From our personal collection, a beautiful quality antique hardstone cameo ring of Aristotle set in a Gold mount with fabulous repousse shoulders in the Acanthus style and hand engraved to the inside:
‘Edward Talbot to J E Mace. Gratitude’
Every piece which passes through our hands holds a story, but this was too intriguing a mystery to put aside, so we decided to research the story. Evidently a men’s ring (due to the size) and as the inscription tells, a gift from one to the other with ‘Gratitude’ this was not your everyday event.
We were quite easily able to trace the two characters as being based in Tenterden in Kent, and it seems from surviving minutes of meetings that these two gentlemen came to know each other through the Unitarian movement.
Edward Talbot was born at Leeds in 1804. Practising as a Reverend from 1827-1869 he was also Chairman of the Kent and Sussex Unitarian Christian Association (1841). He married twice, to Elizabeth and then Ellin, and died on 3rd January 1869 in Tenterden Kent (listed as a dissenting minister) and was buried at the Unitarian Old Meeting House.
John Ellis Mace was born in 1795 enlisting in Tenterden in 1755 as an apothecary apprenticed to the physician William Lott. Married to Elizabeth (1828), he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. John Ellis Mace was secretary of the Kent and Sussex Unitarian Christian Association in 1840 (in 1856 he became Mayor of Tenterden). He died on 28th May 1882.
Unitarianism was very much a minority religion, being based on reason and an enlightened conscience. Believing themselves to be Christian pioneers; Unitarians seek spiritual growth and social justice, through fellowship, personal experience, social action and education. The Unitarian creed during the early 19th century was mainly “a religion for intellectuals”, yet despite their small numbers, the Unitarians exerted great influence on nineteenth-century politics and culture at a time when some amongst the growing middle classes concerned themselves with philanthropy and idealistic thinking with emphasis on ‘good works’. Unitarianism was an open religion believing in the freedom of belief and education for all (including women). They believed that Jesus was a human rather than the son of God (a position which was illegal until 1813). Many of their leaders came from the newly successful industrial and business backgrounds, enabling them to be at the vanguard of theological developments in the 19th century.
‘..the congregation, like many English Presbyterian churches at that time, responded vigorously to the intellectual stirrings of the Enlightenment, when the liberating possibilities of rational and scientific knowledge began to affect some religious thinking’.
These two men, in common with many of their standing at the time had an interest in ‘improving’ the lot of the ‘common man’ i.e., those who were without privilege or means to do so for themselves (at a time before universal schooling for all which only became law in the Elementary Education Act 1870). Anti slavery and espousing an inclusive community, they believed in the unitary nature of God and held a disbelief in the idea of original sin (denial of the natural immorality of the soul and eternal punishment) rather a potential for future resurrection and progress of which all are capable.
Some of this smacks nowadays of privilege and middle class do-gooderism but at the time religion was often the lens through which such questions and issues were viewed when so many in the population couldn't read and lived in poverty.
The image of Aristotle would have held great meaning for them both as one of the tenets of the Unitarian faith was the right of individual belief and inquiry. Representing the thinking man; Aristotle the ancient Greek philosopher and scientist was considered to be one of the greatest ever thinkers on politics, psychology and ethics.
Simply captured within a few words, we’ll never know the whole story and we’re not sure when this ring would have been given; mourning or memoriam rings were often gifted in a will, but this doesn't seem to be the case. We feel it dates to around the 1840’s (possibly when John Ellis Mace became secretary of the Association?). Expressing Gratitude for a friendship and shared vision seems to be more fitting motivation.