Today’s post is sponsored by Christie Stratos and her book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart.
The 19th century was a time of great changes in jewelry. The increasingly industrialised society, the growing middle classes, and the increase in available materials, resulted in a lot of changes in jewelry use and wear.
Symbolism in jewelry
At the start of the 19th century, jewels were rare, mostly worn by upper classes, often heirlooms, and deeply symbolic. A piece of jewelry would be made or bought to commemorate a birth, a wedding, or a death. An example of this are mourning rings (simple pain rings with a name and two dates), jewelry with hair of a loved one worked into it, or cameos with a loved one’s profile on it. Seed pearl jewelry became fashionable during particularly as gifts to a bride. This jewelry, made from hundreds of tiny pearls imported from China or India, remained popular into the early twentieth century.
In Christie’s book, you can find another example of jewelry having a symbolic meaning:
“A painted eye motif on ivory set in ornate gold. A brooch the child could wear at her neck, over her heart, throughout her life. A symbol of Mr. Whitestone’s infidelity.” (paperback version, page 20)
“The lover’s eye in Mrs. Hinsley’s eye color was bad enough, but the pearls represented tears – everyone knew that.” (paperback version, page 21)
Normally a lover’s eye is a gift between lovers or something worn in mourning for a lover, but in this case it’s a baptism gift to a baby. It’s a message to the baby’s mother to tell her – in front of mutual friends – about the affair her husband is having. It’s interesting because the gift says everything instead of the gift giver saying anything. While the jewelry has its own symbolism, it’s also very telling of indirect methods of communication in that time period (1840-1861).
In the first decades, classical styles were used for jewelry designs. Grecian and Roman styles were favoured for styles, because they were seen as in good taste and lasting style. Archaeological discoveries stimulated these styles even more. An interest in botany and flowers was also seen in jewelry designs, with jewels resembling flowers and leafs.
By the late 1850s, styles started to change. Following along with Victorian fashion, jewelry became more exuberant, more intricate, and larger in size. As for flowers, certain colours were used to convey messages.
Around this time, jewelry became accessible for more people so it was easier to buy a piece for any occasion. Newfound sources of gold and silver (mostly in America) and diamonds (mostly in Africa) made for lower prices. The process of making jewelry became more efficient, and easier to make jewelry (like round brooches, die-stamping, faux ancient coins) helped lower jewelry prices even more.
Arts & crafts jewelry
The last decades of the 19th century saw the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement. This movement felt an unease with the industrialised world and rejected the machine-led factory system. The movement longed to go back to a more simple time, where jewelry was made by hand. This would improve both the item, and the workman’s soul.
Arts and Crafts jewellers avoided large, faceted stones, relying instead on the natural beauty of cabochon (shaped and polished) gems. They replaced the repetition and regularity of mainstream settings with curving or figurative designs, often with a symbolic meaning.
If you want to look at some beautiful pieces, go here:
This post was brought to you by Christie Stratos, our sponsor for this month! Christie is an author of historical fiction, writing mostly dark psychological historical fiction. Her latest book is Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (Book 1 in the Dark Victoriana Collection). If you liked the excerpt, you can buy the book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or buy a signed version from the author herself.
I’m very happy to introduce to you our first monthly sponsor! This month, I’m teaming up with Christie Stratos who wrote this awesome guest post for you! This post also answers some questions about the language of fans and flowers from an earlier post.
Symbolism in the Victorian Era
Symbolism was the lifeblood of the Victorian Era. Everything meant something to Victorians, so you had to be careful what you said in a letter, what you wore on any occasion, how you held your fan…you get the idea. Give the wrong signal and it wasn’t so easy to take it back. You couldn’t just walk up to a man and say, “I made a mistake with how fast I fanned myself just a moment ago. I’m not actually engaged, I just fanned too quickly!” Yes, it was that exacting! Communication back then was limited. Period dramas and novels depict it well – a lady wants to tell the man she has a crush on that she didn’t mean to do something, or that she really does care for him, but she can’t just say it. She has to wait patiently to prove it or to give him a signal. How frustrating!
Fans were far from the only things that sent messages to those around you. Did you just embroider your delicate handkerchief with a frog? Well that means sin, so you might want to replace it with a dog, which means loyalty. Gentlemen, thinking of giving your betrothed a gift? Send the right message by gifting a brooch with acrostic meaning. “Love” might mean a brooch with these gems place horizontally: lapis lazuli followed by opal, then vesuvianite, and finally emerald. Think carefully on the framing of the brooch too. An ivy design might not go over so well with a lover since it represents friendship.
One of the most common forms of expressing feelings in the Victorian Era was through flowers. You’ve probably heard the phrase “the language of flowers”, and that couldn’t be more accurate in reference to the 19th century. Every single flower had a particular meaning, and beyond that, many variations in color of that specific flower had meaning. Whew, that’s a lot to keep in mind before sending a bouquet!
There is a good example of flower meanings in my novel Anatomy of a Darkened Heart, book one of the Dark Victoriana Collection. Abigail receives a bouquet from Conrad, a man who is interested in courting her. Here’s what it looked like, taken straight from the book:
“The central flowers were a vibrant red, some with bright yellow at the base of their petals. Surrounding them were smaller multi-layered flowers, some of white, some of cornflower blue, and some of pink.”
