Victorian Betrothal Rings

While engagement rings now are just an accepted part of the marriage tradition, that wasn’t always the case. Victorian betrothal rings or engagement rings are those which were designed and used during the Victorian era, from 1837 to 1901 and are the rings


Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

that popularized engagement rings in general. Queen Victoria herself had a great influence on the styles of jewelry during her time. She was fond of jewelry and had an everlasting affection for her husband, Prince Albert. It was her love for a diamond that led to a revolution in diamond rings making them the favorite.

When it comes to jewelry, the Victorian era is classified into three parts – Early Victorian era, the mid-Victorian era, and late Victorian era. Many changes in the preference of metals and diamonds as well as gemstones were seen during the Victorian era.

Before 1854, lower karat gold alloys were used to make jewelry. Precious rings were created with 22k or 18k gold which had 75% of pure gold alloyed with copper, silver, nickel or sometimes a mixture of all these metals.

Rings were also made of silver before 1854. But after 1854, gold standards changed and even rings made of 15k, 12k and 9k gold were found in the market. The second biggest and most important change that took place was once the diamond mines in South Africa were opened in 1870.

Before this time, diamonds were rare and even if they were seen, clusters of small diamonds were found in the diamond rings. However, after 1870 and after the opening of South African large diamonds were made available and were  used in the making of wedding rings and engagement rings.

l_15k_ruby_snake_ring_1_org_l.jpgEarly Victorian engagement rings and wedding rings could be easily distinguished by their huge size and bright colors. Gemstones were used and bold designs were created in which snake designs were quite famous. Celtic designs were also pretty common these days. During this time, flashy and over-the-top designs were more common. These were from the heydays and early married days of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The popularity of the snake patterned ring was because Albert had presented Victoria a snake and emerald ring as a betrothal ring. During that time, people blindly followed and considered whatever queen Victoria wore as the fashion. In fact, right from that time, the Victorian engagement rings enjoyed years of popularity.

Gemstones popularly used during this time were amethyst, ruby, smoky quartz, chalcedony, moss agate, bloodstone, garnet, and topaz. It was a trend during those days and the rings were usually made of the bride’s birthstone.


Brilliant Cut

Diamond rings at this time were mainly small clusters of diamond or a small diamond surrounded by circular or square shaped gemstones. The brilliant cut was the most popular diamond cut at that time along with the traditional rose cut.

During the middle years of the Victorian era, the engagement ring style took a different tone. Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria took a long time to come out of the grief. During this time, memorial rings which were also known as mourning rings became highly popular. These were famous during the Georgian era too, a few years back.

During this time, the base metal was usually silver and gold with different karat values ranging from 18k to 9k. Rings made of gold alloyed with copper which was called rose gold rings were also very popular. Prevalent gemstones and designs during this time were emeralds, pearls, diamonds, opals, crystals, jet, black glass, and the ruby.

IMG_0133.jpgThe designs became more sophisticated and less showy. Popular jewelry design motifs were hearts, acorns, stars, bees, birds, insects, shells, some flowers as well as geometrical shapes. A gradual increase in the use of gold and diamond jewelry had started to be seen by this time.

The late Victorian era saw wedding rings designed in the shape of a boat, more use of pearls and light airy styles was seen. These rings worked as inspiration for the Edwardian era which was soon to arrive.

The diamond rush brought big changes in the engagement rings of the Victorian era. There was a shift from handcrafted rings to machine-made rings during this time. gradually the age-old technique of metal work was lost in history.

The late Victorian era saw solitaire diamond engagement ring made its debut and this became highly popular in the mid-1840s. People started using platinum for gemstones and diamond was also started to be set with platinum replacing gold and silver to a large extent.Victorian-Ruby-Grape-Cluster-14K-Gold-full-2-720-16-l-95a6ba-ffffff

During this time, the popular motifs were stars, feathers, bows and ribbons, lace-type filigree, double hearts, doves, oak leaves, crowns, grape clusters, and Egyptian designs. Popular gemstones were rubies, sapphires, aquamarine, peridot, chrysoberyl, turquoise opals, amethyst, and emeralds.

Betrothal rings were made of metals including 18k, 15k, 12k, and 9k yellow gold along with silver, rose gold and platinum. These were the preferred metals for diamond and different gemstones set in luxurious places.

The Victorian era defined engagement rings and carried the tradition into modern era.

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The First Christmas Stamps

Those who celebrate Christmas traditionally send Christmas cards, so why shouldn’t there be Christmas stamps, too?

