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

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

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

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

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

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

c.1815

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

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

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

Experimentation of styles at the end of the Neoclassical movement created some unusual and quite beautiful forms of mainstream design in jewellery that were discontinued by the coming Gothic Revival and seemingly original for their time. Often, designs used in jewellery have some continuity or pedigree for their form, which makes their adaptation of any mainstream artistic flourishes seem quite understandable.

Yet, the early 19th century was a time of discovery and change. Much of the techniques used in traditional jewellery construction were being overtaken with the growing industrial revolution, production was growing to new levels, access to inexpensive materials transcended status to the point of social necessity. Hence, there was more room for experimentation in jewellery fashion, styles could exist for a short period and quickly disappear.

These particular rings show a motif in the shoulders and shank which have some basis in the navette style, but turn this into a design which is much more organic to the contour of the finger. While the style of the open wire/fretwork is a new one, it still honours the symbolism typical of its time.

With this particular ring, the symbolism in the eternity symbol is used to expand the shoulders, enhancing its simple symbolism and the nature of the design itself. What is more striking is that the ring’s memento area is shaped as a diamond, crossing diagonally around the finger. This also reflects upon the changing nature of the sentimental style of the time as well; what could also be a larger, ivory memento with a portrait or mourning/sentimental depiction is now the simple hairwork of the loved one, outwardly displayed for all to see.

Dedication: 2 December 1800 / J.J

Following on with this style, the wire-work open-shank can be seen in many other pieces of the first-quarter 19th century, with more or less elaboration. Often, the bezel is oval shaped with hairwork inside. This was at a time when the ‘Georgian Eye’ portrait was reaching its crescendo, suggesting that the oval and the eye have an intrinsic link in the design motif. Either way, it was phased out to become a more traditional rectangle, but keeping the same hairwork/materials inside.

Further Reading:
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.190
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 3, Breaking Perceptions

While we’re working behind the scenes rebuilding Art of Mourning, let’s reflect on this magnificent tale from the crypt:
Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810

Rose and yellow gold with enamel. It appears the hair is laid on card with letters printed on it and research found Alexander Scott was from Lancaster County, PA and held a seat in the Legislature between 1797-1800.

This ‘cigar band’ style of shape is not an American invention; very much the style of US jewellery had a precedence in Europe and just made variations of the theme. Let’s explore the nature of the band itself. One can find its style dating back to the navette shape of the 1780s, where the shank splays out towards the bezel and forms part of the ring itself. The way this conforms to the finger and holds the popular styled shape of the ring is important. The navette style was particularly popular during the 1780-1800 period and the thing to focus on is the shape itself and how the shank holds it.

Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810

As the style over these years began to accommodate the more neo-classical oval shape and materials began to take over the focal point of the navette (being the painted art), the shank accommodated the shape as well. So, this style isn’t related so much to the mourning band of yore, but was more of a way to accommodate shape.

The style as it developed accommodated a cheaper price point. Often one can find these pieces to have a base metal underneath or sometimes have hollow areas underneath the bezel itself. One could surmise that the American adaptation of this style very much satisfied a middle-class market that couldn’t afford the higher price margin for similar shaped bezels with higher detail to the shank.

Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810These are more prolific due to cheaper construction (but not in all cases). That said, the fine pieces with higher gold content and detail are perfect examples of their time, they simply followed a fashion and as with most US forms, found its origins in Europe which subsequently found its origins in earlier pieces that simply evolved to accommodate this fashion.

Look to the more oval, geometric, smaller and quite interesting methods of gold work that were experimented with during the first quarter 19th century (look to the rings first) to see how the style evolved.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Country: United States of America
Year: 1810
Dedication: Alex(R) Scott OB 21 Mar 1810 AE 47

Mourning Bracelet Clasp

Bracelet clasps often showcase some of the most presentable and intricate sentimental art available from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This is related to their use in fashion and how they were presented outwardly, as well as their grand size. While rings tended to have different variations in their artistic depictions, from the ready-made and easily customised neoclassical ideal (which tend to be more naive), bracelet clasps generally hold a higher level of detail. As we’ll see in the coming weeks, I’ll show some interpretations of the bracelet clasp and how they were worn.

The clasp is special because of its inscription; “Angels Weep When Children Mourn”. This is not just exceptional artwork for its form, but also sentimental in its child dedication. Note the sepia art and how crisp it is. A piece like this is rare to be found in a bracelet clasp and even more so in its condition.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: c. 1780-90
Dedication: Angels Weep When Children Mourn

Related Articles
Spotlight On: John Wood Dodge Miniature
One Family in a 19th Century Hairwork Bracelet
When Mourning Tokens Are Personal: Mourning Bracelet
Spotlight On: Hairwork Necklace and Locket

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.

