Victorians Mourned with Vulcanized Rubber Jewellery

Within the Victorian period, mourning was greater than an emotional expertise; it was a business powerhouse. “The nineteenth century noticed the emergence of a brand new financial exercise, the ‘funeral business,’” write Stuart Rawnsley and Jack Reynolds.

The actions of a complete collection of craftsmen and merchants—drapers, stonemasons, joiners and cupboard makers, caterers, hackney carriage proprietors, coachmakers, gardeners and florists—had been stimulated. A wholly new occupation—that of undertaker—got here into existence.

The bereaved had been obligated to put on black, in some instances for as much as a full 12 months, so a loss of life within the household may imply an entire new wardrobe. As literature scholar Rebecca N. Mitchell explains, it was an age of mourning warehouses, with huge buying facilities like Jay’s Mourning Emporium of London able to package the bereaved out in every little thing from the plain, black matte robes appropriate for deep mourning to fashionably striped “quarter-mourning” apparel.

It was the exact same tactile qualities that we now affiliate with “cheapness” and “tackiness” that made rubber such a great substitute.

The necessities of mourning even prolonged to underwear. As one Buckingham palace maid of honor bemoaned:

I’m in despair about my garments, no sooner have I rigged myself out with good tweeds than we’re plunged into the deepest mourning…It’s a lesson, by no means to purchase something however black.

Dour although they had been, the accoutrements of mourning may very well be fairly lovely: robes of smooth black moire silk, shadowy veils, and coils of chestnut hair set into golden rings. For jewellery, jet was notably prized. A silky black stone shaped from the fossilized stays of historic driftwood, jewelers carved into delicate chains, earrings, and pins, like drops of glimmering oil hanging across the our bodies of the bereaved.

However not everybody may afford jet. Center- and lower-class Victorians availed themselves of a stunning substitute: black rubber. Sure, the Victorians wore rubber chains as a somber image of bereavement. Maybe it helped that the fabric was dignified with the names suggestive of treasured stones: they referred to as it “ebonite” or “vulcanite.”

Extra importantly, the vulcanization of rubber was a brand new and considerably mysterious course of. As Cai Guise-Richardson writes, “Producers knew little about how vulcanization labored chemically earlier than 1900.” The curing of rubber to create secure varieties, each elastic and non-elastic, referred to as for a fancy mixture of chemical substances and warmth. “Rubber was an affordable business to enter,” observe Richardson, however “it remained a simple business to exit as properly,” due to the uncertainties of the therapy.

Within the nineteenth century, vulcanized rubber didn’t have fairly the identical industrial associations it does at present (Richardson factors out that Goodyear’s 1844 vulcanization patent utility centered on a textile manufacturing approach, not the tires and belts related to the title at present). From the vantage level of the twenty-first century, a vulcanite head decoration with a thick, wraparound chain would possibly recommend an meeting line; however to the Victorians, it could have hinted on the solemn dignity of jet. Equally, a black cross, with “plasticky” molded roses, now appears to be like like one thing which may drop out of a Gashapon. However jet, like rubber, is surprisingly mild and heat to the contact. It was the exact same tactile qualities that we now affiliate with “cheapness” and “tackiness” that made rubber such a great substitute.

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Mitchell argues that the prevailing obsession with mourning was mired in uncomfortable contradictions. On the one hand, not sporting mourning garments would recommend a disturbing lack of feeling. Then again, expressing your grief appropriately required fairly a little bit of buying—a suspiciously pleasurable and sensual expertise. Because the satirical journal Punch put it, “the mourning fashions are actually so fairly that the lack of a husband is not the horrible calamity it as soon as was.”

The embrace of rubber jewellery appears to exhibit those self same contradictions: on the one hand, it was an affordable option to mimic costly fashions—a type of grief-stricken “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.” Then again, the ornaments evoked a seductive sensuality. Maybe it was that heat that jet and rubber each share—their virtually flesh-like high quality—that made them so comforting for individuals mourning the lack of a beloved one’s contact.

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