A Gift of Love and Laughter

Image generously granted public domain license by its creator, Alexandra Constantin.
Image generously released into the public domain by its creator, Alexandra Constantin.

My father was a pure-dee nut. Although he could be very serious when the situation warranted, most of the time he engaged in the kind of subtle silliness that kept everyone’s eyes in a perpetual, disbelieving roll…accompanied by the type of laughter that gets away from you despite your best effort to keep a straight face. The trait must have been genetic, because he passed it on to all four of his offspring.

One Christmas shortly after he returned from a tour in Viet Nam, my father’s sense of humor took a turn for the exasperating. As usual, the six of us sat around the tree waiting for Momma to open the last gift: her present from Daddy. A child of the Great Depression, Daddy usually gave Momma something practical—no less loved, but practical.

On that Christmas, quiet and well-behaved for once, we kids focused rapt attention on the mammoth present in Momma’s lap. Also a child of the Great Depression, she always unwrapped gifts with great care, in order to save the paper and ribbons for use the following year. Momma folded the paper and set it aside, then lifted the lid from the box. Inside lay another wrapped package. She dutifully—and carefully—unwrapped that box, too. Yet another wrapped parcel emerged. And so it went, for what seemed like fifty layers. With each new layer, Momma and all four of us kids gave Daddy one of those ducked-chin, cocked-brows looks that said “I’ll bet you think you’re funny, don’t you?”

Not in the least affected by our disapproval, Daddy continued grinning and chuckling.

Finally, Momma opened the last box. Inside was a worn-out combat boot she thought she’d disposed of months ago.

My siblings and I are lucky our eyes didn’t stick at the apex of an enormous, simultaneous roll. The synchronized groan shook the rafters.

Lips pinched but curved the tiniest bit at the corners, Momma speared Daddy with an undisguised “I’ll kill you when the children aren’t watching” look and reluctantly reached inside the bedraggled boot. From the deepest, darkest recesses of the toe, she withdrew a tiny, elegant box.

Momma's ringA moment frozen in time will remain in my memory long past eternity. Inside the box was a beautiful ring. Diamonds and deep-blue sapphires sparkled with a thousand points of light. Daddy gently slipped the gift onto Momma’s trembling finger.

I hardly ever saw my mother cry, but tears trickled down her cheeks that morning.

Momma and Daddy are gone now, but the ring and the memories will live forever. That sparkly Christmas present from long ago, and the memory of its giving, are among my most cherished possessions.

May your holidays be filled with the little irritations all families inflict upon one another. Even those—perhaps especially those—are priceless gifts.


Jewelry Design in Victorian Times


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Kate Bridges-web2Hello everyone! It’s nice to be back at Petticoats & Pistols!
In my current novel, WELCOME TO WYOMING, both the hero and heroine are jewelry experts, therefore I had to learn a lot about the topic while writing it. Or at least, enough so that the two of them could carry on an intelligent conversation.
First, a bit about the book so you understand where I’m coming from. WELCOME TO WYOMING is an accidental mail-order bride story. Seeking justice for his murdered colleagues, Detective Simon Garr has gone undercover as infamous jewel thief Jarrod Ledbetter. All is going to plan, until he finds out that Jarrod’s mail-order bride, Natasha O’Sullivan, is on her way to Wyoming. Simon can’t afford to jeopardize his cover, and is left with only one option – he must marry the woman!
“Victorian jewelry” refers not only to that produced in England during Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901, but also to the jewelry produced in North America during this time.
Glass or “paste” jewels had been used for centuries in design, and beautifully done in brilliant colors. Some say that glass jewelry got its nickname “paste” because the glass beads were often glued into place, sometimes with colored glues to match. Another theory is that the nickname came about because during creation, glass was molten and extruded like “pasta”.
kbookShady jewelers might substitute glass or “paste” in one or two pieces of an heirloom set, and this would go undiscovered until the piece was appraised or broken up to create new pieces. Pearl fakes were made of luster-coated glass beads.
One of the ways my heroine detects fake gemstones versus real is using their different thermal properties. When she holds the gemstones against her cheek, they heat up very quickly, indicating fake glass stones, whereas real gems would remain cool.
Low necklines weren’t common during this time except in ball gowns. Therefore Victorians (and Americans) wore high lace collars that fit nicely with the use of pins, brooches, and clips. Or their blouses and jackets were open over a lacy chemisette where they would drape a beautiful, long necklace.
Lockets were romantic and popular. Sometimes they were worn beneath clothing to protect the sentimental keepsake from public eyes. Lockets often contained painted miniatures of a person, or a lock of hair.
Rings were popular, and Queen Victoria sometimes wore one on each finger. Cameos were popular as necklaces, hair ornaments, rings, and bracelets.
The diamond mines of South Africa opened in 1870, and diamonds were then only available to the rich. Only married women and those of a certain age were the ones deemed appropriate wearers of online casino diamonds and gems. Girls and young, unmarried women wore simple items such as crosses, pearls, and chains. Most men didn’t wear much jewelry during this time other than pocket watches, fobs, and lapel pins.
When Queen Victoria lost her beloved husband, Prince Albert, she went into mourning for decades. One unexpected result was that she wore not only black clothing, but she made black jewelry very popular even among those people not in mourning! Her influence reached America. There was an abundance of black materials used, such as Jet, Onyx, and French Jet.
Specific gems had specific meanings. Intimate messages were spelled out in jewelry. For example, the first letter of each gemstone would be phcccused to spell out the message. They might use “P” in pearl, “E” in emerald, “A” in Amethyst, “D” in diamond, and so on. Pieces could spell out words such as Mother, Dear, etc. Several countries practiced this “secret message” technique. I use a similar detail in my novel.
Different symbols meant different things. For example, Ivy=fidelity or marriage, Serpent=eternal love, Daisy=innocence, Mistletoe=kiss, Horseshoe=good luck.
Up until 1854 in England, the legal standards for gold were 18ct and 22ct. After 1854, gold standards were lowered to include 15ct, 12ct, and 9ct. Gold and silver mines discovered in America in the mid-1800s reduced the price of gold and silver, and in many cases, increased the quality.