I’ve written quite a bit about memento mori, it seems to be one of those subjects that is as fascinating as it is polarising. Why is that so? Well, there are so many different connotations involved with the symbolism and that seems to be the crossroads (pardon the veiled pun) of what defines these magical pieces.

If you look to my post from Saturday about the 18th Century Skull on Pendant, then you will see the other end of the scale, which is clearly not a representation of death, but rather the statement of living. However, today we look at the other end of the spectrum with this very rare and very high quality ring from the collection of Marielle Soni is most certainly constructed with the intent of death and mourning. To discern this, firstly let’s look at the time and place of when it was created and why this was so popular.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

This piece was constructed c.1680-1700 and we have many ways to check the validity of this. Firstly, we have the shank itself and note the embellishments. Often, pieces like this have lost their enamel inlay and are quite worn down, but this one is a perfect representation of how it was from when it was constructed. Note the Baroque influence in the design and how this would influence pieces of contemporary and later times. Particularly, the society in which this ring was created was dealing with the new found stability in the government due to the Restoration and from this, industry was finding new ways to create a niche in producing items for a society that was becoming upwardly mobile in ways that had not been seen since the Roman era. Appropriating popular art styles, such as that of the all-pervasive Baroque, and using its influence in products was (and still is) only a logical step in simply selling an item.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

And to follow on from this, we have the skull and crossbones underneath the faceted crystal, an obvious choice for popular symbolism that was now quite heavily associated with death and grief. Gone was the clear establishment of a class that could afford to flaunt its wealth, standard of living and changed were the classes below that could not afford to live in such an almost narcissistic paradigm. Wearing a jewel to show that you will be judged and to live life for all its benefits is quite a grand statement during times with high mortality rates and a more feudal-based system of government, but during the 1670s-80s, there’s a strong shift to higher industry, specialised work and education. Politically, England was recovering from a civil war and the reinstatement of the kingship in Charles II in 1660, the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. There was a high mortality rate and Charles II was only beginning the process of the Restoration. Hence, pieces like this could allow themselves to become more commonplace, the symbols of death could be appropriated for an industry that was reacting to the execution of a king and a subsequent civil war, it could pick up on the nuanced tokens of affection that became popular from this and it could produce a product that was relatively easier to produce and almost the same to sell.

Read the rest of this entry »

There’s been a lot of discussion about the limits of what a fake or a forgery is over at the Art of Mourning Facebook Group and I thought I’d open up the floor to a little discussion (feel free to join in over at the group) and add a bit of commentary.

I’ve mentioned before that I began Art of Mourning as a tool to put down as much knowledge as possible before my loved ones eventually require a mourning ring made up of myself and to dispel as much fiction surrounding a piece for the new collector or the seller who isn’t completely sure of what they have in their hands.

Once upon a time, an antique dealer once said to me that the best sellers in the world are the ones that listen to the collector and absorb the knowledge, as opposed to being seemingly knowledgeable over a large area of collectables. The collector has the passion, the collector is the boffin who spends their life in pursuit of a singular item.

However, it’s no secret that there are items out there which are reproduced for the singular purpose of monetary gain and to obfuscate the collector. These exist and are sold under the pretence of being something they are not, something which does not represent the past but is clearly being sold as a piece from the past.

For those who have been collecting antiques or are very knowledgeable about them, there’s an understanding that these items have always existed and there’s not much one can do apart from learning more about the subject and being deceived. Then, there is the new collector or person who may be fooled by the piece, thinking it too good to be true or a genuine item. Here is where there is a grey area surrounding whether or not to directly engage with them and identify that the piece is an obvious forgery, or to turn the other cheek.

I’ve written the articles below early on to try and identify what constitutes as a fake or forgery and I hope you can find the time to breeze through them. There are many other areas of forgery, usually found on eBay, that are new productions, but there is more difficultly in identifying repair work and revival periods.

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Contemporary Pieces

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Plastic, Odd Materials and Repairs

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Hallmarks

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Gold Content

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: How to Spot the Forgery

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries Conflicting Styles

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 6

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 5

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 4

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 3

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 2

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals / Part 1

> Spotting Fakes and Forgeries: Mourning and Sentimental Art Revivals: Spotting

So, please stop by the Facebook Group and lend your opinion!

