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Ring

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1550-1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold set with a chalcedony intaglio

  • Museum number:

    761-1871

  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 9, shelf A, box 25

Signet rings, engraved with a coat of arms, owner's initial or the mark used by a merchant to identify his goods are one of the the most common types of surviving medieval and Renaissance rings. The engraved bezel of the ring was pressed into sealing wax and this was then fixed onto a letter or deed. This ring is engraved with an ownership mark, often called a merchant's mark, a geometric sign, frequently based on the number 4 or on a variation of a cross, which was used as a proprietary mark. Merchants marks were a key part of commercial and social life - they were used to seal deeds as a legal signature and when marking bales of goods, to settle disputes over ownership when those goods had gone astray through theft, shipwreck or piracy. Prosperous merchants also had their marks set in their houses, windows and on their gravestones or included them in their personal portraits.

Signet rings could be made of gold, silver, bronze or less commonly, carved hardstone such as this chalcedony ring. The owner of this ring had his mark put into a shield shape, similar to a heraldic coat of arms. The College of Heralds made strong protests about this practice. In 1605, Francis Thynne, the Lancaster Herald, wrote that the king of arms "shall prohibit any merchant, or any other, to put their names, marks or devises in escutcheons or shields; which belong and only appertain to gentlemen bearing arms and to none others".

This ring forms part of a collection of 760 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-87). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899. Waterton's unpublished 'Dactyliotheca' records that this ring was 'Found in Bolford churchyard, Lincolnshire, in 1849'.

Physical description

Gold ring, the circular bezel set with a chalcedony intaglio. Engraved with the merchant's mark 'EM' in monogram surmounted by a double cross.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

1550-1600 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gold set with a chalcedony intaglio

Marks and inscriptions

The monogram 'EM' surmounted by a double cross.
Merchant's mark in intaglio.

Dimensions

Height: 2.2 cm, Width: 2.2 cm, Depth: 1.3 cm

Object history note

ex Waterton Collection

Historical context note

Found in Bolford churchyard, Lincolnshire, in 1849

Descriptive line

Gold ring, the circular bezel set with a chalcedony intaglio with a merchant's mark, the monogram 'EM' surmounted by a double cross, England, 1550-1600.

Materials

Chalcedony; Gold

Techniques

Intaglio

Subjects depicted

Intaglios; Commerce

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Europeana Fashion Project

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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