Recently I have been on a tear reading mystery fiction set in late Victorian and Edwardian England. David Dickinson's wonderful series featuring Lord Francis Powerscourt is a favorite, and I have also been enjoying Barbara Hambly's excellent James Asher vampire novels as well. Thus, it seems fitting to share some information about mourning jewelry, which became very popular during the Victorian era and remained so throughout the Edwardian era as well.
Mourning jewelry is pretty much what it sounds like... jewelry worn to commemorate a lost loved one. The most common form of this is the hair locket and wearing woven hair of some sort actually dates back to the 16th century. The tradition was revived by Queen Victoria and it remained popular into the early 20th century. Some of the lockets were very large and elaborate, with the finest being made out of gold and sometimes featuring enameled decoration and semi-precious stones. Smaller versions were worn either as a small pendant or a charm on a bracelet.
Other mourning jewelry forms included charms carved from ebony and onyx and "lover's eye" rings and lockets. The latter were pieces that featured a closeup of a loved one's eye, and were usually painted pieces. These first became popular in the late 18th century and persisted into the 19th century, although the trend overall was somewhat short-lived.
Along these lines were portrait miniatures, often done on bone or ivory. These were eventually replaced by photographic images in the second half of the 19th century. In some cases, a portrait miniature will feature a glassed compartment on the reverse in which a lock of hair could be placed.
Overall, there remains an active collector's market for good examples of mourning jewelry. Expect to pay a premium for pieces crafted from gold and in elaborate forms. Similarly, a portrait miniature will bring more if the quality of the painting is above average. Sometimes one can find a charm bracelet composed mostly of mourning jewelry charms. These can have good value and more often than not, the value is greater if the charms are sold separately.
Bryan H. Roberts is a professional appraiser in Sarasota, FL. He is a member of the Florida State Guardianship Association and currently serves on the board of the local FSGA chapter. He is a past president of the Sarasota County Aging Network, a non-profit that provides grants to other non-profits benefiting seniors in need and is also a board member of PEL, an area non-profit whose resale store profits support programs and scholarships for at-risk and disadvantaged youth. He is certified in the latest Uniform Standards of Appraisal Practice (USPAP) Equivalent