- Museum number
Chain of twenty-four hand-made gold links in the form of cut-corner channelled oblongs, each inset with four dark, brown-black lengths of material with a cylindrical cross-section, probably elephant's hair. Four gold pellets bordered with twisted wire decorate the surface of the oblong links and between each is a stamped gold four-pointed flower-head, the centre formed of a gold pellet surrounded by small gold grains At the back of the flower-heads are four gold rings and further gold rings unite each element. The barrel-clasp is modern.
Height: 1.20 centimetres (link)
Length: 84.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text from catalogue of the Hull Grundy Gift (Gere et al 1984) no 428:
Scientific analysis has shown thatthe inlay is an organic material of cylindrical cross-section which has the appearance of elephant's har. The technique of inlayingelephant's hair into channels seems to be unusual, but the identification as elephant's hair has been strengthened by comparing the inlaid material with two documentary bracelets in the Victoria and Albert Museum: the bracelet illustrated in Fig. 29 (Indian Department, 03464 1.S; l 18.4cm; w 2.3cm) is one of a pair made up of stamped silver plaques in the form of elephants, joined together by five single strands of elephant's hair. They were acquired by the former Indian Museum in 1855, as 'Madras work', possibly from the Paris Exposition of that year. As the gold flowers and the use of pellets and twisted wire on the neck-chain do not correspond closely to Indian goldwork of the nineteenth century, it has been suggested that this chain was made in Europe, possibly earlier than the nineteenth century.
Because of the method of construction, there is no way of establishing whether the elephant's hair is the original inlay. Some of the lengths of hair are lifting out of the channels in some of the links and there are certain places where it is missing altogether. However, there is no trace of any earlier inlay in the now empty channels, which are unusually deep (too deep for enamel, niello, etc.) Although no exact parallels or even closely related pieces have been found for this chain, necklaces and chains of simple geometric design were fashionable as early as the seventeenth century. The Cheapside Hoard includes a variety of delicate chains with openwork links; for example the chain formed of rings of cut amethyst (see Cheapside 1928, col pl.II, no..A 14074). Comparison may be also be made with the necklace or chain worn by a lady portrayed in a panel painting of the early seventeenth century at Lullingstone Castle, Kent (Fig.28a&b), said to represent Elizabeth Burdett, wife of Sir Henry Hart. Whilst the depiction is not detailed enough to identify the material of which the chain is made, the use of delicate open-work links in the form of circles and rectangles is significant.
Documentary evidence exists, dating from at least the early seventeenth century, for the wearing of ornaments made either wholly or in part from stranded or woven hair. An early example occurs in the portrait dating from 1613 of Edward Sackville, 4th Earl of Dorset (1590-1652), attributed to William Larkin, now in the Ranger's House, Blackheath (see the Suffolk Collection 1974, no.4). The Earl is shown wearing a bracelet of plaited hair and a cluster of plaited hair-strands or 'earstrings' from one ear (for a discussion of the latter, see R. Marshall 1978, p.287). The 'show-strings' of this date which were worn round the neck or the wrist, often connected to a finger-ring, are depicted in the form of fine cord, bootlace, or, more rarely, a narrow ribbon. It is not impossible that these 'show-strings' could have been made from stranded or woven hair, and that the wearing of hair had become a fashionable form of jewellery by the seventeenth century. The possibility of jewellery set with elephant's hair having, for the wearer in the seventeenth century, an amuletic or prophilactic significance is an aspect that cannot be disregarded, though conclusive evidence can rarely be found. Surviving examples of documentary finger-rings with hoops inlaid with stranded or woven hair can be dated by memorial inscriptions or miniature portraits set in the bezel: for example, a gold finger-ring in the Victoria and Albert Museum (M.156-1962), with openwork enamel ornament underlaid with hair and an inscription dated 1661. Until a well-documented example of a comparable chain has been traced, the place of origin and the date must both remain conjectural.
- Not on display
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number