Are you surprised to learn something about jewelry you didn’t know? Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry that means something special to you?


 Reference sources: Old Sacramento Living History Museum, Antique Jewelry University

Messy Brushes, Big Hair and A Strange Form of Art

Vicki LogoI can’t decide if the topic of this blog is interesting or just plain gross. My nose wrinkles when I think about it. I get itchy. My neck prickles. I don’t get this old Victorian practice at all, and it strikes me as too weird to explain.

This fascination started during a chat with my mother-in-law. We were looking at some of her treasures, things that have been in her family for a long time. One of those items was something I couldn’t identity. Hair receiver blue

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I don’t know what it’s called,” she answered. “But women used it to save hair they pulled from their brushes.”

My eyebrows shot up. “Why would they save it?”  (Anything that comes out of my hairbrush goes in the trash or down the toilet.)  

Neither of us knew, so I did some googling and discovered Victorian hair receivers, “ratts” and the lost art of hair jewelry. hair receiver 3

In Victorian times, just about every woman had a hair receiver on her dressing table. She also had a lot of hair. After brushing it, she’d cull the broken strands from the brush and put them in the container.  Hair receivers were typically made of porcelain, glass, wood or celluloid. They sat in plain sight and were generally quite pretty.  They’re most easily identified by the finger-sized hold in their lids, designed to allow a woman to push through the hair.

Hair receivers kept a dressing table clean and free from loose strands, but what do you do with the hair? Commonly, the collected hair was used to make pin cushions. The wad could be quite dense, and the oil on the hair had a lubricating effect on the pins. The hair could also be used to make small pillows.  The soft texture gave it an advantage over pin feathers, which could be prickly.

hair receiver girlThe collected hair had another common use. A woman’s hair was considered “her crowning glory.” As a result, Victorian women had elaborate hairstyles. To get the fullness and volume, they used “ratts” (sometimes spelled rats).  A ratt was made by stuffing a hairnet with hair, sewing it shut and inserting it into the elaborate coif.  A ratt, roughly the size of a potato, gave a Victorian woman her trademark “Big Hair.”

A lot of us probably have a lock of hair in a scrap book. I’ve got a snip from my oldest son’s first haircut. In Victorian times, this sentimental practice went far beyond a snip or two in a locket.  “Hair art” might have been the “scrapbooking” of its day.  It was considered a suitable occupation for young ladies and gave rise to a variety of interesting creations.hair on chain

Mourning brooches were common. With high infant mortality rates and the devastation of the Civil War, death was very much present. Jewelry made from the hair of a lost loved one was seen as a fitting memorial. Friends and family members often exchanged sentimental tokens. The hair used in hair art didn’t typically come from hair receivers. It was carefully selected for color and texture and had to be straight to get the desired effect. Hair jewelry is deserves a blog of its own. 

So what do you think? Are hair receivers gross or useful?  I’m still on the fence, but I’m in awe of women who made such good use of something I’d have thrown away.

19th Century Bling ~ Watch Chains & Fobs




My 96 ½ year old maternal grandmother is a pack rat. We discovered this when, at her insistence, the family began cleaning out her home and readying it to sell.

After three days of sorting, my sister, mother and I sat down to go through her jewelry boxes. The memories were fun – the bird and flower and dragonfly pins she always wore when teaching because her kindergarten and first grade students loved them. [The articulated owl was my favorite.] We found several cameos [see my August 7 post Carved in Stone–or Shell]. And pearls, of all lengths. Seems GGG-Great Grandmother Grace loves pearls.

In a box marked “Keepsakes” we found hat pins and buttons and old marbles. And a watch fob. The card with it says it belonged to GGG’s father, my Great Grandfather Ole, a Norwegian wheat farmer from North Dakota.

The chain is nothing fancy but there is a bit of bling on it that brought a wonderful surprise. The square gold locket fob hanging from the center held an old photo of my Great Grandmother Julia.

The find got me thinking: what kind of bling would you find on a gentleman’s dressing table in the 1800s?

A fancy button waiting to be sewn back onto a vest. We found a few of those, military coat buttons mostly, carefully pinned to cards identifying the owners.

