Discover Vintage America - FEBRUARY 2017

Yearly reflections, advice and a contest!

Q: We found these pieces of jewelry when cleaning out my aunt's house after she passed away. It looks like hair in the ring and on one side of the locket. What purpose did it serve to place pieces of hair in the jewelry? I think it is pretty disgusting and then I found out that it is hair from a deceased person. I have heard that you are very knowledgeable when it comes to antique jewelry and would appreciate any information you can give me.

A: Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful antique jewelry with us, I am in love with the locket and the precious little girl. The ring is equally lovely.

You mentioned that the hair might be from the deceased. This is referred to as "mourning jewelry." Jewelry and other items were made hair for sentimental reasons too. It can often be difficult to tell the difference between mourning and sentimental hair adornments. Sometimes that name or initals of the deceased would be incorporated into the weaving or a piece but this was not always the case.

Mourning jewelry has been around since the 17th century, but is better known as a product of the Victorian era when mass production made pieces more affordable. Mourning jewelry was often made of black glass, jet (a fossilized coal), black enamel, vulcanite and hair. Mourning jewelry really came in to fashion in 1861 when Price Albert died and Queen Victoria and her court wore nothing but black, including their jewelry and adornments, for decades. Truly the more interesting and often intricate mourning and sentimental jewelry is that made of hair.

When looking at your locket and ring photos I
am unable to determine if they are mourning or sentimental items.

With a bit of detective work on your part you
might be able to get more information on the locket. Ask family members if they know who the little girl is. Did she live a long happy life or did something tragic happen to her when she was young? On the ring you can look on the inside of the band and see if there is an inscription.

As to value, if these are family pieces there is
no price we can put on the sentimental end of things. The resale value for the locket, if you can find supporting evidence of who the girl is and when she died, if it turns out to be a mourning locket, $175-$200. If it has a gold content greater than 14k the price will increase around $30. The ring, if it has an inscription or initials woven in to it, $75-$125, add $30 for a higher gold content.

Thank you so much for sharing these precious family items.
If you are interested in seeing some beautiful works or art made with hair there is a museum in Independance, MO or you can see a small sample online at

Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.