It’s a little unclear what country made the first Christmas stamp, but it was most likely Canada, though it’s not the most festive stamp around – it’s only considered a Christmas stamp because of the inscription “XMAS 1898” near the bottom. The stamp features a map highlighting the British empire in red, with the words “Canada Postage” at the top.

The reason for the “XMAS” addition to the stamp reportedly comes from a story of quick-thinking on William Mulock’s part: he proposed the stamp be issued on November 9th to “honor the Prince” (the Prince of Wales). But Queen Victoria asked “What Prince?” in a critical tone, and Mulock countered with “Why, madam, the Prince of Peace.” That’s some quick thinking, Mulock.


Austria issued its own Christmas stamps in 1937 featuring a rose and zodiac signs. And in 1939, Brazil issued its own, decidedly more Christmassy, stamps featuring the three kings, a star, and an angel. The first Nativity stamp emerged from Hungary in 1943.

The U.S. had its own Christmas stamp debate in the 1960’s. To that date the country had never issued stamps honoring the holiday, and the USPS hesitated due to the separation of church and state. But high demand for Christmas stamps won out. The USPS printed 350 million four-cent stamps with a wreath and two candles. The stamps quickly sold out. By the end of the print run that year, a billion of the stamps had been issued, the most special stamps printed at that time.

Christmas stamps are popular among collectors. There’s no doubt that holiday stamps have made a mark in the stamp world.

Do you collect Christmas stamps?

Remembering the Dead: All About Mourning Jewelry

Who knew jewelry could be so macabre?

Once upon a time before photography, people needed a way to remember their deceased family members. So they used what might seem a little odd today: jewelry in which to keep pieces of the dead loved one’s hair.

The practice started as late as the 16th century and lasted through the Victorian Era. Queen Victoria, ever the trendsetter, popularized mourning jewelry after the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Black jewelry in general became especially popular at the time.

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This antique mourning locket still has a lock of hair inside.

Mourning rings were the most popular type, but you can also find hair in lockets and other types of jewelry.

Jewelers got creative with hair: locks were not only kept in lockets, but also braided with a cord or ground and mixed with paint to paint a small, detailed picture. No matter the type, each piece of jewelry was inscribed with the name and date of death of the deceased. Some also had morbid epitaphs like “we must submit” and “we’re his last”.

Black enamel was the most common material in mourning jewelry. But other materials also had their own significance: for instance, white enamel meant a girl had died before she was married, and pearls meant the death of a child. Victorians had extra-strict rules for mourning periods, and their jewelry would match each period based on the appropriate color.


A mourning brooch.

When photography became more widely available in the Victorian Era, people started the infinitely creepier practice of post mortem photography. People put their dead loved ones in poses as if they were alive and had photos taken with them to remember them by. You can easily find these by searching online.

Most mourning jewelry you’ll find out there is beautiful, so keep an eye out and you may just be surprised by what you can find.


Historic New England


On (re)Purpose

The Legacy of Raphael Tuck & Sons


The company Raphael Tuck & Sons has left quite a legacy in their wake ever since its start as a family business in 1866.

The company is especially known for its postcards. Between the late 19th century and early 20th century, postcards became hugely popular, and Raphael Tuck & Sons capitalized on this.

However, they didn’t start with postcards; when Raphael Tuck and his wife Ernestine opened up a small humble shop in England in 1866, they simply sold pictures and frames.

Four years later his sons joined him in the business. As well as continuing with pictures and frames, the family established themselves as great printers of lithographs, chromos, and olegraphs. Soon they also made their first Christmas card.

Raphael Tuck & Sons also made its own books. Pictured here is a childrens' book printed on fabric.

Raphael Tuck & Sons also made its own books. Pictured here is a childrens’ book printed on fabric.

Tuck’s son Adolph created a contest in 1880 for the best Christmas card designs. More than five thousand designs were submitted, some of which were displayed in galleries for viewing. Thousands of pounds were spent on buying entries. The contest was one of the main events that made Christmas cards into an annual tradition.

In 1893 the company even got a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria, letting them show the sign of royal approval on their products.

Raphael Tuck passed away on March 16, 1900 before postcards really hit their peak of popularity. However, the business continued to thrive.

Bad luck hit in London 1940 during the war when tons of bombs hit London. Raphael House was shattered to bits and tens of thousands of original art was destroyed.

Despite this huge setback, the company gained its footing fairly quickly.

A postcard of the Main Street of West Littleton.

A postcard of the Main Street of West Littleton by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

By the 1950s, all of the original family members of the company had passed away, and in 1959 Raphael Tuck & Sons combined with two other companies to become the British Printing Corporation.


The Rare Mauritius “Post Office” Stamp

Among the rarest stamps in the world, the Mauritius “Post Office” stamps have some of the most rumor surrounding them.

Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean, has made a name for itself in the world of philately. And this name started with the “Post Office” stamp of 1847.

The orange-red one penny stamp.

The orange-red one penny stamp.

It all starts with a stowaway on a ship. At age 22, a man named Joseph Osmond Barnard left his home in England and stowed away on the ship Acasta to Mauritius.

Barnard had luck on his side – he was allowed to disembark and live in the capital. As it so happened, Barnard specialized as an engraver and painter.

Barnard designed the stamps for Mauritius based on the Great Britain stamps at the time that showed the profile of Queen Victoria. They printed the stamps in two colors of one penny red brown and two pence blue. They are characterized by their primitive design.

Postage stamps were still very new at the time.

The printer made five hundred stamps of each value, printed in 1847. The wife of the Governor of Mauritius used many of them on invitations for a ball.

A set of two cancelled Post Office stamps, with the penny red brown and the two pence blue.

A set of two cancelled Post Office stamps, with the orange one penny and the two pence blue.

These stamps had the words “Post Office” printed on the left side. On the next printing, however, “Post Paid” replaced the phrase, making the stamps with “Post Office” rarities.

One particular legend says that using “Post Office” on the stamps had originally been a mistake. The book Les Timbres-Poste de L’Ile Maurice claims the mistake, and rumors surrounding the tale expanded to say that Barnard was a half-blind watchmaker and a forgetful old man who forgot what he was supposed to print on the stamps.

The two pence blue stamp.

The two pence blue stamp.

Anyone who pays attention knows that this can’t be true, since Barnard designed the stamps at 31 years old.

In 1864 the wife of a Bordeaux merchant found some of the stamps in her husband’s collection. She traded them with another collector, starting the ball rolling on the fame of these increasingly sought-after stamps.

In 1904 King George V paid roughly today’s equivalent of $190,000 for an unused two pence Mauritius stamp. And in 1993 a cover with two of the stamps sold for about $4 million, the highest price ever paid for a philatelic item.



Engraved memory


A Brief History of Tea Sets

Fun fact: tea is the most popular drink in the world.



The official history of tea begins in China around the Han Dynasty ( 206-220 B.C.) when tea leaves weren’t loose but were instead pressed into bricks. These bricks were crushed and mixed with spices then placed in bowls (instead of teapots) where hot water was poured over them. At the time tea was probably more medicinal than recreational.

According to historians, the first teapot came from the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) Archeologists found the remnants of a Yixing, or “Purple Sand”, teapot from that era.The_Tea_Party

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) Chinese began steeping whole tea leaves, creating a lighter-colored tea. Teaware was designed to fit around this lighter colored aesthetic.

The Portuguese missionary Father Jasper de Cruz was likely one of the first Europeans to encounter tea thanks to the open ocean routes to China. Previously, Europeans hadn’t known what to do with tea leaves; some thought they were for serving with salt and butter, like vegetables!

The Netherlands encountered a tea craze in the 1600s. Hefty tea prices meant that the drink was only for the wealthy. The tea sets at this time consisted of small teapots and tea cups.Tea02

The Dutch were likely the first to put milk in tea!

The next step in tea-dom was for Russia to have its own tea hype. Russians developed their own pot called the samovar, which served almost 50 cups of tea at a time. A home was only classy if it had a samovar.

By 1675 tea had become widely available in Europe. This was helped along by the trend of anything to do with the Orient. Asian items became the hot commodity, which of course included tea sets.

In 1627 the first silver teapot was made. Only in the 18th century were larger teapots made, thanks to the decreasing price of tea. People didn’t have to be miserly about their tea anymore.


A teapot with a similar profile and shape as this one (S&C ETC.) with a tall, elegant aesthetic.

And tea made its way to the New World, where American pottery was solely for function, not form; the Boston Tea Party brought down tea’s popularity, but only briefly.

Queen Victoria, who has influenced many a trend in history, loved tea and during her reign the modern six piece tea set came into being. The whole set includes the teapot, creamer, sugar bowl, tea kettle, coffee pot, and waste bowl.

Since then, the only main tea invention is the tea bag (purists would argue that loose leaf tea is better, but you can’t beat modern convenience).

Tea seems to command a sort of respect, doesn’t it? And nothing respects tea quite like owning your own tea set.

Hidden Symbolism in Victorian Jewelry

No one loves symbolism like the Victorians loved symbolism.



In an age of complex manners and rules, Victorians used symbolism to speak a secret language.

Especially when it came to courting, jewelry held its own hidden messages. Men went through complicated processes to court women, closely guarded by their parents and chaperones, and jewelry conveyed more heartfelt messages than he was able to communicate in person.

