The Mourning Coffee

A Deeper Look into Mourning Jewelry

I talk about mourning hair art extensively in A Virtuous Death. I can’t imagine the patience and skill required to do this sort of work. I can barely stay focused to do a little scrapbooking here and there!

The History Behind Mourning Jewelry

Family members have been wearing various forms of mourning jewelry for hundreds and hundreds of years. Early mourning jewelry worn skull-ringprior to the mid-1600s was referred to as memento mori jewelry. Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning “Remember that you will die.” It was worn to remind wearers they too would one day die—life is transient and fleeting.

During the Georgian period, the era when King George I through George IV ruled England from 1714 to 1830, the jewelry took on a macabre tone. It was common for the pieces to depict skulls, coffins, grave digger tools, and the like. In fact, I have a reproduction mourning ring I purchased in Colonial Williamsburg to memorialize my mother. It is similar to the one pictured here, which is the newest version in the Colonial Williamsburg collection.

It was in the Victorian period from 1837 to 1901, spanning the 64-year reign of Queen Victoria, that the jewelry morphed into pieces created in memory of individuals. The pieces may include phrases such as “in memory of” and “lost but not forgotten.” It was during this era that mourning dress codes were popularized after the death of the queen’s husband, Albert. Wearing mourning jewelry was an outward display of what your inner feelings were supposed to be at the time.

A Current Day Mourning Jewelry Enthusiast

Here I am pictured with Raven Ackerman, a loyal reader, friend, and mourning jewelry enthusiast. She is wearing an awesome little necklace with coffins dangling from it. Raven made both mourning bracelets and the mourning ribbon. The bracelets are made of lava stone and jet. Aren’t they all beautiful pieces?

Raven and her husband, Chris, operate the Regimental Quartermaster shop in Gettysburg, PA. The Regimental Quartermaster outfits Civil War reenactors, along with a nearby sister store for women’s period clothing, the Gettysburg Emporium. There is also a small jewelry shop, The Jeweler’s Daughter, inside the Quartermaster, which sells reproduction Victorian jewelry.








Exquisite Jewelry Examples

Reader Heather Lambert shared with me there’s a really nice collection of mourning hair/jewelry in Dearborn, Michigan at The Henry Ford. Recently, I came across the article, The Intricate Craft of Using Human Hair for Jewelry, Art, and Decoration, showing several intricate pieces.

Finding Florence on Vacation


I know you’re a reader and that often means you’re reading anywhere, whenever your time permits. (I do this, too.) I want to see where you take Florence Nightingale on vacation over the coming months. So, I’m asking a small favor: share your photos with me.

Show me where you can be found reading NO CURE FOR THE DEAD. Extra points for reading in unique locations. I’m interested where Florence will turn up. Could it be the beach, the park, the museum, or a concert? Or perhaps Florence will be in front of your state or city’s welcome sign or in town square? If you have medical appointments planned, take Florence along. I’d love to see her in a picture with your favorite nurse!

I truly want to see where Florence will travel and the more unique the locations the better. (Plus, it gives me a glimpse into seeing some great locations across the states…or internationally—who knows where Florence will travel!)

Don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy vacation planned just take out your camera or phone and snap a photo of NO CURE FOR THE DEAD – your pick, a physical book or on your eReader – and send it to me.

My assistant will be collecting the photos and adding them to a dedicated photo album on Facebook. The photos will be added within days after they are submitted so begin NOW.

At the end of August, I will choose my favorites. Who knows? I may even surprise my top pick(s) with a hand-selected gift from me. We’ll see how many photos are submitted. (Psst – please do take at least one photo, if not more, and send them to my assistant to keep her busy.)

Here’s what to include with your photo:

  1. Your name
  2. Where the photo was taken. (Tell us either city/state or if in front of a specific place then share that. Such as “at Gettysburg National Battlefield.”)

That’s it. Super simple and easy to do.

NOTE: When you click the Submit button it will open your email so you can send your photo(s) as email attachments and write your email message.



Flat Stanley is often found in unusual places but Florence can be, too, right? Some may wonder “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” but I am wondering where NO CURE FOR THE DEAD will be seen next? Thanks in advance for playing along. I can’t wait to see all of your photos. Keep watching my Facebook page. And do invite your friends to join in this vacation fun. The more the merrier.

Violet Harper: Lady of Ashes Doll & Undertaking Bag

In 2013, doll collector Lynn Buonviri created a doll based on the cover of The Queen’s Dollmaker of main character, Claudette Laurent. Read the blog post describing this doll here. At a July 2014 book signing at Fenwick Street Used Books & Music, located in Leonardtown, Maryland, Lynn surprised me by sharing the Claudette Laurent doll re-imagined into the Victorian undertaker Violet Harper from the Lady of Ashes mystery series. What a treat to see Violet before me!












Notice the parasol in Violet’s hand and the undertaking bag at her feet. Lynn has a gift for designing doll clothing and a way of capturing the tiniest of details. Thank you, Lynn, for sharing this touching tribute to Violet Harper.

Perhaps one day we will see a Florence Nightingale doll, replete with a nurse’s bag and Florence’s signature lamp!

