In the Memory of CP OE

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am devoting today to an article of jewelry I purchased several months ago, but have only just started wearing. When I purchased it I was rarely leaving the house except to run in the mornings so there weren’t many opportunities. However, it also seems so fragile (and special) that it took me awhile to get my head around wearing it even now that I find myself putting jewelry on again more frequently.

It was sold to me by a very thoughtful purveyor of jewelry on Instagram, @marsh.and.meadow. (Heather Hagans lives in the Midwest with her daughter Opal who appears, even at a young age, to have inherited her mother’s excellent eye as they travel the US trolling for items.) I began buying photographs from her on another account, but quickly morphed to jewelry as well. I have mentioned her in a prior jewelry post which can be found here. (A very wonderful Easter Bunny pin was one item featured, shown below, which I must dig out to sport over the next few weeks!)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

This type of memorial jewelry took hold in the 1800’s and exploded into popularity toward the end of the century. Queen Victoria honored the memory of her beloved husband Phillip by wearing mourning jewelry after his death in 1861 which helped to entrench the trend further. It gets very elaborate and decorative, but to the extent I am interested in it I like the most personal pieces.

I own a few other pieces of Victorian mourning jewelry. Most notably I have a larger gold brooch given to me by a close family friend. Our family histories entwine over several generations and somehow it feels appropriately like family to own and wear that piece, which does sport a superlative decorative bit of braided hair within.

I have also acquired two memorial rings (one with my initials!) as well that just sort of crossed my path, which maybe I will consider further in a future post. It isn’t something I actively collect, but these objects were so lovingly constructed I suppose I feel it honors the memories they hold for them to continue to be worn.

Front of pendant. The chain shown was made by a contemporary jeweler, Muriel Chastanet Jewelers in LA. Both Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

I purchased this item because it was especially interesting and for something that isn’t even two inches long it packs a lot of history. On one side of the piece is the inscription, In the MO RP OE. I believe it is an abbreviation for, In the memory of RP OE, so probably Rest in Peace OE? OE could be another Latin abbreviation, but I cannot find reference to it. (OB for example would mean died as a bachelor according to one article I read which also said that some of these references are hard to trace.)

This side has a tiny window revealing a small snippet of hair. It is a black enamel paint on gold, the sides are crimped, as is the decoration around the window. It has a bezel for it to be a pendant and I consider this the front of the piece and the direction outward that I display.

The back, or what I think of as the back, is more unusual and very touching. Etched into the gold in tiny script it states, WBB, Jr. returned home April 1 and then below another window, this time tiny hair is tightly braided decoratively, it reads Obt April 5th…1842.AE 23 yrs. 2. mos. WBB returned home (from where we wonder) and died four days later in 1842. Died from illness? Wounds? Accident? For me it is also the notation of the two months after 23 years that is notable – each day and moment was precious and noted.

Verso of pendant. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

The object has an outer hinge, but the tiny window for the braided hair also has a hinge so small you don’t see it at first. It is beautifully constructed and I can only imagine how the act of engaging someone to make this, designing it, and then wearing it must have been for the owner. I hope the act gave her some solace as did wearing it hopefully.

Frankly I am somewhat puzzled by my desire to own this piece, although it is undeniably beautiful it is sad. There was just something so poignant about it and how lovingly constructed and designed it is however that it reached out to me. I think for me these pieces are a reminder not only about honoring those who are gone and remembering them, but to remember to embrace the moment of today as well. Meanwhile I am the willing steward of them for this period of time.

Improvement and Excellence

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is both a jewelry and personal Pam post. Pictorama readers know that I love old jewelry and these months at home have introduced me to many new sellers, primarily on Instagram, several in Britain. (For a few of those past acquisition posts you can read here and here!) However, my fondness for jewelry runs deep, all the way back to childhood, and over time I have acquired a number of pieces that have great personal significance. Not always, but frequently when I acquire a new piece, I have the symbolism tugging at the back of my mind. (My photos do not do any of these objects justice, but the best I can manage on a overcast Sunday morning.)

As it happens, the first of these medals was purchased in honor of my (February) birthday, in ’20, just weeks before the shutdown here in New York City. I was dropping something off at the jeweler and took a bit of time to paw through the trays they keep stacked in their glass counters. The jeweler I have used for years, Cluster, is down in what New Yorkers call the Diamond District, a few blocks of Midtown in the forties around Seventh Avenue. They are housed in a rabbit warren of offices and other establishments on the high floor of an anonymous office building. It is difficult for two people to be together in the tiny space allotted to customers at the front of their workshop which is walled off with glass.

