial items for popular events still continue also, such as rings made for the September 11 attacks and various items for the death of Princess Di.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Inscription: Born Jan VII MDCCXCVII Married to H.R.H. Prince Leopold of Saxe Cobourg May 11 MDCCCXVI Died Nov VI MDCCCXVII

When the Ear Heard Her It Blessed Her And When The Eye Saw Her It Gave Witness to Her The Voice of Wailing is Heard: As the Morning Cloud , As The Early Dew, She Passeth Away

Cause For Concern?

May 2, 2010

Now, here is a piece that has caused a lot of distress to many people in the past. If you’re a French jewellery historian, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The first thing to recognise is the translation of the piece, which in its original French is: “pour vous tout seul” that roughly comes out as “all to yourself” (please forgive this horrid translation). A dealer in Paris attempted to sell this piece to me with the understanding that it was a mourning piece. When the lid is closed, the appreciation is one of a skull, however, since then I’ve known a little better.

The inscription as well as the motif (plus the faith, hope and charity), lends itself to being more familiar to marriage and not death. It was told to be documented in a French jewellery book and belonging to that of a French Marquis.

But let’s look at the facts. The stones used are diamonds (eyes), rubies (shank and interior) and the countenance is more that of a face rather than that of a skull. The bezel has a rosette formation and the translation is dedicated to someone. You have stones which are more used for precious sentimentality, so that doesn’t equate to mourning or otherwise, you have a face that may or may not be a skull (it’s been worn down) and the dedication is leaning towards subject sentimentality. It also has white, black and green enamel.

So what is it? A good question. On the whole, let’s look at that rosette bezel. 1760 was its prime, but you could get it back to 1740 if you were keen. Is it French? Why, yes it is. Are French pieces different to English? Quite a lot. How different? They were different cultures and one preferred to be ahead of the other in that respect. Could this have been for an English person living in France? Not according to its provenance, but perhaps (though unlikely). Why? Well, the piece was seemingly constructed in France, it bears no other hallmarks and has French writing. Ok, so it may be French, but is it mourning? Ah, what do you think of the face of the piece? It looks like a smiling face or Venetian mask. Anything else? Well, the face has dark around the eyes near the diamonds. Look at the head and chin, those areas are worn down. Why is this? Those areas may have been worn down due to age. So, what are those areas wearing down? Metal or enamel? Enamel. Hm, so how do you know what it looked like before the enamel was worn down? I don’t. So why impose your theory? Because the face is white. Ah, so a skull and a mask can both be white? Of course. Then, we’re at an impasse.

The most telling part of this wonderful piece is the inscription. The construction of a hinged face is wonderful, as well as the stones and inscription show a wonderfully made piece. The quality put into this piece is worthy of Continental work. Often, French and German pieces didn’t conform to the British pieces and had quite different symbolism. This piece also uses other flavours of enamel, which were quite uncommon for British pieces. Basically, for a French piece, this is quite sound. Back to the inscription and the “pour vous tout seul” once again hints towards it being dedicated to someone and not for anyone in particular, or at least for not a general audience (like a family). The leaning towards this piece being directly for sentimentality and perhaps marriage is certainly open, but I’ll leave it to your deduction to follow up the clues.

The different styles of jewellery, be they Baroque, Gothic, Rococo or Neo-Classical, all experienced periods of revival after they were first created, or were reproduced continuously since their inception. Of the most popular styles to be found in mourning and sentimental jewels, Gothic and Neo-Classical are the easiest to spot.

With mourning jewellery being a rather modern invention (at least for the purposes of this website – post 16th century), they were original for their time and there is no trouble in matching a Gothic or Neo-Classical ring to its respective age. For the novice collector, these are good areas to begin the accumulation of knowledge.

These styles were not reproduced at a later date; therefore, spotting forgeries of these pieces can be very easy.

At the very least, if a piece is questionable, there is a safe basis for judging what it is.

Wearing hairwork isn’t something that I would recommend as a daily habit. My only caveat for that is that if the hair is worn as a memento, under glass or protected in some way. Why, I hear you ask? Well, if you want to keep that antique hair supple and lasting another 100 years, you’d best keep it climate controlled and away from environmental harms.