Queen Victoria, the fashionable queen with more than a little influence on Victorian style, received an engagement ring from Prince Albert in the form of a snake, the symbol of eternity.


The star symbolizes spirit and guidance in this Victorian star, moon, diamond and pearl necklace.

Sometimes it takes serious contemplation before figuring out the meaning behind a piece of Victorian jewelry.

There are plenty of complex symbols. Jewelry with different types of stones spell out a message as an acronym of the stones’ first letters. For instance, if a ring has a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, another ruby, and a diamond, it spells out “REGARD”. This is one of the most common words in acronym jewelry, and carries a meaning like “with my regards” or “I highly regard you”.

And that’s just the start of the hidden meanings. Symbols abound in Victorian pieces. For instance, if a couple was on their honeymoon, the bride would wear a pin with a crescent moon and flowers. The flowers represented the nectar, or “honey” part of the word “honeymoon”.

290px-Victorian_WomanSome other symbols in Victorian jewelry:
Pearls – Tears
Forget-Me-Nots – Remembrance
Doves – Domesticity
Crowned Heart – Love Triumphant
Butterfly – Soul
Clasped Hands – Friendship, Lasting Love

Do you have any jewelry with hidden symbols? Go here for a comprehensive list of symbol meaning in jewelry, and tell us if you find anything!

The First Postage Stamp: The Penny Black

 The Penny Black was the world’s first adhesive stamp, made to reform the British postal service. A man named Rowland Hill proposed the stamp system in 1837.

Before the issue of postage stamps, people paid for postage upon receiving the package or letter. (Some people, such as W. Reginald Bray, took advantage of this system.) The cost was determined by the distance traveled for delivery and the size of the letter. But Rowland Hill thought the system needed reform.

Hill started a competition to design the first stamp. But the public failed to give a good enough design (sounds familiar, eh?) despite the 2,600 designs. None of the winning entries were used.


A Penny Black shown with red cancel, which is hard to see on the black background.

Instead, the approved stamp design featured a profile of Queen Victoria, the monarch at the time. It came from a sketch by Henry Corbould and went through multiple hands for designing before it became the final product.

The Black Penny stamps did not have perforations and had to be hand cut. They had inscriptions in each corner, which were either stars, letters, or blank spaces.

The UK’s postage stamps are the only stamps that at times don’t name their country of origin; instead they use Queen Victoria’s image to symbolize the UK.

The stamps used a black background, but that soon revealed itself as a problem. The red cancel didn’t show up well on the black stamp. The cancel also rubbed off easily, which led to people reusing the stamps.

The Penny Black only lasted for a year. It was replaced by the Penny Red, and the cancel was given black ink, which showed up much better and didn’t come off as easily.

The Jacob Perkins press that printed the Penny Black. (via takomabibelot, CC)

The Jacob Perkins press that printed the Penny Black. (via takomabibelot, CC)

Rowland Hill’s postal reform changed the system for the better. Within seven months of the stamps’ release, the numbers of letters sent doubled to over 160 million.

Penny Black stamps are not actually that rare – over 68 million were produced. The real value comes in finding a Penny Black in mint condition with the original gum.

A stamp dealer sold one for £250,000 in 2009, the highest price paid for a Penny Black so far.

Take a moment to appreciate Rowland Hill for his postage reform. Without it, the Postal Service would not be what it is today.

The History of Royal Doulton Figurines

Royal Doulton figurines are hand painted figures from a company with a long history.

These figurines are just a portion of the Doulton pottery legacy, but they have made a memorable impact.

The Doulton company started out as a family business: it all starts with a man named John Doulton.

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One of the many figures gracing the S&C ETC. store with its presence.

John was one of the best pot throwers in London. He formed a company along with potter Martha Jones and foreman John Watts, called Jones, Watts, and Doulton. They specialized in salt glazed stoneware, a material that would come to be especially useful later.

After the company became Doulton & Watts, a young Henry Doulton, the son of John Doulton, joined at age fifteen. He soon proved a knack for pottery making. Henry saw that salt glazed stoneware would help improve drain and sewer pipes, and took the initiative to install the manufacturing machinery for such pipes. This improved the company’s success immensely.

The company made the change to simply Doulton & Company in 1854. Around the same time, John Doulton experimented with different glazes and effects.

Henry took over the company after the death of his father in 1873. Following the trend at the time, he started making porcelain pieces in bright colors, and soon the company became well-known for its high-class pottery throughout the world.article img01

The company’s great reputation spread to the British Royal family, and Queen Victoria herself knighted Henry Doulton in 1887 for contributions to ceramic art.

