Mourning, History & Jewellery in Boston

Mourning ring made for John Gray, the infant son of John and Mary (Otis) Gray, who died six days after his birth in September 1763. The ring is made of gold, with three joined enameled scrolls and large square crystal over gold foil skull set into raised, rayed mount flanked by two small round facet-cut crystals. Scrolls contain text in raised gold Roman capitals in black cloisonné enamel.: "J:GRAY OB.17.SEP.1763.AE 6D."

Mourning ring made for John Gray, the infant son of John and Mary (Otis) Gray, who died six days after his birth in September 1763. The ring is made of gold, with three joined enameled scrolls and large square crystal over gold foil skull set into raised, rayed mount flanked by two small round facet-cut crystals. Scrolls contain text in raised gold Roman capitals in black cloisonné enamel.: “J:GRAY OB.17.SEP.1763.AE 6D.”

Before it closes on the 31st January 2013 you must go and visit the exhibition In Death Lamented at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston – that is, if you are lucky enough to live close by!

Unfortunately we are based on the other side of the world, but I was wise enough to purchase a copy of the accompanying publication which I had to review on Amazon. I couldn’t help myself, I do that sort of thing.

Sarah Nehama I am proud to say has contributed to this blog. She is a jeweller herself and an avid collector of mourning jewellery, many pieces of hers you will see in the collection. She also authored the book. Here is a fascinating interview with her discussing mourning jewellery and items in the exhibition.

If you have seen the exhibit please let me know what you thought of it below in the comments. As a collector of mourning jewellery I would have loved to have seen it myself!

For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow: A portrait miniature

Here is a re-posting of a short piece I wrote for the fabulous site Art of Mourning. This portrait miniature of a very pink cheeked gent is from the MOLAM collection of yours truly. I’ve always felt kindly toward him, he seems so happy, and is a fitting face to wish all readers a  Happy New Year to all! Enjoy!

Click here to read the post For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow

A portrait miniature of a gentleman with hair verso, C. 1780 – 1810?

Antique Jewellery Collections: Unmissable Links!

This blog does of course celebrate the collecting desire. Closest to the MOLAM heart is antique jewellery, particularly the field of mourning and sentimental jewellery. Many of our readers are friendly with the Art of Mourning site; the most generous, spectacular and in-depth reference site for aficionados of mourning jewellery. Well, there are some other reference pages that also display a generous spirit in sharing their pieces. Let’s take a look:

Cathy Gordon

Possibly one of the most spectacular collections I’ve had the pleasure of eye-molesting. The collector is knowledgeable in an array of fields, and a noted expert on Miriam Haskell jewellery, but it is her Stuart Crystal and eye miniatures that gets my heart racing!

Things Gone By

This is an online retail space, but there are links to previous sales that prove to be a wealth of reference material. Some glorious pieces here on their Things Gone By Museum page.

Time Dances By

The combination of pugs and mourning jewellery – perfecto! Time Dances By is also generous enough to keep links to previously sold items on their Museum page, these type of archival pages are invaluable research links.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Of course many public institutions have started to list their collections on-line, but the V&A are of an altogether different league for antique jewellery enthusiasts. Prepare to be amazed.

Don Shelton

Don Shelton has an extraordinary blog showcasing his extraordinary collection of portrait miniatures. For jewellery enthusiasts you would know that the traditional portrait miniature crossed over into sentimental and mourning jewellery and you will find much to learn and delight in on this site.

Morning Glory Antiques

Morning Glory is another on-line vintage and antique jewellery store, but it to keeps numerous links to previous sales, as well articles and reference information. There are many links to peruse, but Georgian jewelry, and Victorian jewelry are of particular interest.

Museum of Love and Mortality

What? Who me? Yes, we have a Facebook page which we posted a number of personal collection items onto but then Pinterest came along, so we are slowly posting images on there. Also, included are special items that although not in our collection are ones that we admire and covet!

Do you have other reference sites to recommend? Please do so in the comments section below to share knowledge!

From my own personal collection of mourning jewellery. A lovely mourning miniature, 18th C or early 19th C, dedicated to H.

