During the Victorian Era, death was everywhere. The infant mortality rate was alarmingly high, countless lives were lost to industrial equipment, and all the while a single disease could take an entire family.
With such an abundance of death, survivors were left full of anguish. Thus Spiritualism – the belief that ghosts exist and we can communicate with them – came into existence.
A key component of spiritualism is séances. A séance is a meeting centred on a medium who seeks to communicate with spirits of the dead. One usually takes place in darkness, and it generally involves six or eight persons, who form a circle and hold hands.
Three American sisters: Leah, Margaret and Kate Fox were the world’s first mediums. The trio hit the headlines when they claimed to communicate with a spirit haunting their home. The girls used a series of knocks – one for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’ – to communicate with the apparition.
Spiritualism was the answer many Victorians were seeking. An official religion, the Spiritualists’ National Federation, was started in the UK in 1890. Known today as the Spiritualists’ National Union, the organisation has 350 affiliated churches with almost 16,000 full members and over 2,000 associate members in England.
Victorians were incredibly thoughtful and symbolic. Every aspect of their life from clothing to tapestries to paintings were brimming with symbolism. Jewelry in that period was no exception- be it on pendants, brooches, bracelets, rings and more – it imbued symbolism.
A specific symbol in Victorian jewelry was the crescent moon.
Crescent moons symbolize the feminine moon goddess, and as such, is associated with female empowerment. The moon also symbolizes change, for just as the moon cycles through phases, so does life.
Stunning examples of antique Victorian Era Crescent Moon jewelry are shown below.
The moon creates the ebb and flow of the tide; it casts light into the darkness of night. Thus the moon will always captivate and resonate with past, present, and future generations.
Following Britain’s Industrial Revolution, a design movement emerged as a way to create products that not only had integrity but were made in a less dehumanizing way. The campaign was coined “the Arts and Crafts movement”, and it had a significant impact on how Victorian society viewed production. The movement reformed the design and manufacture of everything from buildings to jewelry.
A key leader of the movement was William Morris, a renowned designer. He is quoted as saying, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
William Morris strived to create beautifully constructed everyday objects in a harmonious manner that kept the craftsman connected to the consumer. He pushed back on factory work, in hopes to return to small-scale workshops. Morris wanted to rid the working class of repetitive tasks so that they might engage directly with the creative process from beginning to end.
The Arts and Crafts movement thrived in rural communities and created employment for local people, such as amateurs and students. It also created an environment in which, women, as well as men, could take an active role in developing new forms of design, both as makers and consumers.
Below are a few examples of objects produced during the Arts & Crafts Movement.
Either through satire or dramatic prose, these five novels give us keen insight into the Victorian Era.
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South (1855)
The most original heroine of Victorian literature, Margaret Hale, becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice.
Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)
Equally praised and controversial at the time of publication; this is a story of a woman’s struggle for independence from her abusive husband.
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848)
An excellent satire of English society in the early 19th Century. It chronicles the lives of two women who could not be more different: an ambitious orphan with loose morals and a naive pampered Victorian heroine.
Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853)
In its atmosphere, symbolism, and magnificent bleak comedy is often regarded as the best of Dickens.
George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans), Middlemarch (1872)
Often described as a masterpiece, this novel is psychologically insightful portraying a rich portrait of the life of a small early 19th-century town.
Have you read any of these, dear reader? Which five books would you choose?
Queen Victoria lost the love of her life, Prince Albert, to typhoid fever after 21 years of wedded bliss. This tragic loss plunged her majesty into a deep state of mourning for the remainder of her life- almost forty years. To satiate her broken heart, Queen Victoria wore black garments, black jewelry, and black hair accessories. As an example, the above ring was commissioned in honour of her beloved. Along the side of the ring, the initials ‘V’ and ‘A’ are linked in white enamel.
And as Queen Victoria set the example for her court, mourning clothing and jewelry became the pinnacle of fashion.
By today’s standards, mourning jewelry might seem morbid. But in Victorian times, death was abundant. Middle-class men might live, on average, to 45. The typical lifespan of workmen and labourers spanned just half that time. Children’s fate was even worse. One in three died before the age of five.
Mourning jewelry brought solace to the survivors who had to cope with frequent losses. In the end, perhaps mourning jewelry can be thought of more as an expression of love than of grief. Its purpose was to keep a departed beloved near to the heart. And that is a sentiment that transcends culture and time.
What makes Tiffany lamps so iconic? Is it the name “Tiffany” that evokes greatness? Or is it the precise craftsmanship and delicate intricacies of the design?
To quote the Bard, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2).
For decades Louis Comfort Tiffany was attributed as the creator of the ever famous lamps. And his last name, Tiffany, became synonymous with elegance and beauty. The pieces were seminal and what all designers strived to render. Today, a Tiffany lamp can be worth anywhere from $4,000 to over $1 million. The most ever paid for an original was $2.8 million in 1997 at a Christie’s auction.
However, thanks to the diligent research of Martin Eidelberg, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Rutgers University, Independent Scholar Nina Gray, and the Historical Society’s Curator of Decorative Arts, Margaret K. Hofer, the light was shone on Tiffany’s legacy and a falsity uncovered.
The actual designer of the innovative lamps was a woman, Clara Driscoll. This revelation was never mentioned in the Tiffany Studios publicity. Tiffany never disclosed the names of his designers, preferring to keep the public focus on his own considerable artistic and business talents. Also, the records of the studio were lost after the company closed in the early 1930s.
Clara worked at Tiffany Studios off and on for more than 20 years. Engaged or married women did not work at the company, so Driscoll left because of her marriage in 1889. After Driscoll’s first husband Francis Driscoll died in 1892, she resumed working for Tiffany Studios and remained until her marriage to Edward A. Booth in 1909.
Clara is now accredited to designing over 30 lamps and numerous other desk and boudoir accoutrements. Driscoll designed many of the most iconic Tiffany leaded-glass lamps from Dragonfly, Cobweb, and Butterfly to Wisteria, Poppy, Laburnum, Arrowhead, Geranium, and the innovative Flying Fish shade and Deep Sea mosaic and glass-jeweled base. Most researchers now believe it was Clara who originated the entire concept of kerosene- and then electric-powered lamps of leaded glass for Tiffany.
Thanks to those historians, credit is now given where credit is due. Clara Driscoll life’s work is finally attributed to her.
Known as the Cradle of the Gods, hammocks have been in use for over 1,000 years. The first hammock is believed to have been made by the Caribbean Taino people. These suspended beds proved useful at offering protection against poisonous or dangerous pests, as well as keeping the person elevated off the dirty ground. The Taino people would also place hot coals or kindle small fires under their hammocks to stay warm as they slumbered.
Hammocks were initially made from the woven bark of the Hamack Tree. As such, they were first called hamacas, by the Taino people. Eventually, the word hamaca was overheard by a famed explorer, and it morphed into the current word hammock. After viewing these woven sleeping apparatuses, European explorers brought several examples back to Spain. This sparked a craze. And hammocks grew in popularity all over Europe. By the turn of the century, hammocks became an item of leisure for wealthy families in the United States.
The sentiment of leisure remains true today. Nothing quite says summer like a quiet reverie in a hammock strung from two tall oak trees.
We do hope you get to celebrate National Hammock Day. If not, please feel free to immerse yourself in the captured beauty of the fortunate ones below.