Visit our Online Flea Market!

August 1, 2013

After yesterday's post on cemeteries and monuments you probably think
I'm in a macabre frame of mind, especially when you see today's featured
photos on antique mourning jewelry.  Honestly, I'm just intrigued by the
many heart-touching traditions that have been lost over the last 200 years.

Ruby Lane
This Georgian mourning ring is a rare and beautiful piece
of history.  The band inscription reads "Eliz Martin
OB 28 1776 AE 11"  (Elizabeth Martin died
on October 28, 1776 at the age of 11.)

A traditional mourning period in the 18th
and 19th Centuries began immediately upon
the death of a loved one.  In addition to
wearing all black, etiquette dictated that
no adornments be worn for several weeks.
After that initial period of grief, various
pieces of mourning jewelry were worn - rings, broaches and pendants. 

A clip of the deceased's hair is encased in
this antique rose gold Victorian mourning ring.

A while back I wrote a post on Victorian hair wreaths, a form of mourning memorabilia.  Many of the intricate wreaths were mounted in ornate frames for public viewing.  While some of today's featured mourning pieces do include hair from the deceased, most were created to be worn by individuals as a personal reminder of their loss.

Referred to as a "Prince of Wales" hair
mourning broach, this piece dates to 1835.

A stunningly beautiful mourning pendant
from the late Victorian period.  

Unlike other types of heirlooms, mourning jewelry seems
to remain in families as very few pieces come to market.  

Mourning jewelry was usually custom designed
and often made from gold, seed pearls, and onyx.

While most deaths seem shocking to us today we need to remember
that before the invention of penicillin in 1928, the premature passing of
friends and loved ones was a fairly common occurrence.  Not to belittle
the tremendous weight of our ancestors' grief, death was viewed with a
much more stoic attitude.  Honoring the deceased by wearing a piece of
jewelry as a memento was perceived as a loving and appropriate gesture.

Mrs. Joel Gutman of Baltimore, Maryland, purchased this mourning
set following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865.

The earliest form of cameo jewelry can be traced by to the
3rd Century BC in Greece.  King George III's granddaughter,
Queen Victoria, is credited with the popular revival of cameos,
especially as mourning pieces.

As photography became more affordable in the late 1800s,
lockets with photos of a loved one became very popular.

An early 20th Century mourning pin

By the late 19th Century inexpensive pieces of jewelry were mass produced following John Wesley Hyatt's invention of celluloid.  In 1868, while searching
for an alternative to expensive ivory used in billiard balls, Hyatt created the
formula for celluloid which was the precursor to Bakelite and today's plastic.

Rare 1920's lucite mourning rings are highly valued by collectors.

A lovely tradition that began over 25 years ago is to have a piece of jewelry
created out of the gold and diamonds of a spouse's wedding ring.  A close
friend had beautiful rings made for her two granddaughters using the stones
from the engagement ring given to her by her late husband.  Both are greatly cherished.

I promise that tomorrow's post will be much more uplifting.  See you then!


  1. I love this post! Looking back at the way they honored the dead back in the olden times is very interesting. Thanks for sharing! Jamie

  2. Very neat post and really interesting as well. Have a nice day!

  3. In years past I have seen mourning jewelry and it always up in the $300-600 price range

  4. I was watching a television programme recently about Whitby jet, and how popular it became when Queen Victoria wore it during her mourning. We visited there a few years ago, there are still some stunning pieces being produced, although not necessarily for mourning these days.

  5. I loved yesterday's to go to old cemeteries also! New Orleans! Charleston..Bonaventure Way...this I have agree though is a bit strange :-)

    1. Gina, you're right - the older the cemetery, the better. The cemetery in which we bought our plots was founded in 1822 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has grown to over 100 treed acres in Twickenham, the historic downtown district of Huntsville, Al. My parents also have plots beside us so it's definitely a family affair! -- Jan

  6. Such a sweet and sad tradition, and a lovely one. I do think that is a very nice way to honor the death of a loved one. xo

  7. I have always been fascinated with mourning jewelry. What beautiful pieces you shared in this post. I enjoyed it very much.