Analysis of a Victorian Mourning Brooch

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Last night, I received what I think might by my most interesting Christmas present to date. A few months ago, I had looked at this particular piece in an antique store in Brockport, and had chosen not do buy it (reluctantly). But to my surprise, I received the very same piece as a Christmas present last night, and of course, just had to dig further into its history in the form of a blog, being the Victorian-era material culture nerd that I am. This may be totally creepy, but a piece of hairwork jewelry is something that I have been looking to get for a long time.

First, here is a very basic material description of this piece, so that everyone can get a general feel for it’s construction. It is an ovular pin, as you can see. It’s a little more than an inch in height – it’s really quite small. The frame appears to be bronze, and on the side which contains the hair (see above) there are three initials on the top of the frame – the initials are E. B. J. On this same side, there is a lock of dark blonde hair folded into a relatively common swirled pattern, and encased behind a piece of beveled glass.


As to what is behind the hair, I am honestly uncertain – anyone that wants to throw out a guess, please do! On one hand, it could just be a padded backing to hold the hair in place. On the other hand… the patch-work pattern of the backing material appears oddly similar to a particular pattern used in some Victorian hair jewelry (see image to the right). It would be a bit unusual, but certainly very interesting – to see two pieces of hair art combined in a mourning pin such as this, especially since there is the portrait of just one individual on the reverse side – which we will take a look at now.

As the title of this post reveals, one of the very special aspects of this particular mourning pin is it’s ability to be reversed. The actual pin-back is situated on swivels, which allow the side which is forwardly displayed to be changed at will. Either you can swing the pin to the hair side and display the face, or swing it back to the face side and display the hair. There are far more scratches on the glass of the face-side, which leads me to believe that perhaps the hair side was more often worn facing forward. (Although, traditionally the hair would be worn against the chest, and the portrait facing outward). On normal, non-swivel mourning pins, the actual pin is soldered onto the side with the hair.

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Now to take a look at the face-side of the pin, which in my opinion, appears to be the intended forward-facing side, due to the detailed gold filigree. Note the swivels on either side, which allow the pin to be facing backwards in the current photo. Just to talk a little bit more about the engraving, while the hair side has the initials of (what I’m assuming is this man – the deceased), the front has a delicate gold filigree with white stone inlay. I haven’t been able to identify the white – perhaps ivory? If that was the case, this piece would have been quite the purchase in the nineteenth century.

The man himself appears to be relatively young – perhaps mid thirties? He has a large beard and a relatively ornate, curled hairstyle, and is finely dressed in a suit. It is my assumption that this individual may have been a Brockport resident, as most of the antiques in the store where it was purchased come from estate sales in that general area. I thought it would be really amazing to find the name and burial place of this individual, but upon scanning the lists of burials in all Brockport cemeteries, the closest to the initials that I could find was an “Eber H. Jeffords” who died at the age of 25 on February 10th, 1910. Could the middle initial on the brooch be an “H” instead of a “B?” It’s very possible, in which case that could in fact be this particular individual. (Thoughts?)


Here is a closer look at the inscription (upside down) on the top of the brooch. Looking closely, the middle initial appears to be a “B,” but I’m not entirely convinced. Anyone that would like to provide their own analysis, feel free!

As to whether this image is a Daguerreotype or a tin type, I’m not yet certain. it doesn’t seem reflective enough for a Daguerreotype, but is a little bit more reflective-ish than I’ve seen in tin types, so it’s up for debate. (Please, debate). If this were a Daguerreotype, it could likely be dated between 1840 and 1855. If it turns out to be a tin type, it was likely produced a few years after 1855. I’ll narrow it down eventually and post an update. As far as I can tell, the photograph is not postmortem, but again, until I get a change to take a look at it under a microscope, I could be proven wrong.


The dating part is a bit tricky with this piece. As opposed to framed Daguerreotypes which are relatively easy to date according to the shape and design of their frame (see my older post, here), pins are much more difficult, as their is a wide variety in their shape, size and design. It’s also turned out to be difficult to find a comparable piece online. I have come across a few other swivel-pins, but none quite like this one, so it may take a bit more searching to find a date-able comparison. (The picture to the right demonstrates the pin being swung to the back side, so the portrait would face forward.

Clearly the research behind this awesome mourning piece is still a work in progress, so definitely expect more to come when I take some more time to really examine this brooch up close. In the mean time, if you are trying to learn more about a Daguerreotype or mourning piece of your own, here are a few resources to check out:

Dating Daguerreotypes
History of Daguerreotypes
Victorian Hair Jewelry
 Identifying Daguerreotypes, Tintypes and Ambrotypes
 Daguerreotype FAQ’s
 Sentimental Arts – Hairwork 
Victorian Mourning Jewelry 

If you’re interested in looking further into my creepy, creepy Victorian photography collection, take a look at my double-sided Ambrotype here, and my postmortem daguerreotype here.


2 responses to “Analysis of a Victorian Mourning Brooch

  1. Pingback: Further Analysis: Victorian Mourning Brooch | Imponderabilia·

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