Antique Jewellery · Garnet

The Death of Edward Gamman, Kansas, 1887

I follow antique jewellery everywhere – online auctions, local auctions, antiques fairs, antique shops, Etsy and even eBay. While the aesthetic, the precious metal, the gemstones are all important when looking at antiques, what I personally find far more fascinating is considering who wore the jewellery and why, and giving the piece some social context. Some jewellery is easier to study than others, so I was most intrigued when this ‘lover’s eye’ ring popped up for sale on eBay UK this week.

Lover's eye mourning ring.

Lover’s eye jewellery became popular in the Georgian era, in the late 1700s. Typically the jewellery included a watercolour painting on ivory of a loved one’s eye or eyes, and the painting could be set in a ring, brooch, bracelet, pendant – any jewellery really. The edges of the painting were often richly decorated, as this one has been with garnets and the lover’s eye jewellery pieces were used to celebrate love or mourn a death.

According to the dated inscription on the back, this particular ring is not quite as old as the Georgian times, it is however a sentimental ring created to mourn the death of a man named Edward Gamman, who shuffled off this mortal coil on 4 Sept 1887, aged only 26 years.

Mourning ring from Kansas USA, 1887
Lover’s eye ring via https://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/krisbucki

Searching the England & Wales death records for Edward Gamman didn’t bring any results for a man of the correct age, frustrating as with inscriptions there’s always the risk that they have been added much later to add false provenance to the piece. So I started to search further afield via ancestry.com, and that’s where I first came across this gravestone in Akron Cemetery, Cowley County, Kansas, USA.

Edward Gamman's Grave
The grave of Edward Gamman in Akron Cemetery, Cowley County, Kansas, USA, Space B, Lot 112. Source: findagrave.com

The transcriber and photographer of the grave has read the date of death as Sep 14 1887, but I believe that to be an error. Looking closely at the inverted photo, I think she has mistaken the ‘t’ at the end of Sept, for a ‘1’. I am pretty certain we have found our young man.

Now on to the ring itself: it’s a UK size Q / USA size 8.5 according to the eBay listing, so a slightly larger than average finger size by today’s standards. I am going to take a leap here and suggest that the ring was worn by Edward’s mother (or grandmother or aunt) rather than a younger fiance or wife.

Lover's eye ring from USA 1887
Lover’s eye ring via https://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/krisbucki

I thought I would add this post to the blog firstly because it’s interesting, but also because there may be people out there researching the Gamman family line in Kansas. If you are and you happen upon this blog post, a little piece of your puzzle has definitely landed here in England. The ring made in memoriam of Edward’s death is at the time of writing up to £1060 and set to rise as the auction reaches a close later this evening.

If you have any more info about Edward Gamman, his death certificate for example or details of where the family lived, loved and worked (I am assuming from the jewellery and the headstone that they were reasonably well off people), please add to the comments. Given that he died 132 years ago, there will be no one alive today who remembers Edward, but the jewellery made in his honour lives on! I would love to add to its story here.

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