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?
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.