The use of hair in sentimental jewelry is ubiquitous. Because hair survives time and decay, it has long been incorporated into tokens of affection as a sign that love outlasts death. In memorial pieces, bits of hair serve as a sort of shrine to the deceased. In the 16th and 17th centuries, locks of hair were enclosed in all sorts of precious and elaborate lockets, often hidden from view. In the 18th century, the lock of hair became a primary, and very visible, element of sentimental jewelry and was curled, plaited, and woven in decorative motifs, and sometimes was woven and knotted into bracelets, fob chains, and earrings. (The latter type became even more popular during the Victorian era.) Hair was also chopped up, macerated, or dissolved and used to paint miniature scenes of love and loss.
A popular Stuart jewel made to honor Charles I was the simple crystal heart-shaped locket. The style continued into the next two centuries as a more general token of affection. The locket almost always contained a lock of hair of a loved one. If worn empty, the clear, transparent heart signified truth or purity. The 18th century locket shown in Fig. 1 is a typical example of the rock crystal heart. This heart is shown crowned, which signifies loyalty.
Another popular Georgian style of heart was the simple open heart brooch, as shown in Fig 2. They were almost always made of garnets, a stone associated with love, and were typically given as tokens of affection. The two examples show crowned hearts, again signifying loyalty. These brooches were usually quite small and were worn as lace pins, ie to hold in place a piece of lace or fichu. Note that the smaller brooch, as well as the locket in Fig. 1, use a simplified heart shape without the deep cleft in the center. This form of heart is often seen in 17th and 18th century jewelry.
Fig. 3 shows examples of a variation on the open heart brooch: the witch's heart. The tail of a witch's heart twists to one side (almost always the right side) and is a shape that has been in use since the 15th century. It gained popularity in Scotland in the 17th century when it became known as a Luckenbooth, named for the closed booths in Edinburgh where they were sold as tokens to ward off evil spirits and protect loved ones. Tiny witch's hearts were often pinned to a baby's blanket as protection. By the 18th century, the shape had taken on a slightly different meaning — they were given to a loved one as proof of being "bewitched." As love tokens, they are most commonly made of garnets. Both examples show crowned hearts, signifying loyalty to the "bewitching" one. The double heart, as seen in the garnet example, generally indicates a committed love relationship, such as betrothal or marriage.
Morbid symbols of death, such as skeletons, skulls, and coffins continued to be used in English mourning jewelry well into the 18th century, but by the second half of the century had become less common and were replaced by images of sorrow. This reflects Enlightenment ideas in which expressions of grief and lamentation were accepted as a morally compassionate alternative to the 17th century emphasis on one's own mortality.
Throughout the late 18th century, sentiment, both sorrowful and romantic, began to be expressed in a more allegorical style with motifs like Cupid’s bow and arrows (love), flaming hearts or torches (passion, ardor), anchors (hope), entwined hearts (commitment), obelisks (fame), dogs (faithfulness, fidelity), weeping willows (sorrow), broken urns or columns (life cut short). These sentimental motifs were most often painted in miniature neo-classical scenes on ivory, frequently in sepia tones, and sometimes composed of bits of hair from the loved one commemorated. A sentimental inscription was often included. Typical sentiments of grief, generally inscribed on a memorial urn or plinth, included, "Not lost, but gone before;" "Weep not: it falls to rise again;" "In death lamented as in life beloved;" "Affection weeps, Heaven rejoices."
Extremely popular during the last decades of the 18th century and the early 19th century, these pieces were set in brooches, pendants, rings, slides, bracelet clasps, and earrings. These miniature sepia paintings were produced in great numbers as tokens of love or expressions of sorrow, and though similar in style, no two were ever identical as each was hand painted. They would have been purchased ready-made, or commissioned from design books and sample cards. The pieces could be individualized with the simple addition of a name or initials, date of death, and age engraved on the reverse. Occasionally the initials, or even the full name, of the deceased was added to the urn or column base in the painting. This indicates that the pieces were selected before being set in mounts. The mounts often incorporated additional sentiments — seed pearls signified tears, black enamel for mourning married persons, white enamel for mourning children and unmarried adults.
