People in Victorian Era were experts in the art of mourning. For example, they wore black for extended periods, wove human hair into elaborate wreaths, and…wept, it is said, into little glass bottles called not by chance “tear catchers.”
Also called “lachrymatory bottles,” they can be found still today in online auctions and marketplaces, as well as in some equipped antique stores.
They are usually shaped like a teardrop with a long neck. A tear catcher is usually small enough to fit into one hand. They can be plain or ornate, depending on the culture they come from and how they are used.
The use of tear catchers has been traced back to ancient Greece and Rome.
The loved ones of a deceased person would collect their tears into small bottles often buried with the deceased so they could have the tears of their loved ones with them when entering into eternal sleep.
Examples of ancient Greek and Roman “lacrimal vases” have been found also in burial sites during archaeological expeditions, but the Bible also makes a reference to them in Psalm 56:8, which says “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.”
As the practice of tear catching became popular again during the 1800s, tear vials were often made for wealthy or upper middle-class households from expensive materials such as silver or gold, and sometimes they were kept on display in the home or given as gifts to friends or relatives who had tragically lost a loved one.
In the 19th century, during and after the American Civil War, supposedly, tear catchers were used as a measure of grieving time. As story goes, once the tears cried into them had evaporated, the mourning period was over.
It sounds good, and It’s a very good story, probably to too good.
But it’s just a story as, actually, both science and history agree that there are really no tear catchers!
In truth the bottles, usually clear, blown glass decorated with patterns, gilding, and colorful enamel, are simply throwaway perfume bottles.
But the “tear catcher” name has stuck, as a result of a combination of historical accidents and a deceptive (but effective) marketing.
All probably began with the same archaeologists and an oddly chosen term.
Something similar was actually found in Greek and Roman tombs, that some early scholars romantically dubbed “lachrymatories”, basically “tear bottles”.
But those glass bottles held perfume and unguents, not tear as chemical tests performed by scientists confirmed.
But stories sometimes acquire their own momentum.
The terms “Victorian” and “mourning” in general, have become catchalls for anything old, sentimental, “strange” thing, and some people have the tendency to romanticize objects and their history.
It’s a nice idea but no one really cried into the bottles!
But, together with collectors and enthusiasts eager to add Victorian curiosities to their collections, much of the online information still links the bottles to the mourning story and can be traced back to Tear Catcher Gifts, a company that sells modern tear bottles intended to be given as gifts at special occasions.
And don’t forget that Internet is, in a lot of ways, a real folklore-creating machine and, If something gets shared enough times, it is considered true but, luckily, each of us can choose our own belief.
Images from web – Google Research