Neoclassical MiniatureExamples such as the one above, provide a rich palette for memorial symbolism and the skill of art itself.

Allegory is the central ideal with the subject of mourning and sentimental miniatures (as with most depictions during this time) . There is an overwhelming amount of variation between pieces from this time, their symbolism (Greek in style or not), but the piece above requires close inspection.

The woman in mourning represents many different things depending on the area the piece was produced and the painter. Commonly, the woman appears in white neoclassical dress, a perfect symbol of devotion in mourning. More unusual pieces transfer the woman from being a romantic ideal into a personal statement. This can be seen in pieces which depict the actual person who commissioned the piece. Depictions range from females in black dress without the neoclassical ideal of portraiture. Examples of this can be seen in Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. Personal pieces also include the figure of a male mourning next to the central tomb, urn or other motif. Male mourning pieces tend to be more rare, but their sentiment is greatly enforced due to their personal nature. A male mourning ring dating from this time can be found in the Rings section.

The piece above has the tomb as the central focus, with the child breaking free and flying towards the angel, who has outstretched arms, holding a wreath. The wreath depicts redemption, and this is enforced by the ‘Resurgam’ (resurrection) written on the tomb.

Shown in front of the woman is a garden, which had different meaning. The biblical gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, where Christ was arrested, leading to his crucifixion and resurrection, alludes to eternal life. The cypress trees that outline the background (hope of immortality and death) provide a stunning depth to the artwork.

Following the common themes of mourning miniatures, the weeping willow (resurrection through regrowth) is one of the most common.

The reverse of this piece has a cobalt glass surround, set into a bezel, set into a gold over copper rim and a hair compartment in the centre. In a future post, we’ll look at other miniatures and compare styles.

Further Reading
> Symbolism Sunday, The Willow
> Symbolism Sunday, The Cypress
> Symbolism Sunday, The Woman

Duke of Wellington Mourning Cameo

In much the same way as this commemorative medallion for Princess Charlotte of Wales, this exceptional cameo souvenir resonates with the same intent. Capturing the profile of a popular figure upon their passing is certainly no modern tradition, but one that dates back into the ancient. This particular cameo comes from the collection of Simon Millard and a fine piece it is:

“It was produced as a souvenir of the state occasion of the funeral of the Duke of Wellington. The duke died on September 14th 1852, and his funeral at St Pauls on the 18th November 1852 was one of the grandest public spectacles of the 19th century. Many souvenirs were produced for the occasion, ( though they’re very rare now ) of which this black glass mourning cameo was one.”

Duke of Wellington Mourning CameoFurther Reading
> Wikipedia on the Funeral of the Duke of Wellington
> Richard Holmes: Wellington: The Iron Duke
> John Morley: Death, Heaven and the Victorians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we’re revisiting some fashion this week, let’s take another look at this spectacular miniature:

Let me begin today’s lesson by stating that to some degree, mourning jewels are fundamentally sentimental and quite personal. There is little to no doubt about that. Grief isn’t something that can be measured by price, it’s not an affectation and it’s not something that any layer of pomp can prove justification to.

18th Century Mourning MIniature with Contemporary WomanWhen it comes to jewels, no matter what the quality, they were worn for the ideal of grief, regardless of their quality and when you see a piece that not only defies the mainstream, or tradition, of popular at a certain period, you know you’re looking at something special. Does that make the piece any more sentimental than any other mass produced item from a catalogue? I think not.

This piece rises above the expectations of the time in which is was made, it produces a bold statement about the person who held/wore/commissioned it and it demands an immediacy of emotion that was rarely captured in miniature paintings, an immediacy and proximity to the subject that perhaps only photographs could manage to take.

Read the rest of this entry »

Often, it’s the simplest things that help us understand a time, place or even a piece of jewellery. Jewellery in particular is a form of fashion and adapts itself to a specific time, hence just knowing how something was worn helps us get a better idea of when it was made.

Because of this, it’s good to get a little overview of fashion in mourning from the 17th century to the 19th. If you have the time, click over to the ‘Textiles Tuesday’ articles and that may help you stitch together a better idea of when your jewellery was created.

Textiles Series

Textiles Tuesday: 17th Century, Part 1

Textiles Tuesday: 17th Century, Part 2

Textiles Tuesday: 18th Century, Part 1

Textiles Tuesday: 18th Century, Part 2

Textiles Tuesday: 19th Century, Part 1

Textiles Tuesday: 19th Century, Part 2

Once in a while a man comes into your life and things just seem better somehow.

