Although paying hommage to the dead goes back as far as recorded time, we are probably most familiar with the widow in mourning, all dressed in black, of the mid 19th century, who was destined to wear black for the rest of her life, or at least a significant part of it. Mourning for the people of the 19th century often came in phases: The first being all black with no jewelry; after a few years, black mourning jewelry could be added to the costume and after those years maybe a touch of color either in jewelry or wardrobe trim. Men mourned the same but not as visibly. The process lasted some twenty years or more depending on the love or depth of respect shared between the individuals.
Here, I have featured three Victorian mourning pieces. Two pieces are jewelry and the third is a clipping of hair tied in red string, with red representing love.
The first and large piece is a square brooch featuring a fanciful urn cascading down with flowers all made out of human hair. This type of design is called “Palette Worked Hair.” The process involved treating the hair such that it would become stiff and waxy so it could be cut and formed into different florals, urns and writings in honor of the dead. This piece features a hirsuit floral urn set on an ivory background. The top is polished crystal and the setting is solid gold. This piece is probably French in origin and measures 2 1/2″ long X 2″ wide. It has different colored pieces of hair, most likely a collage belonging to deceased family members. There is no provenance to the piece, only the initials on the front. If these can be traced to a particular family, the value could be much higher. Even so, this piece is worth about $1200-$1500.
The second piece is a gold ring with gold initials on top of woven hair and capped off in polished crystal . It is dated 1851 and commemerates the deaths of three family members inscribed in the back of the ring ” In memory of Father who died July 13th 1838 “In memory of Mother who died Sept 15, 1858,” and finally “Brother William who died May 13th 1851.” This ring gives you the family members but no last names are given, making it impossible to trace. This piece is worth about $400-$500.
Lastly, simplest yet most interesting is the clipping of hair tied with a red string. It is contained in a very old box and features a full article of how this man met his fate. It reads:
“The Ham Farm Tragedy”
“Our readers will remember that in the late news published by us last week was a letter received from Greenville that morning stating that Captain Ham living three miles above Kineo had accidentally shot himself. Also he was to have been married on Christmas.
Since then it has been learned that the sad affair was not the result of an accident. A full investigation showed that Captain Ham had written two letters; one to his father, the other to the young lady to whom he was to have been married. The intention to take his own life was expressed in both letters and to the young lady he said that he was not worthy of her, and so resolved on the fatal act. He had arranged his rifle so it could be dicharged by a forked stick and then laid down to his death. He dressed himself in his best that morning before leaving his father’s house.
Those who knew him assert that he possessed unusual intelligence and ability of very agreeable manners and one for whom life seemed to have every pleasant thing in prospect.
The funeral of the late lamented Frank Ham held at the house of his sister, Mrs. Lampher, in this village, was a very sad occasion. Relatives from Dover and Blanchard were present. Also Miss Fannie Wells of Abbott, to whom he was engaged to be married on Christmas. She has the sympathy of all.
This clipping of hair with the article, although I find it most interesting, is probably least valuble at about $50-$75. It’s amazing how, with all our civilization, we continue to be plagued by the same problems people have always struggled with.