Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter #85 - September 2018

Memento Mori Memorial Vinaigrettes


Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning "remember that you will die." It also describes mourning jewellery and trinkets popular from the 16th through to the early 20th centuries. Those mourning the dead would wear these items both to memorialise the dead and keep reminders of one's own mortality

More than a hundred years ago, no well-dressed person would have considered his or her mourning outfit complete without a piece—or preferably several pieces—of special jewellery. "A few trinkets must be worn, if only to accentuate the general sombreness of the costume," stated an 1892 article on mourning in The Queen, a British society and fashion magazine.

Along with accentuating somberness, mourning jewellery was a way of keeping the dear departed near you—literally. It was quite common for these pieces to include a lock of the deceased's hair  Traditionally, the hair would appear under glass, neatly braided or curled up in a locket, ring, or pin. But the 1830s saw the beginning of a mania for pieces actually made of hair.

Steamed and plaited strands were stuffed into tubes of open metalwork and shaped into bow pins, watch chains, and necklaces, which fastened with metal clasps (made of gold for the rich and pinchbeck for the poor in early pieces, rolled gold was used later). Usually, a professional jeweller, one who specialised in mourning jewellery, did the work. But if you wanted to be sure your loved one's locks were being used—some unscrupulous craftsmen were known to substitute horsehair—magazines such as The Godey's Lady's Book published articles on making your own hair jewellery.

Hair had another use as well, it could be dried, ground up, and mixed with water, creating an inky liquid. This ink would then be used to write inscriptions and paint woeful scenes on the enameled surface of a ring or pendant. A typical scene might depict a landscape full of weeping willows, or a nymph drooping sadly beside an urn or monument.

As mentioned above, people began wearing memento mori with loved ones' initials inscribed in them in the late 1600s and they sometimes contained a bit of hair as well. But it was the burgeoning development of ready-made lockets, brooches or rings with standardized designs—which could be engraved or otherwise customized—that popularized the idea of pieces especially made for mourning.

The concept really took off in the Victorian era, with its elaborate, rigid rituals for everything. Queen Victoria's prolonged mourning for her husband, Prince Albert (which began in 1861 and continued for decades), set an ideological example. The increasing mass-production of jewellery made it possible for almost anyone to purchase a piece or two.

Fashions in how to make and keep memories have shifted in more recent decades but, for a very long time hair was treasured as a keepsake; mothers saved the first lock cut from a baby’s head, girls stored their childhood plaits and hair was worked into many objects including jewellery as a remembrance of someone loved and lost.  This is well illustrated by a small collection of four Commemorative Silver Vinaigrettes now offered for sale where the quality of workmanship together with the thought and love that has gone into the design and its execution surely attests a deep and abiding emotion and conjures a strong connection to people, their families and loved ones from a previous age.    
   A superb quality William IV Large Silver              A very fine Victorian oval Vinaigrette
    Gilt Memorial Vinaigrette, with two lids               with shaped borders and cast thumb
 and memorial chamber decorated all over          piece, a memorial chamber concealed    
  with engraved scrolls, birds and a floral              under a second hinged lid engraved
 basket. A central window revealing plaited         with a presentation inscription in French
     hair framed by a raised inscription                       and locks of hair under glass. 
                'IN MEMORY OF'.                                 Complete with original leather case.
    By Edward Edwards, London 1836.                  By Nathaniel Mills, Birmingham 1846.

Featured Item

John Sheldon's Patent Pocket Escritoir 1853

A rare leather cased metal Patent Pocket Escritoir, the tooled burgundy leather case with gilt lettering and the Royal Coat of Arms, a further outer case also with tooled decoration and a separate wallet containing original embossed notepaper and envelopes, held together by a sprung strap (a/f). The interior lid with applied Sheldon Escritoir Almanack for 1853. The fitted interior with folding Inkstand and wax light (promethean) containers, a folding taper stick (and spare), a hinged central compartment with applied label containing sealing wax and a Sheldon's 12 inch measuring tape with plain and chequered seal, with further apertures for postage stamps, pens, gum or other wafer seals and the original Sheldon's German Silver combined Dip Pen / sprung coin and letter scale. Complete with original Blotting Card and instructions leaflet.

Sheldon described this pocket Writing Desk in his adverts as "The Cabinet of the Million and Wonder of the Age". It contained all the essentials for writing and could be easily transported in a gentleman's pocket or a ladies handbag.

Sheldon registered the original design for the Patent Pocket Escritoir on 16th November 1843. Registered Design Number:66. This example dates from 1853.

The enclosed instructions include a diagram of the arrangement and list of contents as follows:-
German Silver Letter and Coin Balance Penholder.
Postage Stamps. Steel Pens. Gum Wafers and India Rubber.Inkstand. Wax Tapers and Taper Stand. Sticks of Sealing Wax and 12in Measuring Tape with plain and chequered Seal and Prometheans. There are three additional contemporary screw-top bone spare lead holders added to this example.


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George IV Silver Gilt & Micromosaic Vinaigrette Large George IV Silver Gilt Hunting Scene Table Snuff Box William IV Silver Snuff Box Set With Signed Micromosaic Boar Hunt Panel Large Victorian Silver & Multi Coloured Agate Vinaigrette
Victorian Naturalistic Silver Walnut Vinaigrette Liberty & Co Arts & Crafts Silver Serving Spoon - Oliver Baker Victorian Silver & Enamel Sentry Box Vesta Case 'The Seaforth Highlanders' George III Silver Greek / Roman Goddesses Vinaigrette

Once again I am pleased to be able to update the site this month with over 30 new items of stock and some highlights include; a fine George IV Silver Gilt & Micromosaic Vinaigrette, a large George IV Silver Gilt Hunting Scene Table Snuff Box, a William IV Silver Snuff Box Set With Signed Micromosaic Boar Hunt Panel, a large Victorian Silver & Multi Coloured Agate Vinaigrette, a rare Victorian Naturalistic Silver Walnut Vinaigrette, a rare Liberty & Co Arts & Crafts Silver Serving Spoon designed by Oliver Baker, a Victorian Silver & Enamel Sentry Box Vesta Case 'The Seaforth Highlanders',  and a George III Silver Greek / Roman Goddesses Vinaigrette.


I do hope that you will find this Newsletter informative and helpful and will allow us send it to you on a regular basis. I would welcome any feedback you may have, both positive and negative.

David W.A. Buck.
Steppes Hill Farm Antiques


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