I loved the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Published in 1905, the book is about the Scarlet Pimpernel, a mysterious Englishman who rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution. It had everything – a dashing hero, danger and perilous escapes and a love story. The hero was known only by the small imprint of a flower he puts on messages as a signature, the scarlet pimpernel flower. I read the book over and over again and you can see how battered my copy of the book is.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is actually an English nobleman, Sir Percy Blackney. He is married to a French woman who accidently betrays him to the French. She only realizes his identity when she finds on the floor his signet ring which has an engraving of a scarlet pimpernel.
Chap 8 – She stooped to pick it up. It was a solid gold ring, with a flat shield, on which was engraved a small device.
Marguerite turned it over in her fingers, and then studied the engraving on the shield. It represented a small star-shaped flower, of a shape she had seen so distinctly twice before: once at the opera, and once at Lord Grenville’s ball.
Whenever I thought of the signet ring, I assumed it had been an intaglio ring, maybe a hardstone like agate with the flower carved into it, but reading the description again, I see that I was wrong. The ring was further described as a ‘plain gold shield, with the star-shaped little flower engraved upon it’. So it was not a ring with an intaglio carving on hardstone, nor was it a signet ring with an engraved coat of arms which were common at the time of the French Revolution, like the one below.
The ring was a ‘solid gold ring’, so not a slim signet ring, and had a flat shield, as in the photo below:
It had the engraving of a flower, rather than initials which were to become more usual in the 19th century. Sir Percy used his ring as a seal to impress his flower device onto letters and notes sent to his followers. The sides of the ring might have been quite ornate as seen in the Georgian emerald signet ring above or the gold rings pictured in the photo at the top of the post.
The Scarlet Pimpernel’s signet ring. I found this one day in a hidden hut in my forest, along with the book “The Scarlet Pimpernel.” With the ring tightly clutched in her hand, she had run out of the room, down the stairs, and out into the garden, where, in complete seclusion.
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