What I’m obsessed with this month: Victorian mourning hair jewelry

This is something I discovered a few years ago and have been hunting for a piece to own ever since. Mourning hair jewelry was made from the hair of a deceased loved one; the idea’s been around for centuries but it was most popular during the Victorian era. Christ, those Victorians were a morbid bunch–although the argument can also be made that it’s healthier to deal with death directly, rather than sweep it under the carpet the way we try to nowadays. Anyway, they say it’s because Queen Victoria went off the deep end when Prince Albert died, that she never stopped mourning (based on how many children they produced in the time they were married, they must have REALLY been in love, know what I’m saying, all that “Close your eyes and think of England” stuff aside) and she was such a strong influence on western culture that everyone kind of  followed her over the cliff.

There are two different styles of mourning jewelry: one where necklaces, bracelets, and watch fobs are woven from the hair; and one where the hair is encased in a brooch or necklace pendant. The latter is my favored style, it can be as simple as just a lock of hair curled inside, sometimes with a portrait of the loved one. But jewelers sometimes got really elaborate with it and made intricately woven/braided patterns or curls or even actual tiny pictures with the hair (weeping willows, pansies, tombstones).

There are a couple of local antique stores with a pretty good stash of mourning jewelry, one in Lafayette and one in Breaux Bridge, but (based on my research) I’ve found it all overpriced for the condition it’s in. And when did antique dealers become so opposed to haggling? Used to be you could make them a counter-offer and if it wasn’t insulting they’d likely take it, because that item could sit gathering dust for another decade before anyone else expressed interest in it. Nowadays you offer $85 for something priced at $100, and they act like you offered to trade them a dead skunk for it.

So I took to Etsy, and last night I found the perfect, and I mean it’s EXACTLY what I’m looking for AND it’s in excellent condition, piece:

mourning hair

Those three curls are a style that was called “Prince of Wales”. The gold threads symbolized true love and the seed pearls the tears of the person who wore the piece. It’s reversible: the pin you see sticking out of the right side lifts up, the center swivels, and you put the pin back to lock it in place. The other side is currently empty, I’m guessing it held a photo that was removed by the last family member who owned the piece before the estate sale. The gold is probably only 9 or 10 k; gold wasn’t really the point of these pieces and they usually had a low content. There are initials and the date 1869 scratched into the back.

The seller was offering this at a price that is more than fair, I’ve seen less elaborate pieces in worse shape go for $100 more than what she’s selling this for. Even better, she offered layaway in the listing, so I don’t have to pay the whole price at once. We worked out a deal, I’m going to pay her $100 a week (I get paid every Friday) until it’s paid for, then she’ll ship it.

The next thing I’m going to hunt down is a lachrymatory, which was a glass vial that mourners (almost always women) used to catch their tears; when it was full they sprinkled them on the grave of the loved one. It dates back to the Romans, but again, it was the Victorians who really made it into an art form. One day I’d love to have a cabinet of curiosities, where I can have all my weird stuff in one place–although that locket is going in my jewelry box, because you better believe I’m going to wear it.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. fallfromgrace349
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 05:02:26

    I think Victorian hair jewellery is fascinating too, they were a peculiar bunch! I watched a programme called ‘oddities’ and a woman on that had a whole choker made with hair in a victorian style. Was eerily pretty 🙂

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