A fine and jolly fellow – Georgian, but which George?

I don’t know his name but this gentleman is one of the very few pieces from my collection I actually wear. Possibly because, not only is he quite sturdy, he seems…jolly.

Unlike most of my collection, this lovely portrait miniature is sentimental in nature. I imagine, because of the light colours, his traditional portrait stance of three-quarter profile, his colourful complexion, his lovely smile, and so on, that this was commissioned during his lifetime.

As we know from our Art of Mourning posts (and Jane Austen), sentimental jewellery in the form of portrait miniatures was a very popular form of art. They could be miniature paintings or in this format where it also doubled as an item of jewellery. Not only were they commissioned for family members, they also acted as love tokens given to your affianced, or other such love interest!

Detail – note how seamless the construction appears.

My jolly fellow bears no inscription, so there is no confirmation of identity, nor date of execution. However, from his clothes and hair one would hazard a guess of around 1780 – 1810 or thereabouts? Perhaps those schooled in fashion history could shed some light on the date – please feel free to comment.

The reverse showing the entwined hair

He is painted on what is likely to be ivory, encased in thick domed glass and framed in a classic oval gold frame. The reverse holds plaited hair. Here is another clue that it is sentimental, two shades of hair entwined together forever – perhaps man and wife. It is also possible that the hair was added later; there is quite a lot of grey in the darker shade (his?) and then lovely lush red hair is his companion.

At any rate, I have worn him dancing, sipping champagne, dressed in my finest and celebrating with friends. From his flushed cheeks, gentle eyes and authentic smile, I think he quite enjoyed it!

– Marielle Soni

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a most exquisite pendant….

The front of the mourning pendant - note the use of pink. I can't imagine that this would have occurred in an English mourning piece. Travelling from continent to continent it now resides in Australia.

This story is about collecting. I promise there will be another tale about the potent beauty and sentiment of this piece. However, back to the land of far, far away, the land of collectors, it is called – The Internet.

A few years ago I fell in love. It was a complicated love, one born of desire for beauty, but one also springing from a much deeper place of empathy and respect. It was instigated by my sisters, they (under my instruction) went to Gray’s Antiques in London to collect a rather special ring that I had recently purchased. They were also under instruction to have a look at a few other pieces I was interested in. What they recommended was this extraordinary French pendant. They described the size, colour and detail to be something quite unique.

Detail

I looked at this miniature artwork on the internet on a daily basis. I coveted it greatly but just did not have the resources to buy it. I would estimate that I looked at it online at least once a day for quite some time and then – quelle horreur –  it disappeared.

As a collector do you ever realise (after the fact) that you feel more regret at having missed out on a new acquisition as it would have felt to spend the money you didn’t have? I have felt both types, but nothing is quite as bad as feeling regret once something slipped through one’s fingers. That is the double-edged sword of the internet. Being able to see an image of something daily, having it there seemingly available and accessible does encourage one to think that one has until  tomorrow, and tomorrow…..

So, when it disappears it can be quite confronting. Eeek – someone took my pendant!

A combination of sepia painting, macerated hair, pearls, watercolour & 3-d gold

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw the same pendant suddenly appear on the other side of the world courtesy of Ruby Lane! Immediate Wish List addition. I had learnt my lesson but to be honest, it still doesn’t solve the realism of not having the finances. But the original loss made me bolder, and when the dollar became a bit better, and with such generous things like lay-by (and living on rice) become options one can find a way.

A discipline which I try to adhere to (but often fail) is to refrain from purchasing things that I like at a moderate cost and save up for things that I love that are at a price requiring a bit more sacrifice.

What the land of  The Internet has provided to me, as a collector, is reach into a larger market. I have access to dealers in the UK, the US and the rest of the world which would have been unfathomable not that long ago.

The reverse with hair panel and inscription in French.

– Marielle Soni

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

Mourning Silk Art

August 1, 2011

From Barbara Robbins comes this wonderful piece and an equally wonderful story!

