An Object Biography
Sarah Morgan, my paternal grandmother, married Archibald Rowley in Glasgow, Scotland in 1922, she died in 1945. In 1981, after the death of her only surviving daughter, Sarah, I was given her wedding ring by my father.
Wedding rings have been worn by women for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. In the UK it is believed to have been adopted during and after the Roman Occupation. In some cultures it is worn on the left hand and in others on the right. Some cultures wear it before the wedding on one hand or finger, and after the wedding, on the other hand or finger. It is most often, but not always worn on the fourth “ring” finger. It is not uncommon nowadays for a man to also wear a wedding ring.
This plain gold wedding band weights approximately 4g (0.1oz), it is 7mm (½”) wide, approximately 18mm (8/10”) in diameter, and 63mm (2 ½ “) in circumference. Its’ scrap value is currently $86.00. On the inside of the band, in letters large enough for plain sight, is stamped “8LP”, much smaller and requiring a magnifying glass, is stamped the four components of a British Hallmark.
The “8LP” remains a mystery and much research has found no explanation of its origin or meaning.
Hallmarking of precious metals in Britain is a very old consumer protection, it was first legislated in 1300 by King Edward I of England. It has four components: a sponsor’s mark being the company or person for whom it has been hallmarked; the standard mark being the fineness of the metal; the Assay Office mark; and finally, the (now optional) date letter. For this ring the marks are E.J.LD.; 9.375; S; [Illegible].
E.J.LD. was the maker’s mark of Excalibur Jewellery Ltd of Birmingham and London, now defunct. 9.375 represents the fineness of the gold at 9 carats. The date letter, before 1975, was unique to each assay office and as the assay office mark is illegible, it was difficult to ascertain the date, however the letter “S” is sloping forwards and has a distinctive concave tick at the top. It could only be an item Hallmarked in 1973 in the London Assay Office. This ring was assayed in London in 1973 as 9 carat gold by Excalibur Jewellery Ltd. This was not the expected result.
My grandparents were a working-class couple of modest means. In 1922, a wedding ring would have been a significant purchase. Although it is common now for wedding rings to be made of 24 carat gold, that would most likely have been outside my grandfather’s means. A nine carat gold ring would also have been more robust, an attribute that could have been relevant at the time, due to the hard labour a working-class woman would do in the course of an ordinary day.
The Clyde Shipyards, the largest industry in Glasgow, was in recession. By 1920 It was operating at only eighty percent of pre-war levels, falling steadily throughout the decade. 1922 also was a year which saw a “Hunger March” from Glasgow to London, people protesting to the government about the high unemployment and hence inability of workers to afford food.
Assuming that it was, indeed, my grandmother’s wedding ring, which I have no reason to doubt, it is possible that it was purchased second-hand, that it was not manufactured in the UK, and it was assayed in 1973 in order to obtain a valuation. This, of course, is pure conjecture.
My grandparents honeymooned in Ireland and had a studio photo taken to commemorate their wedding. My parents emigrated to Australia when I was five years old, and so I did not know any of my extended family. Although I did not know it at the time, I had never met anyone who in any way resembled anyone in my family. As a young teenager I embraced that Australian tradition of visiting the UK on a “working holiday”; now known as a “gap-year” and reciprocated by the British. Whilst at my grandfather’s house, I was shown the studio photo taken in Ireland. It was a sepia-toned very traditional studio photo. My grandmother was sitting in an elaborate chair, with a book in her lap and her hands crossed over the book showing her wedding ring. My grandfather was standing to her left, a little behind the chair and his hand was resting on her shoulder.
It is a moment that, for me, is frozen in time. The woman in sitting in the chair, was identical to myself, I was the image of my paternal grandmother. Some years later, I was able to borrow that photograph and have it enlarged and copied.
The ring is the only material object I possess that is tied to my family of origin. This is the result of two major events in my life. Firstly, I was a child migrant in the 1960’s, when migration still meant the disconnection of virtually every relationship, and the loss of virtually all possessions. Secondly, as the result of violence, I made a choice to move within Australia, at a time when I was unable to afford to take more than a suitcase. The material objects left behind in storage, were variously stolen, sold without my permission then the proceeds stolen, or destroyed.
I no longer have that photograph. That being said, however, I have the photograph in my mind and it is linked, inextricably to my grandmother’s ring. One object elicits the other. At times my grandmother’s wedding ring evokes the memory of loss. Loss of relationships, of the culture and heritage attached to being a Scot, of the life I had before the violence. At other times my grandmother’s wedding ring evokes a deep sense of attachment, to someone who is exactly like me, someone I never met, my grandfather in his youth in the photograph, in old age holding that photograph out to me, to my Aunt who cared for it before me.
Just as a wedding ring is a symbol of never ending love, this ring is a symbol of the continuity of my family across the great chasm of time, place and meaning.
 http://assayofficebirmingham.com/safeguard/hallmarking_history.html accessed 10/8/2016
 https://theassayoffice.co.uk/help-with-hallmarks/anatomy-of-a-hallmark accessed 10/8/2016
 http://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Makers/Birmingham-EJ-EO.html accessed 10/08/2016
 http://www.gold-traders.co.uk/hallmarks/results.asp accessed 12/08/2016