Scallop edged Victorian mourning brooch, pinchbeck and enamel. Contains hair of the beloved, and inscribed “In Memory Of”, possibly American, c. 1880-1890. Clifford Baron Gallery.
As the spirit of the Halloween season tightens its grip on all of us, our thoughts inevitably turn to all things deathlike. Perhaps on a certain level, all antiques are shrouded in a veil of eeriness–they are after all, objects of bygone eras, passing through hands that are no more. Yet no other antiques are as explicitly bound to the grave as mourning jewelry.
It should be no surprise that the Victorians, purveyors of death photography and the best of the Gothic novels, dominate the art of deathly keepsakes. In the grip of the Gothic Revival that also gave us Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre tales, mourning jewelry took a turn for the dramatic once more. Brooches of the sort exemplified by the one above–black enamel (overtly signifying death), ornate acanthus design, “In Memory Of” stated in Gothic script, and containing a stylized lock of hair, came into popularity (Source).
In the Victorian era, “these brooches would be worn at the neck or bodice and conform to high mourning fashion…” (Source). Victorian mourning was a strictly regulated social ritual and these pieces were an integral part of mourning fashion, as well as cherished keepsakes. It is sobering to remember that while today, these pieces are highly valuable curiosities, in the Victorian era with its high mortality rates, such a brooch was an intimate link to the dead and a constant reminder of memento mori–“remember that you will die.”