A Deer Tooth Amulet From Germany

Pitt Rivers Museum
Pitt Rivers Museum / Pitt Rivers Museum

In 19th century Germany, jewelry set with stag’s teeth was incredibly popular. Called Hirschgrandln, the teeth were more often than not hunting trophies brought home and set into silver or sometimes jewels (or paste resembling jewels). Like most jewelry, Hirschgrandln ran the gamut from fine and expensive to more humble souvenirs.

This pendant, held by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, is an example of a type of deer’s teeth jewelry that would have likely hung on a charivari, a chain that would have been worn around the waist or on a hat. In addition to small hunting trophies like this silver-mounted pendant, the charivari, a decorative addition to traditional Bavarian dress, could have included other amulets like coins, animal bones, paws, or even images of the saints. According to the Pitt Rivers, the amulets could have had many functions, but deer’s teeth jewelry was believed to bring good luck in future hunts.

This humble example of Hirschgrandln was possibly made in Schwäbisch Gmünd, a small town in the south of Germany highly regarded for its jewelry production, in particular its silverworks. After the town began producing jewelry and small silver objects in the 14th century, its silversmiths became well-known for their popular and devotional jewelry, and sold their creations across Europe. A small ring, held by Victoria & Albert in London, is another example of the deer’s tooth jewelry produced in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The ring is an elegant contrast to the Pitt Rivers’ deer tooth pendant, and the two show the range of settings that this type of jewelry could take—from the rough look of the hunter’s charivari to the elegance of a ring where the deer’s teeth serve as the central focal point, flanked by paste.

Though jewelry set with Hirschgrandln is associated primarily with Bavaria, it was also a popular hunting souvenir through the Alpine region, particularly in the 19th century. The fad was imported to Britain by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. Albert, who was born in Germany, gifted Victoria numerous pieces of tooth-set jewelry. Some of these featured the milk teeth of the couple’s numerous children, including a gold and enamel brooch shaped into a thistle. That brooch [PDF], part of the Royal Collection, features the milk tooth of Princess Victoria in place of a flower. 

In 1860, Albert gave Victoria an elaborate necklace made from 44 stag's teeth and gold enamel. The teeth were all taken from stags hunted by Albert himself on the grounds of the royal estate Balmoral in Scotland. On each of the teeth, the date on which the animal was killed is inscribed. The clasp of the necklace features a reminder of who did the killing: “all shot by Albert.” In addition to the toothy necklace, Victoria also owned another brooch and earrings also made from deer teeth.

Victoria seemed to appreciate her husband’s gifts, as well as the German style of tooth jewelry, but the trend never quite caught on in England outside of the royal household. Charivari are still worn in traditional settings, particularly in Bavaria, but the almost mass production of deer’s teeth jewelry seems to have died out at the end of the 19th century.