Antique Jewelry: From Hummingbird Heads to Poison Rings

Antique jewelry is nice, but sometimes it can be gruesome. You never know when you'll come across a piece of jewelry at an estate sale that is made of a glass eye, a bone, or a long-dead animal. Jewelry historian Monica McLaughlin tells us about some of the stranger items she's found.

The Victorians were obsessed with natural history, so I get where they were coming from, but creating earrings and pins from the heads of hummingbirds is too much for me. They weren’t only used in jewelry, either: Feathers and entire taxidermied birds of all sorts were used extensively as hat decorations during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Millions of birds were slaughtered in North and South America and elsewhere to meet the demand. I saw an image on Twitter recently of an American hat from 1890 that’s in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a bonnet, and it has three green budgies just sort of stuck to it. The Met has a ton of other hats that also include birds, but in those, the birds are at least a little more artfully arranged so you can see the aesthetic thought behind them. But the budgie bonnet is just awful.

There's also jewelry meant to be a personal connection between lovers, jewelry meant to hide things, pornographic jewelry, and the occasional memento mori. Read an interview with McLaughlin and see a gallery of all kinds of antique jewelry at Collectors Weekly.  

(Image credit: The Hairpin, via AndyRowan.com)


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