Most people believe that poison rings were the invention of assassins and jealous
spouses, intended only as a rather fashionable means of secreting poison into the
drinks of their helpless victims. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Poison rings along with lockets and other vessel jewelry originated in India and the
Far East. As the art of metalworking advanced such jewelry was a natural
replacement for the bags and pouches people had worn in ancient times to secure
special and valuable objects. Also known as locket or box rings, examples of
poison rings can be found throughout Asia, Russia, the Mediterranean and the
Historians believe that poison rings found their way to Western Europe during the
early Middle Ages as part of the Holy Relic trade. These much sought after bits of
bone, teeth or hair, were believed to be actual parts of Christian Saints or Martyrs
and so were thought to grant the owner special connection with God as well as
protection from illness and bad luck. Although the majority of the Holy Relics were
hoarded in chapels and churches throughout Europe many lesser relics were
embedded in wax and set inside locket rings, making them perfect for everyday
wear. What could be more useful than a relic close at hand?
During the Renaissance poison rings became popular among the European
aristocracy. Like lockets they were given as love tokens and used to store images
of loved ones, locks of hair and other cherished keepsakes. Until the advent of
photography such images were hand painted miniatures and only affordable by the
extremely wealthy. Perhaps the most morbid use of poison rings arose during the
reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Jewelers started making coffin shaped locket rings
complete with skeletons and images of Death. Called funeral rings, they were given
to mourners as a memento of the departed.
Up through the 19th century finely made poison rings were prized for their beauty
and collected as curiosities. However, cheaper poison rings soon began to be
produced. Cast out of pewter, brass, copper and most recently plastic, they
became sort of the ultimate party favor and were given out at carnivals, birthday
parties and other special events.
Today poison rings are back in vogue, particularly amongst jewelry collectors and
enthusiasts. What could be more delightful than a ring with a secret?
The History of