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

Signet Ring

15th century (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. A letter from Lord Berengario in Verona in 906 underscores the importance of the signet: ‘So that this may be more truly believed and more faithfully observed, we order this to be sealed with our ring, confirming it with our own hand’.

Signets could be engraved with a coat of arms for those entitled to bear them, with a personal device or sign or as this ring, with an initial letter. The crowned letter I (or J) probably referred to the first name of the ring's owner. The use of initials became common on signet rings from the 14th century, often in the form of a single crowned letter. The most expensive signets were made of gold, sometimes set with an engraved gem or hardstone. Cheaper versions were made in silver or bronze.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Engraved silver
Brief description
Silver signet ring with an octagonal bezel engraved with a crowned I flanked by two branches, England, 15th century
Physical description
Silver signet ring with an octagonal bezel engraved with a crowned I flanked by two branches
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.6cm
  • Width: 2.5cm
  • Depth: 1.1cm
Marks and inscriptions
inscribed with a crowned I
Object history
Believed to have been found at Chichester.
Subject 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. A letter from Lord Berengario in Verona in 906 underscores the importance of the signet: ‘So that this may be more truly believed and more faithfully observed, we order this to be sealed with our ring, confirming it with our own hand’.



Signets could be engraved with a coat of arms for those entitled to bear them, with a personal device or sign or as this ring, with an initial letter. The crowned letter I (or J) probably referred to the first name of the ring's owner. The use of initials became common on signet rings from the 14th century, often in the form of a single crowned letter. The most expensive signets were made of gold, sometimes set with an engraved gem or hardstone. Cheaper versions were made in silver or bronze.

Bibliographic references
  • Oman, Charles, Catalogue of rings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1930, reprinted Ipswich, 1993, cat. 538
  • Church, Rachel, Rings, London, V&A Publishing/ Thames and Hudson, 2017, fig. 30, p. 29
Collection
Accession number
1374-1903

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Record createdFebruary 14, 2006
Record URL
Download as: JSONIIIF Manifest