Mourning Cards

The average lifespan in the 19th century was approximately 50 years. Death followed disease, hunger, accidents and war. Child mortality rates were especially high. The death of Queen Victoria’s husband, whom she mourned from 1861 until her death in 1901, ushered in a strict formality in mourning etiquette.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Notification of the death of a relative or friend was made by 4½” x 3” funeral cards. Introduction was made with the phrase In Affectionate Remembrance or Sacred to the Memory of followed by the name of the deceased, the dates of birth and death, accompanied by a poem or biblical verse. Although the wording was simple, the artwork was formed with elaborate embossing which was rife with symbolism. The examples of mourning cards in this post contain the following symbols.

  • Angel holding a wreath represents the memory of a loved one
  • Bible is a symbol of resurrection through the scripture
  • Patonce cross( refers to any cross which has expanded ends) represents faith, wisdom and charity
  • Cross and Crown symbols together represent the reward of eternal life after death for those who believe in the crucified Savior
  • Doves: The white dove is symbolic of purity and spirituality
  • Drapes represent the partition between life and death
  • Lamp represents the flame of life, eventually extinguished by death
  • Laurels or laurel wreaths identify victory over death as in the resurrection
  • Obelisks represent the flight of the soul to Heaven
  • Palm branches are a symbol of eternal peace
  • Shroud protects the body as the soul ascends to Heaven
  • Inverted Torch represents life continuing after death
  • Weeping willows are symbolic of sorrow, grief and mourning
  • Winged Cherub is a symbol of the deceased soul in flight.

In life beloved, in death lamented

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To us for eleven months
Her pleasant smile was given
And then she bade farewell to earth
And went to live in Heaven.
1882 lament on a gravestone

People feared a lack of mourning more than they feared death itself. Portraits were taken with loved ones dressed in mourning often holding a photo of the deceased.

1960-1870
1860-1870
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