Mourning Ring thumbnail 1
Mourning Ring thumbnail 2
+7
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

Mourning Ring

1765 (dated)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

From the early seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, testators left money in their wills to have rings with commemorative inscriptions made and distributed to their friends and families. Simple bands enamelled with the name and life dates of the deceased were frequently made, sometimes set with a gemstone or a bezel set with a rock crystal covering a symbol such as a coffin or initials in gold wire. In the later 18th century, rings followed neo-classical designs, their oval bezels often decorated with the same designs as funerary monuments such as urns, broken pillars and mourning figures. Hair from the deceased was incorporated into the designs or set in a compartment at the back of the ring to give each jewel a uniquely personal element. Black or white enamel were favoured though white enamel was often, though not universally used to commemorate children and unmarried adults.

The inscription set in gold letters against the black enamelled scrolls of the ring's band tells us that it commemorates Richard Pett who died on the 23 February 1765, aged 76. Richard Pett was described in the Gentleman's Magazine of that year as a 'master cooper at the Victualling Office, worth10 000 l.' He was buried at St Andrews, Plymouth, Devon. The Victualling Office was an important element of the success of the British Navy and the wider British economy, ensuring that ships were provided with safe and adequate provisions using a state controlled buying system. The Victualling Commissioners were responsible for providing sufficient supplies of food and drink to keep the sailors and officers of the Navy fit and healthy enough to fight. Victualling yards based in important ports and dockyards such as Plymouth where Richard Pett was master cooper, were expected to supply preserved foodstuffs designed to last weeks or even months: ship's biscuit, salted beef, salted pork, pease, oatmeal, butter, cheese and beer. Each sailor was allocated a ration of a gallon of beer per day, an important addition to the diet and a vital source of liquid when fresh water could not be supplied. Most of these items were transported and stored in casks, which were themselves manufactured by the Board in large numbers at its on-site cooperages which were also responsible for maintaining and repairing casks, barrels and drums. In addition, the Victualling Yards provided fresh meat, bread and other items to ships stationed in port.

Richard Pett held his position in Plymouth Docks from 27 October 1751 and he worked throughout the period of the Seven Years War (1753-63). By the time he turned 67 in March 1761, he was the oldest working officer in the Victualling Office across all the ports. His career as a master cooper made him a considerable fortune. His will left his estate in Plympton St Mary to his second wife Thomasine (born Westlake and married in 1748) and bequests to the four children of his first marriage to Susannah Smith (married in 1725) whilst his eldest son Richard gained the residue of the estate. In addition he left instructions for memorial rings worth five guineas to three of his friends and cheaper rings to the parish vicars and lecturer listed in his will thus:

“I bequeath to John Arthur, William Easton and Samuel James five Guineas each, which I Desire them to accept of to buy a Mourning ring each to wear in Remembrance of me.” “To the Vicars of St Andrew's Parish and Charles' Parish in Plymouth, and also to the Lecturer of St Andrew's Parish Two Guineas each to buy them rings in remembrance of me.”

John Arthur is mentioned in his will as 'my friend John Arthur of Plymouth, beer brewer' and it seems likely that Pett knew him both as a friend and in a professional capacity.

His will doesn't specify the design for these rings. The ring now in the Museum may be one of the five guinea rings or, given its unusual and decorative design, may have been made for a family member. The centre of the ring is set with an amethyst set in gold, surrounded by four rose-cut diamonds, set, as was usual, in silver.





object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Inscribed and enamelled gold with openwork silver set with rose-cut diamonds and an amethyst
Brief Description
Enamelled gold mourning ring, with a silver bezel set with rose-cut diamonds and an amethyst in the form of a cross. The hoop inscribed RICH: PETT.DI:23 FEB: 1765 AE 76., England, dated 1765.
Physical Description
Enamelled gold mourning ring, with an openwork silver scroll edged bezel set with rose-cut diamonds and an amethyst in the form of a cross. The hoop of six scrolls inscribed in reserve on black enamel RICH: PETT.DI:23 FEB: 1765 AE 76..
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.1cm
  • Width: 2cm
  • Depth: 1.3cm
Marks and Inscriptions
RICH: PETT.DI:23 FEB: 1765 AE 76. (inscription on the hoop)
Credit line
Given by Dame Joan Evans
Object history
This ring was formerly part of two important ring collections. It was owned by Frederick Arthur Crisp who put together an large collection of British mourning rings which he published in 1908, part of a very limited edition of 150. He also published an extensive series of parish records, calendars of wills and records of visitations. His collection was sold at auction by Sotheby's on the 12/13th February 1935.



The ring was then added to the collection of Dame Joan Evans (1893-1977), art historian and collector. Early on she collected gems and jewels which resulted in the 1921 book, English Jewellery from the 5th Century BC to 1800. She published widely on jewellery, French medieval art and architecture. Evans was elected the first woman president of the Society of Antiquaries in 1959 (through 1964). She was a trustee of the British Museum (1963-67). In her personal life, she donated time and money to many charitable historic causes, nearly all of them anonymously. Her will left collections to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the Birmingham City Art Gallery.