Opals II: The History of the Myths

“The delicate colour and tenderness of the opal remind me of a loving and beautiful child.” – Onomakritis, Greek poet 6th C BC.

A superb Art Nouveau Marcus & Co brooch (New York), enamelled gold set with opal circa 1900, Victoria & Albert Museum. Height 3.6 cm. If you owned this, the last thing I would call you is unlucky.

Last week American jeweller and collector Sarah Nehama wrote a wonderful piece on the variety of opals and how she has used them in her own work. In the article she touched on the most undeserved reputation that the opal acquired in the 19th century of being an unlucky stone. As the opal is one of my favourite gemstones (alongside moonstones and garnets), and is of course the national stone of Australia I had to look at this further, to discover a bit more about the source of this most unjust superstition and some older emotional associations to the glorious opal.

One of my favourite opal pieces. Boulder opal features as a body of water, with fishermen – one on a boat, the other on rocks, trees on either side, and fence in the foreground, rays of the sun feature atop – all in gold. Circa 1900 by Priora Bros, Sydney. Width 5 cms. Collection unknown.

19th C Misconception

If you know someone who thinks the opal has unlucky connotations you should ask them why. More likely than not they will not be able to answer you. Superstitions often seem to be inherited without basis, so now you can tell them – stuff and nonsense!

The most commonly held source of the unjust superstition stems from Sir Walter Scott’s novel Anne of Geierstein published in 1829.

In George F. Kunz, The curious lore of precious stones published in 1913 he writes of the source of this superstition:

“There can be little doubt that much of the modern superstition regarding the supposed unlucky quality of the opal owes its origin to a careless reading of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Anne of Geierstein. The wonderful tale therein related of the Lady Hermione, a sort of enchanted princess, who came no one knew whence and always wore a dazzling opal in her hair, contains nothing to indicate that Scott really meant to represent the opal as unlucky. […] when a few drops of holy water were sprinkled over it, they quenched its radiance. Hermione fell into a swoon, was carried to her chamber, and the next day nothing but a small heap of ashes remained on the bed whereon she had been laid. The spell was broken and the enchantment dissolved. All that can have determined the selection of the opal rather than any other precious stone is the fact of its wonderful play of color and its sensitiveness to moisture.”

However, there is another possible source that one comes across here and there. The story of King Alphonso XII of Spain, who was in power from 1874 to 1885. He presented to his wife a gift of an opal ring, tragically she died soon afterwards. Before the funeral, the King passed the ring on to his sister, who also died soon afterwards. Sadly the pattern persisted when the ring was passed to his sister-in-law and she too passed away 3 months later. Alphonso, who obviously didn’t connect the ring with these untimely deaths wore it himself, he also died. The funny thing with superstition emerging from coincidental patterns is that it could randomly be associated with anything. An illness, the age in which they lived, did they all wear blue in the months prior to their deaths? Did they eat bread: milk from the same cow? And so on.

At any rate, not everyone in 19th century England and America shared this superstition. Queen Victoria was a great admirer of the opal. She gave Prince Albert a Badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1841 featuring the stone, which was also one of Prince Albert’s favourite gems. The Queen was known to present her daughters with opal jewellery on celebration of their weddings – certainly not an occasion to risk any association with bad luck.

In August 1886 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book we see that the opal has recovered from the undeserved reputation of an unlucky talisman, it reads: “During the last few years, a reaction has taken place and American women are accepting the magic gem”. (Bell, p. 103).

By the end of the 19th century with the dominance of the Arts and Crafts and the Belle Epoque movements the opal was a popularly used stone in jewellery and smalls, used with extraordinary creativity that focused on the stones natural beauty.

Opal cameo of helmeted warrior attributed to Wilhelm Schmidt. In a diamond set enameled setting, Marked C&AG for C & A Giuliano, circa 1895. English. Collection of the British Museum.

Some earlier myths and responses

For centuries prior many peoples around the world had creation stories, folklore beliefs, wax lyrical responses to the opal. Discover them for yourself!

