In Victorian England, mementos served a somewhat different (read: vastly more macabre) role. Instead of dancers, angels, animals, or children, the ceramic figurines of the time depicted something far more wicked via their delicate and glossy earthenware exteriors: murder. (For those who couldn’t afford crime souvenirs in pottery form, death pamphlets served as a stand-in. When an execution was set to take place, illustrated explainers with details of the murder and impending execution were handed out on the street.) Here are few grisly examples of notorious killers who were immortalized in figurine form.
1. The Red Barn Murder
In 1827, William Corder killed his mistress, Maria Marten, and buried her body under the floorboards of his barn; the slaying was called “The Red Barn Murder.” The crime became notorious, attracting media attention, tourists and even inspiring songs and plays. The Red Barn Murder figurines fetched $17,937 at auction in 2010.
2. The Prince of Poisoners
William Palmer, also known as “The Rugeley Poisoner” or “The Prince of Poisoners,” was a doctor executed in 1856 for a series of murders by poisoning. Many of his targets were family members with life insurance policies that Palmer had aimed to collect. Dickens—apparently the target audience for murder trinkets—once called him "the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey" and reportedly also used the story as inspiration for Bleak House.
3. The Bermondsey Horror
Frederick and Maria Manning, husband and wife, murdered her lover, Patrick O’Connor, in a case that became known as the "The Bermondsey Horror." The couple was hanged together in November 1849 and the public execution was attended by Charles Dickens, who wrote of the event, "I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun." He would later base the Bleak House character Mademoiselle Hortense on Maria.
4. The Murders At Stanfield Hall
James Blomfield Rush inspired a set of figurines, depicting The Stanfield Hall double murder of Isaac Jermy and his son, Isaac Jermy Jermy. Rush, a farmer and tenant under Jermy, shot and killed the father and son, which makes the choice to depict a strangling in the ornaments particularly odd.
[h/t The Oddment Emporium]