Are you wearing a mourning ring? Never heard of one? They reached popularity in the late 18th century to remember the deceased. Does your wedding ring have an inscription? For these rings phrases like “Love conquers all,” “My heart is yours,” and “Forever and always” are the most popular. Mourning rings bore inscriptions such as, “Death parts united hearts,” and “Death conquers all.” These rings were made of gold and enameled in black. Decorated with coffins, sometimes the ring held a framed lock of the deceased.
Similar to wedding rings, jewelry makers kept mourning rings in stock. When bought, the name or initials of the deceased and date of death were engraved. Letters were sent to distant friends and relations to buy a ring and send the bill to them. It is typical to read old diaries and come across accounts such as, “Made a ring at the funeral,” or “Lost a ring [by not attending].”
The usual dilemma of our 18th century ancestors was what to do with all the rings they accumulated over the years. The custom had become so overdone that by 1741 the Massachusetts provincial government outlawed the giving of mourning rings, “upon penalty of 50 pounds.” The typical solution may have been to throw out or melt down the rings for money because finding historic mourning rings on the market today is quite rare.
Though the practice of wearing mourning rings is not common in contemporary America, it is not extinct. Bakelite mourning rings were produced in the 1940s which included a photo of the deceased. Rings were created to memorialize the New York City firefighters lost on 911.
It’s true that mourning rings are an artifact of a time when death struck frequently and coping with such an unrelenting reality was needed. Perhaps these rings are a necessary expedient in today’s culture. When the popular notion is to “get on” with life, such a portable reminder of a lost loved one may help the grieving do just that.