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Black Victorian Photographic Jewelry: Progressive Portraits of Elegance & Poise

Tanzy Ward

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. 


Antique Victorian Era memento stickpin of an unidentified Black Victorian woman. Stick pins featuring portraits of Victorians were pretty standard, and many were used to celebrate and honor a departed loved one. Courtesy of the Tanzy Ward/Zanathia Jewelry Personal Collection.


During the Victorian Era, there were quite a few African American photographers. One of the most popular photographic-jewelry pioneers of the 19th century is Glenalvin J. Goodridge (1829-1867).  Goodridge was born to a middle-class Black Victorian family in York, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Underground Railroad abolitionist and entrepreneur William C. Goodridge (1806-1873). Goodridge operated his first photography studio at one of his father's businesses as a young man. He then moved his gallery to the Goodridge residence on East Philadelphia Street in York. Goodridge's photography studio included many portraits of his family. He commonly worked with various photography interventions of the 19th century. His main photographic technology preferences included daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. His impressive collection encompassed photographic jewelry of African Americans, including poised images within lockets and on brooches. These precious jewelry pieces and photographs were meaningful representations that reflected their values. Goodridge's versatile photography career included portraits of Black and White Victorians. He operated a highly successful studio in York. The Goodridge Freedom Center is now a prominent museum and legacy of his life. 
Portrait in the Goodridge Resource Center/Glenalvin Goodridge Museum in York, Pennsylvania. The Smithsonian Museum has now acquired an extensive collection of the Glenalvin Goodridge collection. Courtesy of York Daily Record.
Antique Victorian Era jewelry and photography, two popular trends during the Victorian Era, were both commonly incorporated and used to honor the living and dearly departed. Image and antique items courtesy of Tanzy Ward/Zanathia Jewelry personal collection


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. 

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