Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good Luck and Pirate Jinxes

This Johnson Smith Good Luck Ring (ad from 1922) intrigued me - because what it is, of course, is a skull ring. Skull rings were a form of memento mori jewelry created and worn to remember the deceased and literally to remind oneself of one's mortality (which is, after all, part of the original meaning of All Hallows' Eve). There are some spectacularly beautiful Georgian and Victorian skull rings here and here, for example. The 1922 ring looks a little bit happier than some of the other skull rings in old ads, and has curious horn-like eyebrows.

What is interesting about the novelty skull rings from the early 20th century is their detachment from this original meaning - in these ads, all from Popular Mechanics, the ring is supposed to be lucky or to frighten other people or, as in the 1952 ad, have something to do with a "Pirate Jinx."

The earliest novelty skull ring ad I found was from October 1912 (ad at right), so was possibly a Halloween tie-in. It was made by Acme H. House of Milwaukee and was a "handsome up to date ring"  for "sporting men" guaranteed to "scare the timid." What sort of sporting men would have worn this, do you think?

The "Skull Ring" on the left was advertised in 1917. The copy states that "women won't like it, but for men or boys it is a great novelty." 

In October 1947, Billboard advertised these "Superior" rings (for which read : "Cheap and Inferior"), including a multiple-snake ring and a skull ring. The skull eyes came in assorted colors and even though it was "truly a novel ring" you could buy them for "3.30 a dozen" (which hardly sounds novel, really).

The yellowed ad on the left is from 1952, by which time it is being called both a Skull Ring and a Pirate Jinx Ring. "Sterling silver" and yet only $1.98 - there's a Pirate Jinx right there.

I had no idea where the Johnson Smith novelties ad was going to take me when I started yesterday's post - but that is part of the enormous fun of writing about history and popular culture, and being able to pursue what seems interesting. This seems a bit more like a Dime Museum post, but it's staying here anyway.

Tomorrow starts National Novel Writing Month - which means that once again I'll be writing a first draft of what I hope will be, after 3 previous NaNos, a decent mystery novel (I have 3 bad first drafts and I don't need to have a 4th, since I don't intend to use them as dining room chairs). I will still be posting here, because I'm certainly going to need some laughs - but if I miss the odd day, you'll know why. And if I don't answer comments sometimes, you'll know why, too - apologies in advance.


JD at I Do Things said...

Cool post! Interesting that the skull design (and price) didn't change from 1912 to 1917.

I wonder if the kids today know their skull history.

Happy Halloween!

Michael said...

I think one of my parents had one of these rings. It sat in a small bank check box on a shelf above the washer and drier. Sometimes, I would convince them to take the box down and let me see in it. The ring was my favorite doodad in there. I remember that the ring was gold tone and had red "ruby" (read red "glass" here) eyes. Thank you for prompting that memory to the forefront this morning. Happy Halloween!

Lidian said...

JD - I know I didn't know my skull history, so I'm thinking the kids may not.

Michael - How cool that your parents had one! It is a shame that you don't have it; I know that there are some things that I wish I had, that got lost from the parental closets.

Tori Lennox said...

Scaring the timid just doesn't sound very sporting to me.

Tammy said...

I found you via your blog!

Amy said...

kinda morbid really, a skull ring is good luck? very strange...

Lidian said...

Tori - No, it isn't. And assuming that all women won't like them and that all men will is also not cool.

Tammy - Hi and welcome! I will go check out your blog too :)

Amy - I thought it was very weird too. I can't imagine how they worked that one out!

JessQ said...

Hope you had a wonderful time with your Halloween Party. Our "party" was spent receiving late voter applicants who wanted to beat the deadline up to midnite of October 31, 2009 so they can vote come May 10, 2010 National and Local Elections here in the Philippines.

VetTech said...

My big brother had this skull ring!

Happy Halloween! Don't forget it's not too late to enter the Superficial Ghoulery (gallery) Costume Contest for your chance to win $100 cash. I mean it doesn't even have to be a GOOD costume... Hope to see you there!

Jessica Cangiano said...

Spookily wonderful post. I can't say as though I've ever seen these rings before, but they do stir up a certain sense of fear - if only because it's scary to think anyone actually thought such a ring would grant them good luck ;D

I hope you have a fang-tastic Halloween, my friend! Best wishes for a splendid November!
♥ Jessica

Bill said...

Hey, put the post here instead of the Dime Museum (where it belongs).
I won't say a word. No lip from me.
I'm afraid you'll put a pirate jinx on me with one of those damned skull rings. Call me timid.