Horse cameo ring, my collection. Made by Muriel Chastanet Jewelers.

Two generations of the family worked there and I most often speak to the daughter, Robyn, although her father likes to come over and inspect what I am wearing or bringing in and comment on it. He is particularly fond of a ring I wear often with antique horse cameo. It is beautifully made by a friend on the west coast (Gizelle Strohkendl, who along with her sister Charley runs the Westwood Village shop, Muriel Chastanet, in Los Angeles which can be found on IG @murielchastanet_finejewelry and I have written about them before in a post here) and her dad likes to take it and study it a bit. If I am wearing my mother and grandmother’s diamond engagement ring and wedding band (they reset the diamonds in the engagement ring years ago) he takes them and cleans them while I wait and talk to Robyn. Right now they have a string of pearls I dropped off to be restrung in March of ’20. My timing at the office has been off to retrieve them and as a result Robyn and I have chatted on the phone a few times.

My collection. Pams-Pictorama.com.

Robyn showed me the little medal which proclaims Improvement. I had never seen one of these and I fell in love with it instantly. These are school medals, 9k I think, and I believe from the first half of the 20th century. I am sure their history is quite straightforward and maybe a reader can inform me, but I have been unable to really find out much about them. And may I just say, who wouldn’t try to improve or excel with promise of such a glittering reward?

The Improvement pin is engraved with B.A.R. Jan. 1910 on the back. It has a makers mark which says, Lambert Bros NY at the bottom. One wonders who B.A.R. was and what area precisely s/he improved in so dramatically? The jeweler, Lambert Brothers, was 100 years in business from 1877-1977. According to the jewelry site, Kaleidoscope Effect:

Quality jewelry lasts, according to one of the oldest jewelry companies, Lambert Bros NYC founded in 1877 by Italians August Lambert and his brother. Later, Henry L. Lambert (1905 – 1983) headed his father and uncle’s business. Noteworthy, before joining the family company, he had studied gem cutting and jewelry design in Amsterdam and Paris.
The company’s store located at Third Ave at the corner of 58th street, sold bracelet watches, medals and a variety of fine jewelry – cigarette cases, pearl strings, rings, bracelets, cufflinks, brooches, earrings, chains and necklaces. Creating their jewelry pieces, the designers of the company used precious metals – gold, platinum, and sterling silver.

Using the name of the company I found one or two similar examples of medals, the sterling one for a firefighter was on the Worthpoint auction site and claims to possibly be haunted. (This long and interesting story can be found on their site here.) However, I did not find any similar school medals.

From the Worthpoint auction site – said to be haunted?

I have been looking for others in a casual way. Some similar items came up on IG, but if I remember correctly they were unengraved which didn’t quite suit. I asked one or two dealers to keep a weather eye for me and to give me a heads up if they found any for sale. However, I ultimately stumbled on my second one, Excellence, on eBay recently. I purchased it from a Canadian seller and vaguely assume it hails from the area originally. Unlike Improvement there is no maker’s mark on the back of this medal, just E.N. 1945. There is a tiny symbol at the bottom like an open book, but I don’t know what it means. This one is a tad more grand (Excellence being a bit more grand than Improvement perhaps?), but I especially like them together and look forward to having them on a lapel some day.

My collection. Pams-Pictorama.com.

Jewelry to me has always been worn to convey a message, either to myself or others. Usually the message is a bit less direct – my horse cameo ring is for good luck, my mother and grandmother’s rings to remind me constantly of the smart, great women in my life, an enormous bee is to celebrate industriousness and ingenuity – although Gizelle assured me that it is indeed a Queen bee! Symbols are important.

Ring from my collection. Made by Gizelle Strohkendl, Muriel Chastanet Jewelry, LA.
Music in sterling showed up on Etsy today while researching this! A further acquisition?

When I bought the first medal I was congratulating myself on my progress at work. My first year there was very difficult, the second year better but still very hard. It was halfway through the third year that I finally was feeling the swing of things and could see the early efforts I put in place paying off. It was my own little award to myself for the hard won changes I had wrought.

It is somewhat ironic that the medal that would show up next would be Excellence. As I look back on the more than 17 months and all accomplished I decided that I deserved Excellence as well.