Brooch (England or United States), ca. 1837
Ornamental hair work became popular in seventeenth-century England, but reached a peak in the 1800s as part of elaborate mourning rituals. Wealthy Victorian women practiced hair work as part of their leisurely pursuits, often using locks from a deceased friend or relative to create a tangible reminder of that person. Alternatively, hair could be sent to a professional tradesman, but practitioners could be deceitful. Some tradesmen replaced human hair with sturdier horsehair or sold ready-made pieces, disregarding the original strands’ sentimental value. There were two main types of hair work jewelry: hair transformed into a picture and hair plaited into a design. This brooch, which has a matching bracelet in the museum’s collection, displays both styles: the central motif is a horn-of-plenty made of hair, secured in a glass case and surrounded by tightly woven strands. The outer hair would have been plaited around a mold, such as a knitting needle, then boiled and dried before the mold was removed and the piece was taken to a jeweler for a gold clasp and fittings. Hair work jewelry was often based on existing designs, and a form similar to this one is included in Charles T. Menge’s 1873 catalog in the museum library.
Its dimensions are
H x W x D: 3.7 x 3 x 0.2 cm (1 7/16 x 1 3/16 x 1/16 in.)
It is inscribed
On front: "FEG"; inscribed on back: "MARY ANN GROVES 1804-1837."
Cite this object as
Brooch (England or United States), ca. 1837; hair, gold, ivory, seed pearls, pailettes; H x W x D: 3.7 x 3 x 0.2 cm (1 7/16 x 1 3/16 x 1/16 in.); Gift of Mrs. Charles W. Lester; 1960-17-2