A posy ring is a handmade band that is inscribed with a short, sentimental expression, or ‘posy’, derived from the Middle English word for ‘poetry’. Rings of this type were often used as betrothal and wedding rings and are the precursors to the modern concept of wedding bands. These heart felt tokens were most popular in the 16-18th centuries and were given by both men and women, not just as expressions of love, but also given to friends and family members and were used to commemorate important occasions.
The dating of posy rings is largely based on the style of script, since most lack any other form of ornamentation. Around 1350 the style of lettering took the form of the rounded capitals, known as Lombardic script, this was followed by black letter script in the mid 14th century. The mid 16th century brought the change in script to Roman capitals, and finally italic script was generally used from circa 1650 to the 19th century. Some rare examples also have maker’s stamps which give us even more information about the piece for example ring reference 16829 ‘Let virtue be thy guide’ was made by the goldsmith John Harvey in circa 1750 on Kirby Street in London- a street which is only one street away from Berganza!
The language used on posy rings also changed over time. Early examples of posy rings dating to the 14th and 15th century, are most often in Latin or French, the two widely spoken languages of the time. The inscriptions were found on the exterior of the hoop, whilst later examples from the 17th century onward typically bear English inscriptions on the interior of the band. It was thought that wearing the words next to the skin enhanced their meaning and one can imagine the thrill of wearing a secret message hidden to all except oneself.
The rarest posy rings have ornate engraved exteriors, often with repeating floral and foliate decoration, and sometimes also are embellished with enamel. We have a very rare engraved and enamelled example, reference 19816 ‘If regarded tis rewarded’ which depicts a heart in between two hands. Enamelled detail makes a posy ring even rarer as enamel is not durable and is easily liable to chipping over time.
Though many are inscribed with stock phrases such as ring reference 19578 ‘My love to thee endless be’ or reference 19574 ‘I give it to thee to think on me’, which were chosen from the popular literature of the time, such as chap books (pamphlets), others are matchless and were composed by an individual- these one off examples command the highest of prices. A few of our more unusual posies are inscribed with ‘It is my love’ reference 19577, ‘Be ever content’ 18277 and ‘Variety is the beauty of ye world’ 19289. Of course the length of the motto was dictated by the space within the band and surely the brevity of the sentiment enhances the charm of the heart felt message? Samuel Pepys notes in his diary on 3rd February 1660 that while waiting for his lamb to cook, he helped his cousin Roger compose the posy for his wife’s wedding ring. The popularity of posy rings is also attested to by the frequent mentions in Shakespeare’s plays for example ‘is this a prologue or the posy of a ring?’ Hamlet Act 3 Scene 2.
By the late 18th century the posy ring fell out of fashion, perhaps due to the introduction of the Wedding Ring Act which made hallmarking compulsory and so took up the precious space within the band for the posy. Today these remarkable and rare rings are highly sought after and very collectible. Here at Berganza we have amassed one of the largest collections of these unusual rings in the world outside of certain museums, notably the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Why don’t you take a look at our unrivalled collection and choose a unique treasure, full of history, to take home today?