Pliny the Elder wrote The Natural History of the World in the First Century AD describing the opal:

“Made up of the glories of the most precious gems, to describe them is a matter of inexpressible difficulty. For there is amongst them the gentler fire of the ruby, there is the rich purple of the amethyst, there is the sea-green of the emerald, and all shining together in an indescribable union. Others, by an excessive heightening of their hues equal all the colours of the painter, others the flame of burning brimstone, or of a fire quickened by oil.”

Solid black opal cabachon ring with nice high dome and flashes of fire; with diamonds, set in 15 ct gold, stamped APEX (later Rodd, popular Australian jewellers) circa late 1920s-30s. From our MOLAM shop.

In Australia there are a different stories from a number of different Aboriginal language groups, some of which can be found in this interesting post

Further references can be found here on this fascinating site by opal enthusiasts.

There are some wonderful literary references to opals found on the CSIRO website

One of my favourite opals – a tiny portrait bust carved entirely out of one solid opal stone – Love! Found in Berlin, believed to be of German creation, was in the collection of a Berlin antiques collector. A portrait of whom? Germany had a central hub in Oberstein for the mineral and gemstone trade. From our MOLAM shop.


Bell, C. Jeanenne, Collecting Victorian Jewelry, 2004
Bell, C. Jeanenne, Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry, 2008.
British Museum
Cody, Andrew & Damien, The Opal Story, a corporate brochure for The National Opal Collection, 2008.
Gere, C, & Rudoe, J., Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World,2010.
Opal Rainbow of the Desert – a CSIRO sponsored website
Opals Information Website
Phillips, Clare, Jewels & Jewellery, 2008
The Royal Collection website
Scholfield, Anne & Fahy, Kevin, Australian Jewellery 19th and Early 20th Century, 1990.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Wikipedia – search Opal and Anne of Geierstein

Love and Moonstones

A lovely Edwardian pendant featuring a large plump moonstone in 15 ct gold with demantoid garnets from the MOLAM collection.

It has been quite a lunar month. The power and mysticism of the heavenly bodies are even making news headlines recently! What better month to look at the allure of the moonstone, one of my favourite gemstones; so full of mystery, light, and even the man in the moon.

Moonstone is a type of feldspar. It is a translucent clear-coloured stone, its unique properties come from the internal reflections of light which give the impression that it is emanating light. A bluish glow is often valued in the stone, and its unusual light qualities are often referred to as adularescence or opalescence. It is a birthstone for June and I do so fancy that association with the enigmatic Gemini.

Authenticaed Liberty gold pendant with moonstone, green garnet, pearls & silver. C 1910. From Jo & Olivia, Gray’s Antiqes, £ 1,275.

In the Ancient world it was believed that the moonstone was in fact a piece of the moon that had fallen onto this earthly realm. So, certainly there is something about this simple stone that captures the imagination. It has also inspired stories of creation, myth and moralising. Well, you know humans don’t you? Always having to make patterns out of everything, the spots on the moon and the shapes of the waxing and waning of la luna itself! Do you know even the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill can be linked back to the myths of the moon?¹ But though the anthropomorphisation of our beloved moon ranges from a claret drinking roustabout, a faggot-gathering thief & sabbath breaker, kids & cranky old men, it is has always too been the symbol of love. And it was in this guise that the stone became so popular in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.

The moon is out to-night, love,
Meet me with a smile,
I’ve something sweet to tell you,
Sitting on the stile,
Kiss me when you meet me,
Kitty of the glen;
And when I go to leave you,
I’ll give it back again.²

You will find the moonstone most commonly in cabochon form. It is en cabochon that you will see its inner glow displayed to its optimum, the magical qualities of light. Therefore, a single moonstone was often featured on a simple goldband, a string of them in bracelets or necklaces. Sometimes, and very tellingly, it will be cut en cabochon in the shape of a heart. The perfect lover’s gift!

A superb large cabochon moonstone in the shape of a heart, surrounded by diamonds, from Charlotte Sayers in Gray’s Antiques, London. £ 9,000 !

Bell writes in her book Collecting Victorian Jewelry that the Ladies’ Home Journal for October 1891 described two pieces of jewelry set with moonstones:

A bewitching little moonstone cherub flying with outstretched wings through a garland of gold leaves, intermingled with diamonds and sapphires, forms an exceedingly pretty brooch design that has been imported from Paris.