Allegories of grief are shown in the brooches in Figs 4-6. Fig. 4 shows a grieving widow (or mother) leaning sadly against an urn atop a plinth with the inscription "Not lost but gone before," a sentiment often seen on memorials for children. A weeping willow droops over her. The bottom of the painting is adorned with strips of hair in three different colors. This is another hint that it may be a child's death that is commemorated. In memorials to children it was common to include the hair of the child along with that of both parents. Fig. 5 shows two women beside a memorial urn atop a plinth with the inscription, "Affection weeps, Heaven rejoices." One woman leans against the plinth in sorrow, the other woman points to the sky above, indicating the deceased has ascended into heaven. An anchor of hope stands in front of her. Tiny bits of hair are strewn at the base of the plinth, a ritual celebration of undying love for the deceased. (In memorials to spouses, it was common to include bits of hair from both the deceased and the surviving spouse at the base of the plinth, urn, or altar as a symbol of their bodies joined together for eternity.) Surrounding the painting are bands of black and white enamel. The white enamel suggests the death of a child or unmaried adult. Fig. 6 is as more generic piece showing simply a sorrowful woman leaning on a plinth.
Another memorial piece is shown in Fig. 7. The tiny heart-shaped pendant is an early 19th century example of a sulphide -- a ceramic cameo embedded in glass. The cameo shows a woman leaning on an anchor of hope. The seed pearls represent tears. A lock of hair is enclosed beneath a crystal cover on the reverse.
Fig. 8 is an example of sentimental ambiguity, though it is likely a love token. On this large pendant, a smiling woman offers a garland of flowers upon an altar to Hymen, the god of marriage, atop which a pair of hearts are aflame with passion. Above her, a figure of Cupid descends with a wreath of flowers, a motif representing the triumph of love. The altar includes an inscription, but is unreadable. The sepia figure is painted with bits of macerated hair, and both the garland and wreath also include bits of hair, presumably of the loved one. The smile on the woman's face most likely indicates she is celebrating love rather than grieving its loss, though all the romantic motifs can also be found in memorial pieces to deceased spouses. A famous miniature of Martha Washington in the collection of the Yale University Art Museum shows an allegorical memorial painting commemorating the death of George Washington on the reverse, and it includes two hearts joined on an altar to Hymen.
Other common tokens of love and/or grief were portrait miniatures set in pendants or lockets, often mounted with a lock of hair on the reverse. Sometimes, as in the Martha Washington example cited above, the reverse of the portrait included an allegorical mourning scene. Variations of the portrait miniature were the lover's eye and the silhouette, discussed in previous articles. In the artcile on silhouettes, the two lockets shown each have hair compartments on the reverse, one with a curl tied with gold wire, the other with loosely woven locks of dark brown and light blond hair. There are also at least two silhouette lockets that may be mourning pieces shown in this recent blog I posted at the History Hoydens.
Fig. 9 shows a pendant with an interesting combination of sentimental types: a silhouette portrait on the front, and allegorical romantic motifs on the reverse. The silhouette of a young man is made of wax. The reverse includes an oval of ivory decorated with the young man's initials, forget-me-not flowers, and a pair of burning hearts pierced with an arrow. The decoration is made entirely of bits of hair. The black band around the ivory oval makes it likely that this is a memorial pendant. The twin hearts suggest the deceased was the mourner's husband.
Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing through the end of the 19th century, simple brooches and lockets highlighting woven hair under glass were worn as both memorial pieces and as love tokens. Tiny brooches or lace pins with woven hair were very popular, and often included obituary inscriptions engraved on the reverse. I have many such lace pins in my collection, and you can see some of them here.
I continue to collect Georgian sentimental jewelry and have acquired a few more pieces since this Collection was originally posted. Here is one of my favorites, as it has a dated inscription naming the person mourned:
Sources for more information on sentimental jewelry:
J. Anderson Black, The Story of Jewelry, William Morrow and Co., 1974.
Shirley Bury, Jewellery, the International Era, Volume I: 1789-1861, Antique Collectors Club, 1991.
Shirley Bury, Sentimental Jewellery, Stemmer House Publications, 1985.
Mona Curran, Collecting Antique Jewellery, Emerson Books, 1963.
Maureen DeLorne, Mourning Art and Jewelry, Schiffer, 2004.
Robin Jaffe Frank, Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures, Yale University Press, 2000.
Ann Louise Luthi , Sentimental Jewellery: Antique Jewels of Love and Sorrow , Shire Books, 1998.
Geoffrey C. Munn, The Triumph of Love: Jewelry 1530-1930, Thames and Hudson, 1993.
Clare Phillips, Jewelry, from Antiquity to Present, Thames and Hudson, 1996.
Clare Phillips, Jewels and Jewellery, Victoria and Albert Publications, 2000.
Diana Scarisbrick, Jewellery in Britain 1066-1837, Michael Russel Ltd, 1994.
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