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The further we both go into our research of the Victorian era, the more we discover objects such as this. I give you the Tear Catcher or Lachrymatory (taken appropriately from the word ‘lachrymose’, which means “given easily to tears or to crying; mournful”.). From Wikipedia, “A tear catcher, also called a Tear Bottle, is typically an ornamental vase piece, made from blown glass and dyed appropriately to the creator’s taste. There is an attached glass fixture at the opening of the stem that is formed to your eye.” The tear catcher shown below is 17th-18th century Persian origin, sold at Christie’s back in 2008. They also sold a 19th century Qajar catcher here, of similar style. Note how it’s shaped to the eye itself for easier tear collection. (Did I actually just type that? I love you, Victorian Era.)

According to Tear Catcher Gifts, “The tear bottle tradition has endured for more than 3,000 years. Tear bottles, or lachrymatory, were common in ancient middle Eastern societies. Even today they are still produced in that region. Tear bottles were prevalent in ancient Roman times, when mourners filled small glass vials or cups with tears and placed them in burial tombs as symbols of love and respect. Sometimes women were even paid to cry into “cups”, as they walked along the mourning procession. Those crying the loudest and producing the most tears received the most compensation, or so the legend goes. The more anguish and tears produced, the more important and valued the deceased person was perceived to be. … Tear bottles reappeared during the Victorian period of the 19th century, when those mourning the loss of loved ones would collect their tears in bottles ornately decorated with silver and pewter. Special stoppers allowed the tears to evaporate. When the tears were gone, the mourning period would end.”

You can find a lovely selection of Tear bottles here or at funerary supply stores around the Internet.  I appreciate the notion of using the tear catcher as a timekeeper of sorts for mourning.  There is solace in the notion that mourning and grief should be allotted its own period of time, the mourner given proper space to acknowledge and eventually accept the loss and change in their life. When the tears vanish, however, it gives the bereaved a deadline for any indulgence and signifies that life moves on while memories and love remain.

Is the idea of a tear catcher an overindulgence in grief, emblematic of Victorian mortuary excesses, or a helpful aid in a time of mourning? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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