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Walking stick with ivory skull, London, England, 1740-1840

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This walking stick is made from bamboo and topped with a carved ivory skull. Pressing a button at the back of the skull makes the jaw open and the eyes move. There are hallmarks on the neck of the stick which indicate it was made of silver, in London, by a Frederick Brasted. The walking stick once belonged to a physician. It may be a signifier of his profession, but it may also have acted as a ‘memento mori’. This literally means a reminder of death. Memento mori remind people about the shortness of life and the inevitability of death. They come in different forms, including rings, brooches and clocks. They are usually decorated with imagery relating to death such as skulls and skeletons. You could be forgiven for worrying if you saw this while lying on your sick bed.

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Glossary: memento mori

Symbols intended to remind the viewer of death. Memento mori are often objects such as skulls or hourglasses, but can also be written inscriptions.

Glossary: walking stick

Stick held in the hand and used for support in walking, especially as a fashionable and often ornamental accessory when taking a walk.