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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.