A carved moonstone in the midst of diamonds set to stimulate stars, for the ornamentation of plain gold concave cuff links, is in Vogue.

“Because the stone is a symbol of the moon, it had romantic associations. Like the moon, it symbolized love, romance, and passion. Many felt that it had powers of persuasion in these areas. Come Victorians believed that if you gave someone a piece of jewelry containing a moonstone, you would then have control of the wearer’s heart. Others believed that if you put a moonstone under your tongue on the night of a full moon, you would be able to tell the future. Consequently, the moonstone was a favorite stone to give a sweetheart. ” P. 212 Bell. The moonstone was also used beautifully by artisans working in the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts style.

There is also some fascinating British folklore that the moon could assist in revealing the identity of future husbands: “Hone tells us that in Berkshire, “at the first appearance of a new moon, maidens go into the fields, and, while they look at it, say: –

New moon, new moon, I hail thee!
By all the virture in thy body.
Grant this night hat I may see
He who my true love is to be.”³

Man in the Moon ring featuring a carved moonstone set in siver, with diamonds, gold shank. C. 1900 from Rowan and Rowan, Gray’s Antiques, London.

And let us not forget one of the most desired forms of the moonstone in jewellery, that of the Man in the Moon. The cheery face of a beaming man in the moon is highly sought after by collectors, sometimes mounted with diamonds to refer back to the sparkling night sky from whence inspiration was drawn. But do be careful as he can appear in more modern pieces and possibly made from glass and not the delicious moonstone that we revere so much.

The moon is out to-night love,
Floating thro’ the sky,
Little stars are laughing,
As she passes by;
All the little songsters
Sing a merry tune,
Happy as they an be,
Singing to the moon,
Clouds with silver lining,
Waiting in the sky,
Waiting for to pass them,
Kitty, so am I,
For I’ve come to meet you,
With a happy smile,
To tell you how I love you,
Sitting on the stile.²

Gorgeous carved moonstone Man in the Moon brooch with diamonds, note the small star! Dated 1888 from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Bell, C. Jeanenne, ‘Answers to Questions About Old Jewelry 1840-1950’, KP FW Media, Iola, USA, 2008.

Bell, C. Jeanenne, ‘Collecting Victorian Jewelry’, KP FW Media, Iola, USA, 2004.

Harley, Rev. Timothy, ‘Moon Lore’, London, 1885.

Thanks to Miss April for sourcing quotes from her ever growing collection of literary quotes.


¹In Swedish folklore 2 children, Hjuki/Juki/Jack &  Bil/Jill, were taken to the moon with their pole & bucket of water where they could be seen from the earth. The fall of Jack, and the subsequent fall of Jill, simply represent the vanishing of one moon spot after another, as the moon wanes. Harley, p25.
²A verse from the poem ‘The Moon is out to-night Love or, Sweet Kitty of the Glen’, published in a street Broadside in Britain, dated to around 1890-1900.
³ From Harley, p. 214. Here he is referring to William hone, and his 1838 publication ‘The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information’.

Caressing the Cross: A Spanish Devotional Brooch

My St Francis Xavier Devotional Brooch. Note the cross formation, note the understated decorative motifs, note the beautiful painted miniature!

There is something to say about being brought up in the Catholic tradition, well, actually there are many things to say, but one aspect in particular I am very grateful for: a world of unadulterated visual pleasure. Being schooled in Catholicism is also being schooled in art history. There is an extraordinarily rich layered history of imaginative and creative visual narrative. Writhing men and women in various forms of undress; seductive vermillion and luscious cerulean; breathtakingly gorgeous human mien of peculiarly androgynous form; blood, lots and lots of blood; death.

It informs ones imagination. It feeds ones delight for curiosity. It inspires one. However,  it never terrified me, which I suspect was the intention behind many painted tales. But then again, I love watching True Blood, so…

St Francis Xavier Preaching by Rubens 1617-18

Note the downward gaze and the caressed cross

Strange images to some make sense to me. Show me a handsome young man pierced with arrows and I’ll show you St Sebastian. Show me a wading burly bearded man  with a baby on his shoulder I’ll introduce you to St Christopher. Headless corpse, St John the Baptist. Voluptuous & often naked long-haired beauty, St Mary Magdalene. Woman in ecstasy, St Theresa (la petite mort perhaps?) . A man caressing a cross like a long-lost love, well that could be a number of Saints but in this case I believe it is St Francis Xavier – Jesuit, Missionary, and Catholic hero of the Counter Reformation.