To add to the royal influence, in 1901 King Edward VII gave Doulton & Company’s factory the Royal Warrant.

The company continued to be passed down from son to son. In 1913, King George V and Queen Mary gave a visit to the Burslem Studio. During the visit, Queen Mary picked up a new model of a small boy in a nightshirt and said, “Isn’t he a darling!” Inspired by the Queen, the figure’s name was changed from “Bedtime” to “Darling”.

The Queen bought copies of the figure, and as with anything with the royal stamp of approval, the figure was designer Charles Vyse’s most successful figurine.

This was the start of the Doulton company’s figurine line that still continues today. Though the two World Wars limited production, around that time a new designer named Leslie Harradine designed most of the collection and created timeless pieces that would firmly establish the Royal Doulton figurines as well-worth collecting.article img03

In 1939 Peggy Davies joined the team. She is most well known for her “Pretty Ladies” line, the pictures for which you can see in this post.

Royal Doulton marks are used on their pieces, which help identify the model and designer of a piece.

While there have been a number of style changes in the line throughout the years, reflecting the styles of the times, what is certain is the beauty of the Royal Doulton pieces.

The company’s extensive history, only a fraction of which is mentioned here, adds to the richness of their products.

Do you have any Doulton figurines or pottery? Let us know in the comments!



A great long history

A history with interesting tidbits

A Brief History of the Christmas Card

If you celebrate Christmas (or maybe even if you don’t) it’s a beloved tradition to give & receive Christmas cards during this festive time of year.

(Including, for the procrastinators out there, after Christmas. It’s the thought that counts, right?)

But the practice had to start somewhere. So when did this fun and nostalgic Christmas tradition begin?

The first known occurrence was in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole commissioned cards illustrated by John Callcott Horsley. The card shows a family giving a toast, with illustrations of charitable actions on the edges. They were sold for a shilling each.

Some were upset at the content of the card – it shows a child being given a glass of wine.

Also in the 1840s, “official” Christmas cards began to be issued, often showing images of royalty such as Queen Victoria.

Most early Christmas cards were not given to the kind of romantic winter image we see today, but instead leaned toward flowers and cheerful spring-like designs, looking forward to upcoming warmer weather.

A festive, embossed Christmas postcard showing a green-dressed Santa surrounded by poinsettias.

A festive, embossed Christmas postcard showing a green-dressed Santa surrounded by poinsettias.

Some designs were not quite so cheerful, however. “Some early Christmas card imagery, featured in Grossman’s book “Christmas Curiosities” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2008), may look more bizarre to modern eyes: Krampus* dragging bad children to the underworld, pine trees kissing, Santa lighting a cigar off a Christmas tree, anthropomorphic mice decorating trees and cats tossing snowballs. OK, people still love pictures of animals acting like humans, but how does one explain the Christmas cards that show a dead bird lying on its back with the words “May yours be a joyful Christmas” above?” (via Megan Gannon on Live Science)

The different sensibilities of the time don’t translate so well today. Here’s a tip, kids: just because the Victorians did it doesn’t mean you should send your dear old grandma a picture of a dead bird.

In 1870, the start of the One Penny Post allowed almost anyone to send cards, making the business even more successful.

A cute, vintage postcard showing a girl in a red dress with her toy horse, giving Christmas greetings.

A cute, vintage postcard showing a girl in a red dress with her toy horse, giving Christmas greetings.

In 1873 a lithograph firm began selling Christmas cards in England, which expanded to the U.S. the next year. One of the creators, Louis Prang, was called the “father of the American Christmas card.” His designs were so popular that they spawned cheap knockoffs that eventually drove him from business.

Today, 45% of all cards sent are Christmas cards. Sir Henry Cole really knew what he was doing.

Many stationary businesses made Christmas cards from then on, each year reflecting the trends of the times with their images and designs. For instance, in the early 20th century each of the World Wars brought patriotic card themes, while the 1950s brought cartoon illustrations. Nostalgic images have since continued to rise, leading to the popular Victorian Christmas image we often see today.

Today, some use e-cards to send their holiday well-wishes, but that does not stop the physical Christmas card business from thriving. And many would prefer it that way, considering the lukewarm receptions to digital cards. There are only so many cutesy winter animations that one can sit through before going mad.

But no matter the medium, the Christmas card has become an embedded tradition within our culture, a tradition that sends joyful greetings and well-wishing thoughts around this festive time of year.

*Krampus is known as the “holiday devil” in Alpine folklore, a creature opposite of Santa Claus who punishes bad children. Good luck sleeping tonight.