News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

June 15, 2014

HISTORICAL TREASURE: More to the history of jet than most realize

This beautiful necklace in the Vigo County Historical Society Museum’s collection is associated with customs surrounding the prolonged period of mourning that widowed Victorian women had to endure. But there is more to the history of jet than most people realize.

Jet is a brown coal, or fossilized wood of ancient trees. The resulting mineral is found in many places around the world, including Spain and England. Many cultures throughout human history used jet in their jewelry. In the Middle Ages, jet was thought to keep evil spirits away so it was used liberally in ecclesiastical jewelry. This industry, centered in Germany, prospered for a long time before declining during the Reformation.

In the 18th and 19th century, the popularity of jet took a serious turn, becoming a symbol of death and sorrow. When Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, died of typhus on Dec. 14, 1861, she allowed only jet jewelry to be worn at court. Society, following the queen’s example, created a culture and fashion of mourning that endured for the rest of her life (she died Jan. 22, 1901).

During Queen Victoria’s reign, the main source of high quality jet was the English town of Whitby. Jet came from simple mines that were dangerous to work, threatening to collapse at any time. An easier way to collect it was to patrol the local beaches for pieces of jet that washed up on shore.

Whitby jet was stronger than jet from other countries  so it could be carved into larger pieces of jewelry such as bracelets with big stones. And it was more resistant to cracking, easier to polish and held details in the jewelry well. Yet the high demand for jet encouraged the importation of softer, less expensive jet from Spain. This caused the jet industry in Whitby to go into a decline from which it has never recovered.

Today it is illegal to mine jet in Whitby as large sections of the town sit on top of seams where jet can be found. Today’s craftsmen in Whitby have to rely again on jet washed up on shore; it comes from the very same sea-battered cliffs.

However, this was not the end of jet being used as jewelry; witness the imitations (such as glass and plastic) that try to compete with it. So stop by the museum and see the real thing in person. As you view this beautiful necklace, keep in mind the last four lines of a poem written by a traveler who stopped for rest and refreshment at an English pub called the Jet Miners Arms:

“Still, fashions change, mayhap some day,

Again the craft will thrive,

And Yorkshire jet will ring the earth,

Black, flashing and alive.”

Historical Treasure

The Vigo County Historical Society’s museum is at 1411 S. Sixth St. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through

Sunday.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
History
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Raw: Airstrike Shatters Fragile Calm in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Fox Dons 'Bondage Strap' Skirt at Comic-Con Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Video Shows Smiling American Bomber in Syria Today in History for July 28th Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites
NDN Video
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity