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 prior 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.