Antique Victorian 1850s mourning brooch with hairwork and engraving
A remarkable Victorian mourning brooch honoring the life and death of James Herbert, a blonde-haired Londoner who died just shy of his 18th birthday in 1857.
I found James' birth record in the England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915. He was born in January of 1840 in Marylebone, a district in the West End of London. When he died on October 27, 1857, he was still living in Marylebone, specifically at 8 Newman Street. We know that Newman Street was part of a vibrant and rather remarkable London artists' district from about 1770-1840 and James was right in the thick of it. An excerpt from The Berners Estate: Berners and Newman Streets, published by Survey of London (© Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London), describes James' neighborhood as follows:
"These streets enjoyed some fifty years as fashionable addresses, attracting no dukes or marquesses but a sprinkling of peers and baronets, two bishops, fair numbers of the untitled landed classes and parliamentarians and, above all, the Marylebone staple of high-ranking military men, colonial administrators, East India merchants and investors, upper civil servants, City bankers, placemen, lawyers, doctors and their families . . . There was nevertheless always a fair spread of classes and occupations in both streets. From the start they attracted artists."
Records tell us that James' neighbors included the painter James Ward (No. 6), the sculptor John Bacon (No. 17) and expert cabinet-maker and marqueterie artist Myrthil Brunswick (No. 3), to name just a few.
James' burial record appears in London Metropolitan Archives; Dublin, Ireland; London Church of England Parish Registers. He was buried on November 4th, about a week after his death, in Kensal Green - one of the great London cemeteries.
This beautiful brooch is dedicated to the memory of James and was likely worn by his mother or another female relative. The shape, size, and style of the brooch is representative of the mass-produced mourning pieces of the period, but certain details lead me to believe that this was custom made. The piece features a curl of palette-worked hair against milk glass with gold thread and seed pearl accents. The hairwork is held under crystal in an oval bezel, further framed by a remarkable serpentine border with rivet, rope and black enamel trillium details. The verso reads, "In Memory of/ James R. Herbert / Obt. Oct 27, 1857 / Aet. 18 Years." The typeface is remarkable. Tube hinge and "c" clasp as well as a fold-a-way bail, allowing this piece to work as a pendant or brooch.
We sought museum placement for this piece earlier this year, to no avail. There is a lot of love in this piece and I hope that it can find a home with a thoughtful collector. Rest in Peace, James.
Measurements: 17.5 grams
Era: Victorian (1857)
Markings: Memorial dedication on verso as indicated above. Tests for 14K gold.
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