Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hair jewelry

I heard a mention on TV that Teddy Roosevelt wore a ring containing a lock of Abraham Lincoln's hair. I found the story here:

When Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1905, John Hay gave the President a very special present--a "mourning ring" that contains an oval glass over a strand of Lincoln's hair. Hay sent a note with the ring that contains this request: "...Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understand and appreciate Lincoln."Roosevelt replied: "Dear John, Surely no other President, on the eve of his inauguration, has ever received such a gift from such a friend. I am wearing the ring now; I shall think of it and you as I take the oath tomorrow. I wonder if you have any idea what your strength and wisdom and sympathy, what the guidance you have given me and the mere delight in your companionship, have meant to me these three and a half years? With love and gratitude, Ever yours...."

Mourning jewelry was fashionable in Victorian times, in the form of brooches, rings, and lockets. Some was merely black (made of jet) and had a memorial theme, but some contained the hair of a loved one. The hair may be in a tuft, woven, or crafted into a mourning symbol like a willow. I have several pieces of hair jewelry in my Museum, including some pins, a bracelet, a watch chain, and a framed ornament that contains the hair of several members of the same family. I don't have photos of my hair jewelry, and I couldn't find a picture of the ring that Roosevelt wore, but I've posted some representative rings above.
While I was poking around, I found this article about collecting the human hair of the famous, instead of their autographs. The article makes no mention of it, but if secular relics parallel religious relics, hair keepsakes constitute "first-class" or bodily relics, as opposed to "second-class" relics, which a person has touched. The trade in secular relics continues, as a search of Lincoln's hair shows: antique hair keepsakes offered up on e-bay and new ones created thanks to modern technologies.

1 comment:

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