She gave her gem and jewellery collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum through a series of gifts, beginning in 1960. Her association with the museum went back to her childhood and she developed personal friendships with the museum curators and Directors. In 1975, two years before her death aged 84, Joan Evans made over her remaining jewels to the museum, choosing to remain anonymous during her lifetime. As she wrote jokingly to curator Charles Oman, her village was ‘divided into those who think it must have been me and those who say it cannot have been because I am so shabby.’



In her final years, offering her collection to the museum, she wrote movingly that ‘My jewels come to your Department with love and gratitude. It has been kind to me for 65 years.



Subjects depicted
Summary
From the early seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, testators left money in their wills to have rings with commemorative inscriptions made and distributed to their friends and families. Simple bands enamelled with the name and life dates of the deceased were frequently made, sometimes set with a gemstone or a bezel set with a rock crystal covering a symbol such as a coffin or initials in gold wire. In the later 18th century, rings followed neo-classical designs, their oval bezels often decorated with the same designs as funerary monuments such as urns, broken pillars and mourning figures. Hair from the deceased was incorporated into the designs or set in a compartment at the back of the ring to give each jewel a uniquely personal element. Black or white enamel were favoured though white enamel was often, though not universally used to commemorate children and unmarried adults.



The inscription set in gold letters against the black enamelled scrolls of the ring's band tells us that it commemorates Richard Pett who died on the 23 February 1765, aged 76. Richard Pett was described in the Gentleman's Magazine of that year as a 'master cooper at the Victualling Office, worth10 000 l.' He was buried at St Andrews, Plymouth, Devon. The Victualling Office was an important element of the success of the British Navy and the wider British economy, ensuring that ships were provided with safe and adequate provisions using a state controlled buying system. The Victualling Commissioners were responsible for providing sufficient supplies of food and drink to keep the sailors and officers of the Navy fit and healthy enough to fight. Victualling yards based in important ports and dockyards such as Plymouth where Richard Pett was master cooper, were expected to supply preserved foodstuffs designed to last weeks or even months: ship's biscuit, salted beef, salted pork, pease, oatmeal, butter, cheese and beer. Each sailor was allocated a ration of a gallon of beer per day, an important addition to the diet and a vital source of liquid when fresh water could not be supplied. Most of these items were transported and stored in casks, which were themselves manufactured by the Board in large numbers at its on-site cooperages which were also responsible for maintaining and repairing casks, barrels and drums. In addition, the Victualling Yards provided fresh meat, bread and other items to ships stationed in port.



Richard Pett held his position in Plymouth Docks from 27 October 1751 and he worked throughout the period of the Seven Years War (1753-63). By the time he turned 67 in March 1761, he was the oldest working officer in the Victualling Office across all the ports. His career as a master cooper made him a considerable fortune. His will left his estate in Plympton St Mary to his second wife Thomasine (born Westlake and married in 1748) and bequests to the four children of his first marriage to Susannah Smith (married in 1725) whilst his eldest son Richard gained the residue of the estate. In addition he left instructions for memorial rings worth five guineas to three of his friends and cheaper rings to the parish vicars and lecturer listed in his will thus:



“I bequeath to John Arthur, William Easton and Samuel James five Guineas each, which I Desire them to accept of to buy a Mourning ring each to wear in Remembrance of me.” “To the Vicars of St Andrew's Parish and Charles' Parish in Plymouth, and also to the Lecturer of St Andrew's Parish Two Guineas each to buy them rings in remembrance of me.”



John Arthur is mentioned in his will as 'my friend John Arthur of Plymouth, beer brewer' and it seems likely that Pett knew him both as a friend and in a professional capacity.



His will doesn't specify the design for these rings. The ring now in the Museum may be one of the five guinea rings or, given its unusual and decorative design, may have been made for a family member. The centre of the ring is set with an amethyst set in gold, surrounded by four rose-cut diamonds, set, as was usual, in silver.







Bibliographic References
  • Dazzling Desire. How human desires manifest themselves as diamonds. Catalogue of the exhibition at MAS I Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp, 18 October 2017 to 14 January 2018. Antwerp: MAS Books, 2017. ISBN 9789085867531
  • Crisp, F.A. Memorial Rings. Charles the Second to William the Fourth. In the Possession of Frederick Arthur Crisp; privately printed, 1908
  • The Gentleman's Magazine; Vol XXXV, 1765, p. 146
  • Buchet, Christian; The British Navy, Economy and Society in the Seven Years War, 2013, p.95
  • Will at the National Archives PROB 11/ 908/52
Collection
Accession Number
M.159-1962

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdJuly 10, 2006
Record URL