Who was Francis? And why would you, an unknown person of circa 1700, wear him on your person in a rather lovely brooch? Born 1506, died 1552, beatified 1619, canonized 1637; Francis Jassu y Xavier was born of noble birth in his family’s castle of Xavier in Basque country, the Kingdom of Navarre, now known as  a part of Northern Spain. An intelligent child, a gifted scholar, he studied philosophy in Paris and apparently was a rather good dancer to boot. But here is where it gets interesting, within the power struggles of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter Reformation Francis shines as an important player, a personification of all that the Counter Reformation stood for and a powerful political poster boy for pro-Papal Catholics everywhere. He was St Ignatius’ right hand man, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus – those that stood for chastity, poverty, obedience to God, AND loyalty to the Pope.

With his usual attributes

Yes, a Jesuit. A smart cookie, fueled by passionate sacred love that scorned the physical but ironically kind of had to be obsessed by it to scorn it quite that much. Francis is famous for his actions in revoking his nobility and all material pleasures, living and healing the repulsively sick, and remarkable missionary accomplishments, particularly in India. The Jesuits recognised the power of story-telling through the lives of the saints, art, education, language, to spread the word of Jesus. St Francis is still buried in India now, minus one arm (the one that did the baptising) which was taken back to Rome because it was just that special (!).

St Francis Devotional Brooch from the side. Note the faceted edges, the closed & high settings, the rose cut garnets/garnet pastes. LOVE!

Note the faceted edges of this English piece dated 1704, so similar to our St Francis brooch. These faceted edges do something to me I can not explain. I adore this detail.

So it is not only a devout Christian that wears a miniature of St Francis Xavier, particularly this style of brooch –  a cross, austere and sombre use of botanical motifs, dark garnets instead of popular emeralds, a traditionally sombre palette utilised for portraiture (oh those serious Spaniards!), the cross & missionary staff attributes. It is a person who believes in the power of Saints, in the Virgin Mary as central to faith, in faith plus action, has allegiance to the power of the Pope, recognises his central authority, aligns political power with the Church. One who recognises the power of visual narrative – a noble family member, a religious figure, a political leader – in that day and age if you were one, you were probably all three!

I can see this piece, perhaps it was once a slide or pendant, maybe it was always a brooch, but I see it on heavy black fabric. The stark simplicity contrasting against the dramatic backdrop. The robes, the beard, the cross, the staff, the tender caress of absolute devotion – an unapologetic statement.

There is one little tale in the life of Francis that tickles my fancy. There is a story – when Francis was on a ship in dangerous waters travelling betwixt cannibal islands of the south east, kind of hoping he would be killed and eaten in the name of Jesus, a great storm rose. Francis took out his crucifix which he carried with him always, he dipped it into the raging waters and it immediately abated. Alas, the crucifix though was lost to him. Grief stricken, he reached the shores of Baranura and to his utmost joy he witnessed a lobster appearing from the rabid waters gallantly crawling ashore, and yes, carrying in its modest little orange claws the crucifix lost and now returned to our adventurous hero St Francis Xavier.  Now THAT would make a good painting.

This is the St Francis Devotional Brooch as it appears on reverse. Silver gilt, pinned stones, hello gorgeous engraving akin to other miniature cases of the era, almost heraldic like in this particular example.

Hello my name is simply stunning and I’m a 1680-1700 Spanish pendant in the collection of the V & A Museum. Note the abundance of botanical decorative motifs, the use of emeralds, made for a woman of means and nobility.

Note the engraved surface.

Pilgrimage in a Shell: a mourning brooch | Art of Mourning

My latest blog on the fabulous Art of Mourning website. Shell symbolism in the 19th C!


19th C neo-Gothic ‘In Memory Of’ mourning pin with scallop shell motif.

Pilgrimage in a Shell: a mourning brooch | Art of Mourning.