Minnetrista Blogs

Mourning Jewelry

In the United States, the Civil War (1861-1865) and economic hardship was taking its toll. Death in the war, high infant mortality, and the hardships of the time all contributed to a communal sense of loss. It was more common to experience death in one’s family than not. During these difficult times, mourning jewelry served as tokens of remembrance and affection.Perhaps one of the most unusual trends of the Victorian era, by today’s standards, is the notion of public mourning. The acceptance of public mourning in Europe was prompted by the death of Prince Albert in 1861. The years following his death were marked by Queen Victoria’s deep mourning for her husband.

Hair was often used in the design of mourning jewelry, which includes elaborate bracelets and necklaces. Hair was also often included in a photograph locket. Black is the most common color associated with mourning jewelry and is commonly represented in the form of Jet or French Jet (black glass). Perhaps the most morbid, by today’s mores, is the notion of using a post mortem photograph of the deceased and setting it into a piece of jewelry, such as a pin or brooch.

I think there is little argument that our attitude towards death has changed. We live longer, and we don’t accept death as readily as our ancestors did. Both the brooch containing the photograph and the hair necklace are from the Minnetrista Heritage Collection. The hair necklace is currently on exhibit in the exhibit Away from Home: Civil War Letters.