Thursday, September 10, 2015

Victorian Mourning Jewelry at the Oaks

Thursday, September 10, 2015
Loretta reports:

In a place like the Historic Paine Estate, the Oaks, treasures can turn up anywhere, as Jennifer Willson has discovered. In this case, she opened a teapot and found this white sapphire hair bracelet inside. This is one of many items which leave us wondering: Whose was it? When was it made?

Unfortunately, details on many of the treasures are lacking, but my research indicates that hair jewelry became especially popular from the 1850s. In some cases, it was a craft practiced at home. Godey’s was no doubt one of many magazines offering patterns and instructions.  However, the making of hair and mourning jewelry was a commercial enterprise as well.

Something new in hair work.—Madame L. Kampmann, of this city, has undertaken to get up for us, mourning pins composed of hair. Weeping willows, tombs, trees, &c., on ivory , making a very pretty picture. They will be furnished set in gold, for a breast pin, for $12.00
Godey’s Vol 52-53 1856

Why mementos made of hair?  The following, from an 1825 New Monthly Magazine piece, “Criticism on Female Beauty,” is extensively quoted (without credit to the source) well into the late 1800s.

Hair is at once the most delicate and lasting of our materials; and survives us, like love. It is so light, so gentle, so escaping from the idea of death, that with a lock of hair belonging to a child or a friend, we may almost look up to heaven, and compare notes with the angelic nature; may almost say, " I have a piece of thee here, not unworthy of thy being now."
The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 14 1825
The set at left, in better condition—although the bracelet is missing its stone—is dated to about 1860. as always, if anybody can shed further light on any of these items, the help will be greatly appreciated. Jennifer is trying to catalog the items, with the aim of eventually making the collection available online.

If you’re in the area, you can examine the house's treasures up close and personal at the Oaks on 12 September and 3 October 1-4PM as well as during the Christmas Open House in early December. For special group tours, please contact the DAR Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter:


hopegreenberg said...

As you say, Godey's has many fine examples. Here's a different way of 'seeing' hair jewelry that you might like. In 1857, one of Godey's favorite authors, Alice B. Neal Haven, wrote a series about a young couple, the Coopers, setting up housekeeping. (She's a favorite of mine--I've been collecting her work for a long time and hope someday to publish the collection online). The November installment of the series, titled "Gift-Making" involves hair jewelry, in this case a Christmas gift from wife to husband. As with all of her wonderful stories, she combines humor with kindness (and a good dose of teaching her readers how to be proper consumers). I hope you enjoy it, and you may wonder if O. Henry must have read this in his youth before writing "The Gift of the Magi."

Cynthia Lambert said...

Hair jewelry was made in very intricate patterns and modern day crafters might well wonder how it was all done. If anyone has tried to make anything of hair, it's soon obvious that working with hair to make such tight designs and getting them to stay is next to impossible to do. The secret is that they used wax. The hair was mixed with wax, coaxed into its design, and then boiling water was poured over the finished piece to remove the wax. This was most often the case with bracelets. Many pieces in brooches still retain their wax. As hair was once part of the giver's body, it is a very intimate gift to a loved one.

Scrapiana said...

Cynthia's comment is fascinating and makes perfect sense.

All I can add is that the American Museum in Britain has some nineteenth century hair jewellery in the final section of their current 'Hatched, Matched, Dispatched - & Patched!' exhibition. The curator there, Kate Hebert, might be able to help with further information.

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