A Special Undertaker’s Bag

In 2013, my friend Carolyn McHugh was inspired to repurpose Lady of Ashes into a purse. Carolyn uses her artist talents to repurpose books into purses, picture frames, vases, and other inventive items. She presented me with the pictured purse…or perhaps I’ll call it an undertaker’s bag. If you are able to join me at a book signing you may see me with this undertaker’s bag holding all my supplies.

Carolyn cut out an area to specially hold my book cover, and although you cannot see it well in the picture, there is a fine mesh lace across the cover. The lace secures the cover to the purse but is virtually invisible. Notice that there is even a pocket on the back for my bookmarks.

Be sure to visit the News page for notice of my local appearances then mark your calendar to join me. I’d love to meet you and personally thank you for reading my books. Because of you, I can continue writing and doing something I love.


Inspired by a Book: Readers Share Their Handicrafts

When an author sits down to begin writing a novel it’s hoped the reader will enjoy the tale being spun plus find it a satisfying read, perhaps even find inspiration from one of the characters portrayed. It’s a happy surprise (for any author) to learn a reader has been prompted to ignite their own creativity and create something in their own artistic medium based on something I’ve written. Meet three of my readers who tapped into their creative juices after reading my book, The Queen’s Dollmaker—from my early historical fiction collection.

This early collection is no longer available new in print format (you may be able to find a used print copy) but with the availability of digital books can be purchased as a Kindle eBook on Amazon.

The titles in this collection include:

dollmaker-cuffMargaret Merang of Diamond Dolls Couture

Drawing inspiration from The Queen’s Dollmaker in April 2011, Margaret designed The Queen’s Dollmaker Cuff bracelet. Residing in Borneo Malaysia, Margaret finds a sense of happiness in jewelry making which allows her to experiment with colors, texture, and materials. She is drawn to the old-world charms with inspirations found from the eras of Renaissance, Victorian, Art Nouveau, and 1920s. It’s an honor to have had one of my books be a source of inspiration for this divine cuff.

Lynn Buonviri

In 2013 Maryland doll collector, Lynn Buonviri created this doll, based on the cover of The Queen’s Dollmaker. Notice she even posed the doll according to the cover. I believe Claudette Laurent would be pleased with Lynn’s dress interpretation. Lynn is a genealogist, historian, and writer, in addition to being a doll collector. She has researched and written on the legends surrounding Moll Dyer, a 17th century Maryland woman accused of witchcraft.










Carol Ann Conti

Reading about the dollmaker inspired Carol Ann to share photos of the lovely suit and gown she sewed for her JKF and Jackie Kennedy dolls, 2012. Notice the fine details—from John’s boutonnière to the beading on Jackie’s gown. Beautiful handicraft, Carol Ann.

Podcast Episode 18: The First Christmas Cards

christmas-cardsThe year 1843 saw both the publication of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and the issuance of the very first Christmas card. Developed by Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who not only assisted with the creation of the Penny Post but was also instrumental in management of the Great Exhibition in 1851, the card was an immediate hit with the British populace. It was not so enthusiastically received by the British temperance movement, who objected mightily to its depiction of a child drinking wine along with her parents. However, Cole had started a tradition that continues nearly two centuries later.

Podcast Episode 17: The Mold Riots of 1869

The town of Mold in northeast Wales has its own fascinating history dating back to the 11th century reign of William Rufus, but became infamous for its riots in the summer of 1869. Friction between Welsh coal miners and a particularly abusive English mine manager would result in military interference would leave several dead bodies and even more acrimony and hatred. As with all horrific events though, it would also lead to reform of the court system in Wales.

Podcast Episode 16: The Andover Workhouse Scandal

England in the early 19th century was rife with bad harvests, disease, and poverty.  Parliament developed the concept of workhouses to assist the poor, by providing them with housing and meaningful work to do.  This plan met with varying levels of success, but was mostly disastrous.  Worst of all was the Andover Workhouse in Hampshire, where workhouse residents were reduced to seeking food from the decayed rotting bones of farmhouse animals…and perhaps a bone or two from the local graveyard.

Podcast Episode 15: The Suez Canal

suez-canalThe Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas through Egypt and thus provides a quicker shipping route from west to east, was inaugurated in an elaborate, weeks-long ceremony in November of 1869. It was promoted not only as an engineering wonder, but as a means by which permanent international peace and harmony would be achieved. Less than a year later, many of the countries whose monarchs had attended the opening ceremonies would be at war with each other. And Egypt would be completely broke and debt-ridden. And Great Britain would be angling for control of the canal over the French. International peace and harmony, indeed.

Podcast Episode 14: Prison Hulks


Imagine the most pestilent, disease-ridden, rat-infested prison in 19th century Great Britain.  Now drop those conditions into a harbor and you have a prison hulk.  Only used for about a century, these floating dens of misery were responsible for countless prisoner deaths.

Podcast Episode 13: The Crystal Palace Exhibition


Opened on May 1, 1851, by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was the first of the World’s Fair exhibitions of culture and industry. Albert, the Prince Consort, was a major force behind the exhibition, which contained some 100,000 objects, by nearly 14,000 contributors. Britain occupied half the display space inside with exhibits from the home country and the Empire, while France was the largest foreign contributor of objects.  Just a few of the displays included the Koh-i-Noor diamond, the electric telegraph, vulcanized rubber, microscopes, barometers, surgical instruments, and even a 27-foot tall Crystal Fountain.