Although they are thought to pre-date Christ by 1,000 years lachrymatories, or tear jars, had become common in Roman times. Used to collect tears from mourners, they were placed in tombs as momentos of respect.
As with everything else related to mourning, they regained popularity during Victorian times. Tears were gathered in the bottles and saved by the mourners. Specially designed stoppers allowed the tears to slowly evaporate. When the moisture disappeared from the bottle, it could be taken as a sign that the mourning period had ended – a much more forgiving timeline than most mourning traditions of the day.
During elaborate funerals during that era, lachrymatories were distributed to men and women alike to aid in their grief.
During the American Civil War, soldiers sometimes gifted their wives and loved ones with tear bottles to fill while they were away. It was seen as a way to prove to a returning warrior that they had been dearly missed. Too often, though, the intended recipient never came home.
Often mistaken for antique perfume vials, lachrymatory can occasionally be found in shops and on eBay.
If you have one of these delicate treasures in your collection, please share a photo with us!