Signet Ring thumbnail 1
Signet Ring thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery

Signet Ring

1600-50 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This ring would have been used as a signet, pressed into hot wax to seal a letter or packet. Personal seals (secreta) provided an essential legal safeguard and were used to witness documents such as wills, deeds of gift, loans and commercial documents, personal letters and land indentures.

Signet rings could be engraved with a coat of arms or crest, an initial, a merchant's mark (a geometric symbol used to mark goods or personal belongings), or a personal symbol. Sixteenth and seventeenth century portraits show signet rings worn on the forefinger or thumb, presumably to make it easy to apply the ring to the wax by turning the hand. They were items of jewellery with a practical function but the use of precious metals and engraved hardstones indicates that they were also signs of status.


The skull on this ring and the piece of bone set in the back of the bezel so that it would touch the skin of the wearer were potent symbols of mortality. 'Memento mori' or 'remember that you must die' imagery was found in poetry, paintings and jewellery, a reminder to the Christian of the need to keep their soul in good order for the final judgment. The name 'Edward Cope' engraved in reverse around the skull shows that it was used as a signet ring.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Engraved gold set with bone
Brief Description
Gold signet ring, with a circular bezel engraved with a skull surrounded by the name 'EDWARD x COPE', with behind a fragment of bone, presumably a talisman or relic, England, early 1600-50.
Physical Description
Gold signet ring, with a circular bezel engraved with a skull surrounded by the name 'EDWARDxCOPE', with behind a fragment of bone, presumably a talisman or relic.
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.6cm
  • Width: 2.5cm
  • Depth: 1.6cm
Marks and Inscriptions
engraved with a skull surrounded by the name 'EDWARDxCOPE'
Credit line
Given by Dame Joan Evans
Object history
ex Henry Willett Collection- sold at Christies 7 April, 1905.
Historical context
Designed as a signet ring, with letters in reverse, the ring clearly relates to memento mori (keep death in your thoughts) in the form of a ring embellished with skulls, but it also functioned as a talisman.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This ring would have been used as a signet, pressed into hot wax to seal a letter or packet. Personal seals (secreta) provided an essential legal safeguard and were used to witness documents such as wills, deeds of gift, loans and commercial documents, personal letters and land indentures.



Signet rings could be engraved with a coat of arms or crest, an initial, a merchant's mark (a geometric symbol used to mark goods or personal belongings), or a personal symbol. Sixteenth and seventeenth century portraits show signet rings worn on the forefinger or thumb, presumably to make it easy to apply the ring to the wax by turning the hand. They were items of jewellery with a practical function but the use of precious metals and engraved hardstones indicates that they were also signs of status.





The skull on this ring and the piece of bone set in the back of the bezel so that it would touch the skin of the wearer were potent symbols of mortality. 'Memento mori' or 'remember that you must die' imagery was found in poetry, paintings and jewellery, a reminder to the Christian of the need to keep their soul in good order for the final judgment. The name 'Edward Cope' engraved in reverse around the skull shows that it was used as a signet ring.
Bibliographic References
  • Bury, Shirley, Introduction to Rings, London, 1984, p.14
  • Oman, Charles, British Rings:800-1914, London, 1974, p.120
  • Church, Rachel, Rings, London, V&A Publishing, 2011, fig 52, p. 45
Collection
Accession Number
M.273-1962

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record createdDecember 14, 2005
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