21 August 2014

Purchase of Mourning Rings at Auction for the Applied Art Department

FOURTEEN MOURNING RINGS, all inscribed for members of the Smyth family of Ashton Court and dating between 1726 and 1848

Mourning, or ‘motto’ rings were distributed to relatives and close friends at funerals. They were usually paid for out of the estate of the deceased and are often mentioned in wills. 18th-century examples tend to be simple gold and black enamel hoops, later examples are more ornate. They are inscribed with the name and dates of the deceased and sometimes incorporate hair. Today, when death is largely a taboo subject, they remind us that in earlier times death was dealt with in a more open fashion.

This is a remarkable and very rare group representing 120 years and several generations of one family.  It shows how styles changed as well as interesting details such as the use of white enamel rather than black for an unmarried woman. There are a couple of duplicates, albeit in different sizes, but the collection was sold as a whole.