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Ring Containing Charlotte Brontë’s Hair Discovered in Attic

The piece of mourning jewelry includes an inscription and a little door covering a plaited lock of the Jane Eyre author’s hair

(BBC)
smithsonian.com

Most of the things people find in their attics should probably stay in their attics. But one unidentified woman in the U.K. is glad she waded into the one that used to belong to her late father-in-law. There she stumbled across a ring that contained a lock of Charlotte Brontë’s hair.

Alison Flood at The Guardian reports that the plaited lock from the Jane Eyre author came to light during the latest episode of Antiques Roadshow. In the segment, filmed in Erddig, Wales, the woman explains that she came across it in a locked metal box with no key while clearing out her father-in-law's things. After going through “pots and pots of keys,” she finally found the right one to unlock it, but was disappointed when she found just a single ring inside. She couldn’t help but notice, however, that there was an inscription on the inside of the band. Using a magnifying glass to get a closer look, she made out the name Brontë and a date, in March 1855.

Taking to Google, she realized the inscription was a reference to Charlotte Brontë and the date she died. The ring had a hinge, too, and when she opened it, it a secret compartment revealed plaited hair. “I think it may be the hair of Charlotte Brontë,” she said while recounting the story to jewelry expert Geoffrey Munn.

Munn said there’s little reason to doubt ring’s authenticity. “It was a convention to make jewelry out of hair in the 19th century,” he said. “There was a terror of not being able to remember the face and character of the person who had died.”

Prior to photography, people wove bits of hair into all types of things, including rings, bracelets, necklaces, watches, cufflinks and many other items, Meredith Woerner at io9 explains. Brontë lived and wrote during the Victorian era, where there were particular rules and taboos about the jewelry. Different colors meant different things. For instance, pearls indicated that a child was being mourned. White enamel signified an unmarried, virgin. People said to be in deep mourning, the first two or three years after death, often wore mourning jewelry exclusively. As time passed, the color and variety of the jewelry changed.

Because the jewelry itself is common, Munn said the ring on its own would only be valued at about $32. But the association with the famous author bumps it up to about $26,000.

Ann Dinsdale, curator at the Brontë Society & Brontë Parsonage Museum in West Yorkshire, tells Flood that the museum is potentially interested in acquiring the piece calling it a “lovely addition” if they can afford the price tag.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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