Mourning and memorial jewelry has been with us since the days of early Rome; its rise in popularity began in the 14th Century and reached its fashionable peak in 18th and 19th Century Europe and America.
A typical sentiment piece from that era is a locket, of gold or a base metal containing gold, worked with human hair. 18th Century items lean more toward miniature portraits, while later finds usually contain more hair work.
In the 18th Century, Rococo design had a big influence on mourning style; more fluid lines and scrolls were introduced, making the items more stylish and feminine. A huge change was ushered in with the Neoclassical period: religious symbols vanished almost entirely and elements of fashion ruled the day. Again, the effect was to make mourning jewelry more desirable.
An additional stimulant to the popularity of mourning jewelry was the increasing wealth of the middle classes; more people could afford such items and, as the average life expectancy was about forty, there was always a ready market. Mortality rates of children were very high as well, boosting interest in memorial items.
After the death of Prince Albert in 1861 Queen Victoria allowed only mourning jewelry to be worn at Court, thus increasing its demand and popularity as a fashion necessity and marker of social acceptance.
Toward the Noveau era and World War I the popularity of mourning pieces lessened, perhaps due to the sharp uptick in war-related deaths or due to women's emerging roles outside of the home.
While there is mourning jewelry from all periods, Victorian is the easiest to locate and the most affordable to acquire. As always, make sure you buy from a reputable dealer. In Baton Rouge, you may not be able to locate mourning items there but two wonderful dealers in antique jewelry are Barker's Antique Jewelry and Ken Fellin's Fine Jewelry. I use both stores for purchases and appraisals and they are wonderful resources.
Included are photos of personal pieces from my family. They will show what you can find, however, and one way to display your treasures.