A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Exhibition: September 2012 to January 2013

In Death Lamented features rings, bracelets, brooches, and other pieces of mourning jewelry from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Ranging from early gold bands with death’s head iconography to jeweled brooches and intricately woven hairwork pieces of the Civil War era, these elegant and evocative objects are presented in the context of their history, use, and meaning, alongside related pieces of material culture.

The exhibit runs from 28 September 2012 through 31 January 2013, Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM.


A companion volume developed to accompany the exhibition of the same title, In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, by Sarah Nehama with a foreword by Anne E. Bentley, features 110 full-color illustrations of exemplary pieces of mourning jewelry. The essays and captions provide valuable historical context for the changing styles of mourning ornamentation and the social customs around grieving.

 Buy it on Amazon

Buy it on Amazon.com

National Mourning

The deaths of two American heroes, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, prompted periods of national public mourning. Washington's death in 1799 created a new market for mourning souvenirs such as memorial paintings, china, handkerchiefs (see below), needlework, medals, and jewelry.

After being shot while attending Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., Lincoln was carried to a nearby boardinghouse where he died the next day, 15 April 1865. His status as a martyr for the cause of freedom prompted those attending him to take relics from his bedside, including locks of his hair. His death resulted in elegiac odes, engravings, medals, and jewelry. The Lincoln ferrotype pin with its black fabric border (see below) was used during his re-election campaign in 1864, and was adopted as an appropriate mourning brooch following his assassination.

Washington death bed memorial handkerchief
Brown ink transfer print on plain weave cotton with hand-sewn rolled hem by Pember & Luzarder, after Amos Doolittle engraving, 1800

Locket containing George Washington's hair
Gold, glass, fabric, paper, hair

Abraham Lincoln ferrotype pin
Photo emulsion, iron, brass, silk, 1864

Abraham Lincoln hair locket
Gold, crystal, hair, 1865

Back to top