‘Hayden, wearing hairwork keeps is pliable through the oils in your skin!’ a dealer once told me. Hairwork has been treated before weaving, a method which has kept it physical since the day it was cut from a loved one’s head (or the head of an European nun who dedicated it for money). From experience, it is true that this is the case, you can keep your 150 year old hairwork quite mailable, but you will also experience discolouration to the hair and your sweat will slick it down. If you have a beautiful weave, which may have originally been intended to wear over a costume and you’re wearing it at the neck on a warm day or at a function, it’s likely to gain some of your essence upon its coating. When it comes to cleaning this off, I haven’t had a the heart to take any of my hairwork to ‘the cleaners’ as it were, but if anyone has a good method for this, please post or let me know.

Hairwork in a locket or ring memento (or any other jewellery memento where it is sealed off) is quite logical. Here, a treated (or even untreated) piece of hair can be kept for years and worn without any real fear of being ruined. I’ve worn an untreated piece of hair on my wedding ring finger each day for the past ten years and I’ve seen no deterioration to the hair itself. I wash my hands with impunity and even on 40+ Celsius degree days I’m as comfortable as can be.

Bracelets are much the same as necklaces, please be aware that any hairwork touching the skin wasn’t immediately intended to be so. Respect the era in which it was made, these pieces had a reason for being and any excess wearing will expedite their exit from the planet. If you wear something for its pride of place or for its sentimental value, then that is for your prerogative, but if you have a piece that is unrelated, then consider its history and for whom it was made. Love and appreciate it and it will love you back by lasting several more generations.

Mourning or Memorial?

March 10, 2010

I get asked the question a lot of what is mourning and what is memorial. Well, the answer to this question is actually quite a lot more detailed than you’d expect and before you go thinking that I’ll be posting on comparison pieces (that will come in later posts), this will deal with just the basics.

I believe this subject is quite in the semantics of the topic; mourning deals with the death of an immediate loved one, memorial deals with an event, which can also deal with a loved one by definition. How can the two cross over? Well, let’s look at it this way:

Lord Nelson’s death caused a ripple effect through British society, rings were made, memorial objects and items that would now be considered collectable were constructed to memorialise the occasion.

On the other hand, the death of Mary Ann Lewis on the 17th of December, 1852 at age 50 means little to the greater public. This is a woman who gave birth to several children in England and their progeny will doubtfully be reading this post. How do I know this? Well, apart from researching her history, I also own her mourning rings. Why were they mourning rings? They were rings built for specific people for a specific purpose. There won’t be a re-creation of these rings and they weren’t made en-masse for the public.

Is this a clear definition? No, clear definitions are in the eye of the beholder, but there is a distinction between pieces that were made for an event which may have caused a social change versus a piece or an event which did not. Does that invalidate the mourning piece? Of course not, at no time in history is one drop of blood worthy of a physical item, that is ridiculous, the piece means even more for that it is an individual thing which resonates the love of the person who wore it.

In future posts, I will discuss the difference between items and hopefully even argue with myself to find the true nature of a piece!

Quite a wonderful enterprise is what Chris and his team are doing at, I’ll let him explain:

“ was started for two reasons. First, we wanted to pay our respects and honor the members of the Armed Forces that had fallen in the conflict around the world. During the 2004 election, we saw politics get in the way of respect when the act of reading the names of those killed in action became a political tool to be used or repressed. We felt this was just wrong. We believe, that as Americans, we should all show our respect and honor those who have lost their lives in service to their country. This isn’t about politics. Whatever one’s political convictions or views on the Iraq war, or any way, respecting those who are in the fight should come first.

The second reason was money. We saw how little most of these families got, as little as $12,000 in death benefit. We decided that there must be a way to both honor these men and women and help get more money to their families.”

So far, Chris has made in excess of two hundred thousand dollars for families by selling these bracelets and is really to be commended for it. A wonderful look at a new medium of mourning jewellery!

Recently, I’ve been thinking of the previous time that Halley’s Comet passed us all by (9 February 1986 for all you kids out there) and this reminded me of that fascinating style of jewellery known as the Halley’s Comet pin or brooch.

On 16 November 1835, Halley’s Comet passed by an caused a phenomenon in jewelley. Just like the Georgian Eye, it captivated people and spurred on a style of sweeping back jewellery that still has elements used today.

Often, hair was used in the centerpiece as a love token or memento, but more commonly, emeralds, diamonds, paste or other gems were used to create the center of the comet and accentuate its tail in goldwork (often with another gem in the back).

You can spot the older pieces by the 1830s elaboration to the goldwork (usually in the tail), with later pieces being less embellished and more streamlined. This continued until pins started to take on more of a straight bar shape.

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