Mourning Silk Art

“There is an interesting story behind this silk picture.  I bought it from my friend, probably about 4 years or so ago.  It was in perfect condition.  it had the reverse painted glass mat that they used to do.  I had to chose between it and an expensive teapot to go in the carry on, and I chose the teapot because i often bring needlework home in my hardside suitcase with no problems.  I put cardboard in front and behind it, and the put it in the clothes.  The Victorian ones make it just fine, but alas, the Georgian glass is just too brittle.  When I opened this one up, I cried as the glass was broken in several pieces. It was hopeless.  I put the picture, with the broken glass, on the floor in the corner, by my buffet where it sat for about two years.  I couldn’t even bear to look at it , remove the glass, and have it matted with a new black mat.  About two years ago, the night before i was to leave for London, the top of my Victorian dressing case suddenly came lose, and fell on my arm and on my pitcher and bowl, which was one of the few family heirlooms I own.  I was just miserable.  It was as though God had decided I couldn’t have that piece, and I knew I would have had a fit if my brother had done that.  I told my friend, who immediately told me she knew someone who could fix it.  After England, I called him, and drove across down with the about 10 pieces of the bowl (only the handle had come off the vase).  I decided to take the Shakespeare mourning piece (which I have sent you), and this one too.  This man is an artist: he restored the pitcher and bowl to where I can’t even tell it.  He said he could not restore the old glass, so I left the Shakespeare one, which is just cracked down the middle, alone for now as I hated to destroy the old glass.  This one, the lady with the harp, was beyond help though, so he had a lady cut a new glass and he painted a new one.  I had enough pieces of the old so that it looks exactly the same.  Now it hangs on my wall, and I know I can bring Victorian glass but not Georgian home in a hardside suitcase.”

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning Ring

If you know me well enough, you may think this is hypocritical, but sometimes I often buy jewellery to wear. Yes, as a person who is based in conservation and education, I love my urn/mourning motifs and this one grabbed me. I was in London looking down upon a cabinet of jewellery and it just spoke to my heart. As you can see, there are no dedications on it, which make it safe for me to wear and not feel that I’m harming the memory of a person.

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning Ring

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning RingWant to read a bit more on the use of the willow in jewellery symbolism? Then why not click over here for more!

Wow, take a deep breath and enjoy this wonderful miniature from Barbara Robbins – if you like what you see, why not visit and learn more about wonderful memorial miniatures!

Mourning Miniature in Original Box

Mourning Miniature in Original Box

Mourning Miniature in Original Box

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

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

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Just a Sample

June 22, 2011

Samplers sure are lovely, indeed, if you like them as I do, have a read through this area of Art of Mourning! Below are some images from the collection of Barbara Robbins:

Mourning Death Sampler

Mourning Death Sampler

Mourning Death Sampler

Strange sized fingers and opening hinges while a jewellery historian binges on a wealth of fabulous examples of this odd construction technique.

modern hinged ring

modern hinge

Based on Monday’s Space Oddity; Understanding a Hinged / Locket Sentimental Ring with Hair, we need to understand that the implication wasn’t that this form of construction was never followed again, as to insinuate that a method of construction isn’t replicated considering that there are only limited ways to fit a ring to a finger is ridiculous, however, to consider this a style that was part of mainstream thought and a catalyst for a popular style is certainly not appropriate.

When pieces with unusual construction methods appear, the fundamental reason for them being unusual and not commonplace (though though produced in areas or by request) is that what the general populace takes for granted as being a ‘style’ doesn’t merge with what the technique that makes the piece ‘unusual’.

For example, these examples show a how the style was not necessarily adapted from the piece earlier in the week, but requested or specifically constructed for their purpose.

1858

This piece separates past the shoulder, allowing the enamelled design to appear uninterrupted and also hide much of the hinge itself, except for where it joins at the bezel.

1870

From this example, another form of the locket construction is quite different, separating and connecting from shoulder to shoulder, leaving the bezel free and completely obscuring the hinge itself.

What can be decided about these items is that they were commissioned for a reason.

This leaves two options, one must ask that in a world where rings were often made for the intended person, why would one construct a ring with a hinge? Consider these points and feel free to discuss!

1. The ring was created this way to overcome a large knuckle. If so, then by implication, a specific finger is required for that ring. Why would one finger be more important than another?

2. The ring was made and altered. Why would the ring be this way? Would you suggest that it may have been produced from the money allocated in the will and made to a generic size?

3. Would jeweller have experimented with this style?

4. Could it be created to preserve the band?

5. Perhaps a cultural phenomenon that was popular for a short while?

Courtesy and thanks: Marielle Soni, Verlaine Davies, rings from ‘Rings 1800… – 1910’, Write Designs, LTD, Ruidoso, NM, 2009 and the modern ring Sarah Nehama

Soul Brooch, 1806

April 26, 2011

Here is an incredibly beautiful little brooch and not only exemplifies the style of the turn of the 19th century, but also is a wonderfully personal sentiment of mourning.

