Historically, the image of the Black Victorian has been affiliated with harmful and inaccurate depictions. However, there is a vast number of beautiful antiques that showcase the non-distorted image of Black Victorians. Photographic jewelry was trendy during the Victorian Era (1837-1901) and was used to honor loved ones sentimentally. The custom of wearing lockets and pendants featuring loved ones was a beautiful gesture to celebrate the living and dearly departed. Family members would sit for portraits and have customized jewelry pieces created, which is a tradition still prevalent today. Although society tried to emphasize negative images and caricatures of Black Victorians, their photographs told another critical story. Their pictures were progressive and revolutionary and represented elegance and dignity.
Antique portrait of an unidentified Black Victorian woman, courtesy of the Tanzy Ward/Zanathia Jewelry personal collection. Antique Victorian aventurine beaded necklace, courtesy of the Zanathia Jewelry Collection
Collecting antique Black Victorian photographic jewelry is becoming more demanding and exposing unsung stories that have been overlooked and overshadowed due to inaccurate representation. The antique photographic jewelry that belonged to Black Victorians were beautiful examples of the high-quality craftsmanship familiar during the 19th century. Intricately engraved gold-filled lockets and brooches with floral etching designs were commonly worn by beloved family members. The photographic portraits included dapper and well-groomed Black Victorians; historical images have not been emphasized enough. The photographic jewelry can also be used to study the cultural customs of the period as well. For example, many Victorians honored their dearly departed by wearing portraits on memento stickpins. African Americans also used this sentimental tradition to celebrate their loved ones. Although we may not know the names and locations of the beloved Victorians, the characteristics and craftsmanship of the jewelry are essential factors when reflecting on their stories.
When reflecting on the values and traditions of Victorians during the 19th century, African Americans were routinely a part of the cultural customs of the period. Unfortunately, their legacies and stories have often been diminished and inaccurately represented. The antique photographic jewelry of Black Victorians is a primary example of elegance, dignity, poise, and exceptional gracefulness. Although the primary 'poster-child' image of Black Americana is negative exaggerated stereotypes, the actual depictions have also been well-preserved.e Antique photographic jewelry of Black Victorians is authentic memorabilia and emphasizes the honorable legacies that have been unsung for far too long. Thankfully, many of their memories and innovative images have been historically preserved and increasingly celebrated in present times. May we honor their stories and precious heirlooms for generations to come.