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Signature Stories: The History of Victorian Monogrammed Jewelry

Tanzy Ward

 Originally, monogrammed signatures were reserved for royal coins that identified ancient Greek and Roman diplomats from various regions. However, by the 19th century, it was common for many Victorian citizens to own a sentimental memento with initials carved into gold- and silver-plated accessories. Beforehand, monogrammed items were used to identify the work of local artisans and organizations synonymous with regional kingdoms. However, initial engravings on necklaces were common, with the famous Anne Boleyn 'B' choker-style accessory seen in various paintings of the British Queen. The decorative trend of signature mementos became increasingly popular during the Victorian Era (1837-1901), and could be seen on lockets, signet rings, sewn into garments, silverware, and other metal-based novelties. 

Ancient 5th century Era Roman coins with early monogrammed engravings. Historically, monogrammed items were synonymous with identifying Roman and Greek diplomats. Courtesy of Forum Ancient Coins Catalogue. 
Anne Boleyn Queen of England King Henry VIII – The Secret Story of Anne  Boleyn's Lost Necklace
Anne Boleyn portrait with her famous 'B' initial choker-style necklace. There are several paintings that showcase the British queen with the personalized monogrammed necklace. This is an early example of monograms used for decorative purposes. 
 

 Monograms and engravings were created by hand before machine production was invented during the first Victorian Industrial Revolution. Manufacturing became a major industry and increased the quantity of monogrammed items. Soon, various business jewelry firms were offering engraved metal pieces with a diverse range of signature styles and designs. Many monogrammed jewelries were given as sentimental gifts, which often included a compartment for a loved one's photos or locket of hair strands. Many Victorian Era jewelry with signature engravings and monogrammed initials were reserved for gold- and silver-plated items. It is common to come across monogrammed pieces with the engraved name and patent date on the inside of the jewelry. Lockets for necklaces, class rings, brooches, and expandable bracelets were highly in demand. Many of these items are attached to personal stories and memories, which includes special occasions and celebratory gifts. By the late 19th century, historic companies such as Sears, Roebuck, & Co, The D.F Briggs Company, McRae & Keeler Co., and Theodore Foster & Company all were manufacturing high quality monogrammed pieces. 

Antique catalogue showcasing gold filled and sterling monogrammed lockets from the T. Eaton Company, Toronto Canada. The technology boom of the Industrial Revolution ushered in the age of mass manufacturing, which included a large production of jewelry styles available to the public.
The Edwardian Era (c.1901-1915) carried on the tradition of decorative monogrammed jewelry, and the style became increasingly popular. Many of the older Victorian and early 20th century models have specific hallmarks and engraving designs that differ from later styles. If an engraved locket contains a hallmarked company name, researching the company is important when dating the piece. Many Edwardian Era jewelry companies have distinct signature hallmarks or were only in operation for a short period of time, and this researched information can be valuable when authenticating genuine antique styles. 
Antique Edwardian Era (1907) Monogrammed expandable bracelet with what appears to be the initials 'B.B'. Expandable bracelets with engraved initials were very popular during the Victorian and Edwardian Eras. These bracelets were often gold filled or sterling, and many contain more insightful information within the inside of the bracelet (i.e. patent dates, names, metal purity, and etc.) Zanathia Jewelry Collection 

 

Historically, the monogrammed aesthetic has been used for centuries. However, it was not until the 19th century that decorative purposes began to become popular. In present times, signature engravings on accessories are used for special personalized gifts and sentimental mementos, which all derive from Victorian Era traditions. Many modern designs can be linked and traced to antique styles, which has become increasingly popular in today's market. Thankfully, many genuine monogrammed jewelries have been historically preserved and in great condition. The initials and engraving designs are important pieces of history, which includes sentimental memories that belong to people of a bygone time. When collecting and curating antique monogrammed pieces, it is always intriguing and fascinating to ponder on the lives and stories that a personalized gift once belonged to. 

 


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