Firstly, let’s look at the shape. This piece is square, but also has a contour to its surface, sloping downwards from east to west. It’s remarkable that the bevelled glass follows this line so well, as this curve is quite difficult to fit. Obviously, the setting helps this, but it’s still quite intricate in its simplicity.

Take into account that this piece was made in 1805, a time when only five years previous, the Neoclassical style was in full bloom and a scene with the mourning woman next to a tomb, surrounded by the weeping widow was commonplace. This piece shows that very strong transition to present the hair as the memento. The use of enamel and its reliance as the artistic theme is quite bold, with this clean, straight edge and geometric shape becoming one of the true styles of the early 19th century (especially during the Regency). Use of stones was becoming more popular and simple shapes, such as ovals and rectangles, look for more on this in a future post.

But what are the two most wonderful things about it? Firstly, the impossibly personal sentiment on the front. ‘His hair / wove here / his memory / in my soul’ – what a beautiful statement of love? And a very genuine one, as this was not a common memorial dedication, it’s not generic, it’s speaking directly from the person who commissioned it. To go with this, the white enamel is the second most wonderful thing about it. The poor lad who died was aged only 19 (in an era of high mortality, this isn’t terribly young), but the white enamel speaks of his being unmarried/purity/virginity.

White enamel on a piece usually commands a greater premium, these pieces are harder to come by and the messages are often more unique to the wearer. It’s not a general rule, but if you have white enamel, you can often suggest that the piece is of a touch higher quality than the mass produced black enamel pieces of its contemporary time. Certainly not a rule to abide by as gospel, I’ve seen many reasonable, but not great, white enamelled pieces, but for a person who is more in tune with the sentiment over the construction, they do speak volumes.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Country: USA

Year: 1806

Sentimental MiniatureThese remarkable miniatures also from the collection of Don Shelton (Artists and Ancestors – Miniature Portrait Art Collection) show an astounding variation in memorial and sentimental symbolism.

The piece by Johann Adamek (1776-1840), who was an Austrian miniaturist, has quite a lovely portrait on the front, but the memorial sentiment on the back is most unique.

Quite Continental in its style (typical of France, Germany and Austria), the memorial scene of the classical woman showing her right breast exposed, weeping in front of a burning pyre on top of a plinth, all set in front of a blue background.

Johann Adamek minature (front)

Johann Adamek minature (front)

One thing that should be noted is the more abstract nature of the European mourning setting which takes more cues from classical art and embellishes it with greater levels of artistic depth and individuality than its British counterpart.

This is not unique to this piece alone, but quite common of more Continental pieces of the neo-classical period, there was less of a ubiquitous standard and more of an abstract nature given to the portrayals of the mourning scene or sentiment. Please view other pieces within Art of Mourning to identify many different forms.

Johann Adamek minature (back)

Johann Adamek minature (back)

It should be noted that the bird in relation to a sentimental image is also important; if the bird is a dove, then it can be further detached from the subject and more inclined towards a neo-classical ideal of peace/hope/heaven, if the bird a sparrow then love (dedication, trust), if the bird is a swallow, there’s motherhood or children involved. There are many neo-classical images of the woman holding the bird with a man looking upon her or involved with her (hand upon shoulder or body) which allude to motherhood, futurity and the prospect of a child. Many of these bird subjects often come back to the nature of the child.

Sepia MiniatureIn classical art, it has been suggested that the bird in the cage was relevant to an ‘awakening’ of the subject, be it in a sexual manner or a path to adulthood, I believe that what the relation of the bird is upon the subject (depending on how it references the bird) can define it being death or a new life. Be aware, though, that the bird as the subject without the human element or any context for the bird (no cage), the bird becomes its own individual symbol and is often the anthropomorphic establishment of its subject or often an ecclesiastical ideal (though this takes us to the Protestant iconography vs Catholic symbolic differences).

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

1846 Mourning Brooch with Broken Glass

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

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

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

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

1846 Mourning Brooch with Broken Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

1915 Needlework SamplerA marked change from the earlier funerary symbolism can be seen with this piece, so a softer, more gentle ‘heavenly’ approach, showing cherubic angels and very soft colours.

1915 Needlework SamplerThis style still exists in different shapes and forms today in funerary art. The needlework in this piece is an excellent example of design and colour usage to present a well-balanced and professional piece. Notice the fine detail and dimension to the angels and flowers, which work incredibly well with the needleworked text.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: c. 1915
Dedication: Nearer My God to Thee

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