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Victorian Mourning Jewelry

mourning jewelry The color black in Victorian society is usually associated with mourning. It is said to symbolize the absence of light and in turn, life. The wearing of black, or widow’s weeds, was an outward and visible sign that a loved one had passed away. Most countries who wear and use black in their mourning customs trace their origins to Roman society. Romans believed that if one wore a black cloak when viewing the deceased it would render them invisible to death.

In Victorian society women, as keepers of the home, were expected to keep family decorum by mourning. Full mourning for a parent, spouse, sibling, or child, lasted a year and one day. During this time a lady did not leave home except for church. She must wear a dress of black lusterless cloth and a veil which came to her elbows. After a year and one day a lady would go into second morning. Again this period would last a year and one day. The veil could be shortened and worn back and a lady might leave the house for restrained activities. She may also accept callers. She could add a colored border to her hem and cuffs and she also could wear mourning jewelry carved of jet, bog oak, or gutta-percha. At the end of second mourning a lady entered half mourning. She could re-introduce color to her wardrobe and continue with life as usual.

Men did not mourn as deeply as women. On the day of the funeral men would wear a sash called a baldric, black for an adult, white for a child. After this, for a period of one year, a gentleman would wear a black armband. As head of the household he must return to work and normal activities after one week. Children were never dressed in black and traditionally did not mourn with the adults. When a child died they were dressed in white.

The material most associated with Victorian mourning jewelry is Jet. Queen Victoria popularized jet after the death of Prince Albert. Jet is a variety of fossilized coal and has an appearance similar to black glass. Jewelry made from gutta-percha, a natural latex obtained from evergreen trees in East Asia, ranked second to jet as an economical alternative. Bog oak, Vulcanite, and sometimes, human hair were also common. Popular motifs included Greek gods and goddesses, a hand holding a stem of flowers, willow trees and tombs, or an urn of flowers. A bouquet of flowers rendered in glass mosaic or Pietra dura, might harbor a secret wish or sentiment.

With Victoria’s death in 1901, mourning customs passed out of favor in England. In America the Civil War changed our country's rigid mourning rules. Practically the whole population North and South was in mourning. The large number of women dressed in black added to the depression of an already grieving nation. Because of the low morale of a country in mourning, political leaders began to enact laws banning mourning garb.

Please enjoy the following images used with the owner’s permission.

Full Mourning brooch

This brooch is made from Gutta-purcha. c. 1850/65. The image is of a bacchante, a follower of Bacchus the Roman god of wine.It could have been worn during deep mourning.

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Full Mourning Brooch

This wondeful piece is carved from bog oak c. 1850/60. It has a wonderful Greek key border and features the image or Ariadne (Greek) She assited Theseus in killing the Minotaur when he abandoned her she married Dionysus. She died in childbirth and her wedding diadem was set in the heavens as the constellation, Carona

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Georgain Hair Brooch

This is a hair memento under rock crystal. It has one color of hair woven and placed under the crystal. It is most likely a mourning piece because of the black border. c.1810

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Micro Mosiac Brooch c.1860/80

This piece is probably not a mourning brooch but it would have been acceptable for half mourning. The brooch is onyx and glass set in silver. In the Victorian language of flowers ivy symbolizes fidelity, roses, love & forget-me-nots, thoughts. A circle symbolizes eternity. We could read this brooch as, "Thoughts of love and fidelity forver."

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Miniture Portrait

Hand painted Miniture Portraits were sometimes used as mourning images. This piece can be indentfied as a mourning brooch by the black garter and buckle surrounding the portrait. The reverse holds a lock of the deceased's hair, his name, and date of birth & death which also confirms that this a mourning piece. A brooch such as this would be worn during half mourning.c.1864

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Mourning brooch

This is a Vulcanite brooch which originally part of a necklace. It has been remade as a brooch. The figure is an unknown woman c. 1890. This piece would be worn during first mourning.

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Second or Half Mourning brooch

This is typical of a mid to late Victorian mourning brooch It has the words "In Memory Of" around the border. It also features a lock of the deceased's hair with their initials in the center.c.1865/70

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