The first flowers described are red kennedia, which stood for intellect, and the second flowers portrayed are love-in-a-mist flowers, meaning curiosity. He explains this delicately in his card to her. But why did he send these flowers? A couple of scenes before, Conrad and Abigail had a conversation which spawned his sending this bouquet and in which flowers were mentioned again:
“What’s your favorite flower, Miss Whitestone?” Mr. Scott asked.
“Violets,” she answered quickly, then immediately felt insecure about it. She should have said something more grand, more widely appreciated. More normal.
“Violets?” he asked, surprised, his voice higher. “I’ve never heard a lady say that before.”
She felt like a fool.
“What makes you pick them over roses? Aren’t roses what every lady wants from a gentleman?” he asked.
“You didn’t ask what I wanted from a gentleman, you asked what I like,” she said before she could stop herself. She felt brutal but she also felt more like herself with an honest answer.
“For many ladies, those are one and the same,” he said, “but not always for good reasons. Violets are common, but I agree that there is something fascinating about their vivid color and their ability to survive even when they look fragile.”
Abigail was surprised Mr. Scott was having a real conversation with her, not just something superficial anymore. He had shared an opinion on “most ladies” and what he thought of them. She must have shocked him into speaking to her as if he knew her better, maybe even as if she were a man. Did that mean a lack of respect? What did that mean? Anxiety twisted at her stomach. This was starting to feel like home. She didn’t want the gardens to feel like home. That was the whole point of the gardens: to escape.
“It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Scott. I hope the rest of your day is pleasant,” Abigail said quickly before walking away. She didn’t wait for his reply.
This excerpt not only shows meanings behind flowers, it also gives you an idea of how much people in Victorian times read into each other’s words. It was necessary since they couldn’t express themselves outright most of the time.
The next time you send flowers to someone or give jewelry as a gift, think, “What would the Victorians do?” and you’ll have a gift that means more than the recipient thinks.
Thank you so much Christie Stratos for this very interesting post! Christie reached out to me because she is an author of historical fiction, writing mostly dark psychological historical fiction. Her latest book is Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (Book 1 in the Dark Victoriana Collection). If you liked the excerpt, you can buy the book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or buy a signed version from the author herself (cool!)
Thank you so much for your contribution Christie!
We might regard the 19th century as fairly modern, but did you know that even as late as 1818 a trial by combat took place!
Ashford v Thornton is a law case about Abraham Thornton, accused of murder, and William Ashford, the defendant.
“In 1817, Abraham Thornton was charged with the murder of Mary Ashford. Thornton had met Ashford at a dance, and had walked with her from the event. The next morning, Ashford was found drowned in a pit, with little outward signs of violence. Although public opinion was heavily against Thornton, the jury quickly acquitted him, and also found him not guilty of rape.
Mary’s brother, William Ashford, launched an appeal, and Thornton was rearrested. Thornton claimed the right to trial by battle, a medieval usage that had never been repealed by Parliament. Ashford argued that the evidence against Thornton was overwhelming, and that he was thus ineligible to wage battle.
The court decided that the evidence against Thornton was not overwhelming, and that trial by battle was a permissible option under law; thus Thornton was granted trial by battle. Ashford declined the offer of battle and Thornton was freed from custody. Appeals such as Ashford’s were abolished by statute in 1819, and with them the right to trial by battle.”
I’m working on something incredible cool and in the process stumbled upon this cool resource: scanned newspapers from the late 19th century. They’re a very good read and very interesting.
Check it out:
Thank you, Papers Past!
Today’s post is a guest post by Ben Knowles, a blacksmith of English lamp posts. He works for ww.EnglishLampPosts.co.uk. Ben, thank you for your article!
As a blacksmith at the English Lamp Post Co, I am extremely privileged to be able to immerse myself in an art form and an era I am so passionate about on a daily basis. Having been an enthusiast of the Victorian age and all it had to offer, ever since my first breath-taking trip to Ironbridge Gorge as a child, taking in the magnificent bridge, not to mention the Victorian village, I have been hooked. I thoroughly enjoy keeping the traditions of my craft alive and sharing the must have accessories of the Victorian age with fascinated visitors, here I would like to share with you just how I create one of the everyday Household essentials of the period.
One of my favourite pieces to create is an authentically period candle holder, think Dickensian, Victorian style, the type of candle holder clutched by Scrooge while walking around his vast rooms after dark. Though the process is relatively straight forward I am always so thrilled to hold on to something truly Victorian in both inspiration and design.
I begin with a perfectly formed disc of iron, working each individual piece from the base to the candle stand itself at the blisteringly hot coals of the gorge. With the candle holder crafted I am able to add the finishing touch, a final flourish in the shape of a classical yet perfectly reserved and ever so Victorian, scroll handle. The handle is heated within the scorching coals and beaten in to shape at the anvil to create my traditionally beautiful candle holder.
With a tapered candle in place the Victorian stand looks effortlessly period and is a stunning feature for any property or room looking for an enhanced sense of character.
Looking for something else, I happened upon these pictures:
From Ingalls-Wilder’s Farmer Boy we know tea was poured from the cup in the saucer, and then drank from the saucer. This was generally done by older people, while younger people thought it was bad form or old-fashioned to drink from the saucer. Research online seems to show most drinking-from-saucers took place in Scandinavia en Russia, and that the habit was probably taken to America by European immigrants.
I wonder though, how this habit came about? It seems the tea cools faster when drank from a saucer, which is understandable for busy farmers but it seems strange that mostly people from really cold countries (Northern Europe and Russia) would like their tea to cool fast. I cannot really find an origin or reason for the drinking from saucers, except that it was just a habit. Any thoughts?