Life in Monogram

WJS. Three letters on a locket in a decorative scrollwork font style that denotes the rightful owner, someone who felt compelled to have their initials engraved on a piece of object. These engravings are known as monograms which are a motif of two or more letters, usually of a person's initials that are combined, used as a logo or to personalize a personal possession such as stationary, embroidered clothing, and jewellery.

The practice can be dated back to ancient Greece and Rome where their coins were marked with the initials of the ruler or the city itself as a means to authenticate it and became a sign of power and recognition.

Why has the art of the monogram prevailed through the ages and why are we obsessed with putting our mark on our personal effects? Here are three basic reasons exploring why we have the need to stamp our name on things.

1. Visual Identity

By the late 19th century using monograms as logos was all the rage for companies, especially within the fashion industry. We can identify brands such as IBM, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi, and Volkswagen simply by their logo. If we look back in history, kings "marked" the territory they conquered with their monograms emblazoned on goods as a way of representing their power and authority over an area giving their reign a visual identity, in short, "MINE".

2. One-of-a-Kind

The idea that you have something unique, that no one else in the world possesses makes an object that much more special and gives you ownership. Gifting someone with a personalized present gives the impression that more thought was put into the gift.

Holbein, the 16th Century German painter famously designed monograms for Henry VIII, one of which was a small shield with the monogram "AH" joined with a lovers' knot. This was presumably for Anne Boleyn with Anne's and Henry's first initials connected together, a symbol of their union. Their marriage lasted only 3 years, however, the monogram lives on.

The monogram design by Holbein for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn


3. I Was Here

Monograms engraved on heirlooms were a simple declaration that would live on after one's lifetime, often passed down generation after generation. It's a statement saying "I WAS HERE! REMEMBER ME!".

With afterlife being uncertain, at least the certainty of an engraved name on a locket or a piece of jewellery is able to provide some form of consolation.

Has this inspired you to get your own monogram? I for one, am intrigued and am considering having one designed for the fun of it! 

The locket pictured above is the inspiration behind this article because of the beautiful scrollwork and calligraphy style the engraver used. More information on the locket can be found here.