Cufflinks of gold, perhaps declaring the gentleman’s membership in an organization like the Masons.

man-wearing-watch-with-fobThe most common bit of bling would likely be a pocket watch and chain, that extra little something that showed a man’s taste, his position, and sometimes offered a glimpse into his life.

The pocket watch has been around since the 1500s. Originally a status symbol only the very rich could afford, by the 19th century most anyone who wanted one could buy one.

Attached to the pocket watch would be a chain, one end secured to his clothing, the other to the watch. Most commonly, the chain would hook through a button hole on his vest or coat, leaving the chain to drape across his middle to the pocket containing the watch. The chain was functiohair-chain-w-watch2nal–it kept his watch attached to his person should it accidentally slip from the pocket–but it could also be jewelry.

My Great Grandfather’s watch chain was made of human hair. I assume the chain was braided by Julia for Ole–perhaps it was a gift for him when they were betrothed. I can imagine him, all spiffed up and looking proud, with that chain and fob adorning his vest.

What is a fob, you ask? Fobs are medallions that would hang from the end of a gentleman’s watch chain. Their purpose was to help pull the watch from their vest pocket.

They could be made of the same material as the chain: gold, silver, hair, etc. Here’s a good example – the fob is the small length of braided hair chain hanging by the button finding.

See the little loop at the end? From there the gentleman could hang almost any bit of bling he wished.

The fob could display the family crest.fob_with_crest_and_eagle2501


Or be covered with gold and jewels.cameo-watch-fob-1890s



It could be a locket, like Great Grandfather Ole’s. Or perhaps a cameo.






There were Double Albert chains, named for Queen Victoria’s husband, with a fob hanging from the center.

Double Albert watch chain


And the fob wasn’t an exclusively male piece of jewelry. Women commonly wore very ornate little fobs such as decorated balls or baskets of flowers or lockets. 

In Victorgarmentclip2ian times, garment clip chains were worn by women on the pocket of a blouse or waist band of a skirt and were worn by men clipped directly on the trouser pocket or vest pocket.

Women also wore their watches on long chains, or slides. The slide was a very long chain with a slide in the middle that could be adjusted to the length that looked best with the lady’s garment. The slide itself could be engraved, or decorated with seed pearls or small gemstones. ladiesslide2


Or perhaps she preferred to wear a pin.watch pin


The possibilities were only limited by the wearer’s taste and financial means.



Does anyone you know wear a pocket watch? What’s the most unusual watch fob you’ve seen?



Carved in Stone—or Shell







I have always loved cameos. I received one as a birthday gift years ago, white carving on a brown background set in an antique gold broach, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of jewelry. Not because I wear it all the time, but because of the history of the gift. My history.

Recently my mother, sister and I were sorting through my grandmother’s jewelry. Among the dozens of bird and animal pins—she loved wearing them for her kindergarten students—were several cameos. Some were plastic, others looked to be rather old. Since GGG (she signed her cards this way—stands for Great Grandmother Grace) didn’t collect fine jewelry, the old pieces wecameo-antique-victorian-sardonyx-1880re probably her mother’s. Looking at those wonderful pieces got me thinking about the history of the cameo.

The cameo is much older than I thought. Though the origins are still under dispute, most think the word “Cameo” comes from the Hebrew word KAMEA, meaning a charm or amulet, or from the Latin CAMMAEUS, meaning “engraved gem”.

Historians believe this carving tradition came from Alexandria, Egypt, nearly three centuries before the birth of Christ. Early Greek and Roman carvings featured images of gods and goddesses, mythological scenes and biblical events. Some immortalized rulers or heroes. During the era of Helen [323BC – 31/30BC], women wore cameos depicting a dancing Eros as an invitation to perspective lovers.

They’ve been used on military uniforms, rings, watch fobs, pins, amulets, vases, cups and dishes. They became a collector’s item during the reign of Queen Elizabeth to demonstrate status and wealth.

queen-victoria1Queen Victoria popularized the cameos made of sea shells. Napoleon wore a cameo to his own wedding and founded a school in Paris to teach the art of cameo carving to young apprentices.cameo-coral2


Stone, shell and coral are the materials most often used for the carvings. In stones, you’ll find agate and less often, turquoise.


Shell is probably the most commonly used material, because of it’s availability cameo-strombus-giga-shellto carvers in all locations and financial situations. Among the shells used are Cornelian, Cassis Madagascariensis, Empire Helmet or Conch, Sardonyx (that’s the material in the pink amulet above), and Strombus Giga.


cameo-antique-victorian-shellThe cameos we’re most familiar with show a young woman, hair and dress appropriate to the period of the carving, in various colors. 

In the 1840s, the goddess Athena cameo-athena-french-1840was a popular subject.

They even carved cameos of such things as peacocks and horses.cameo-antique-ivory-peacocks 




Here’s one of my favorites from my research:




I still don’t know the origin of the lovely pieces in my grandmother’s collection, but that doesn’t matter so much. I appreciate them for their beauty and the history they portray—my history.

Do any of you own cameos? Do you know where they came from?