Renaissance Signet Ring with Helmeted Fish and Initials "R*S"
The octagonal bezel with engraved line and punched dot frame surrounds a shield with a fish and crested helmet. Above are the initials "R*S" in reverse. The interior of the hoop is plain, and it is fl at on the exterior with beveled edges and increasing in width at the shoulders. As new trade routes encouraged widespread commerce during the Renaissance, the middle classes began to wear signet rings, previously restricted to the nobility as signs of rank and authority. For tradesmen, signet rings served as a utilitarian means of authentication in the exchange of documents, property, or merchandise.
Pressed into hot sealing wax, the inverted imagery with initials would print correctly, conferring legal sanctity on a transaction. We have been unable to identify the family crest of this ring; perhaps the fi sh is meant to evoke symbolically a surname. There are many examples of Renaissance rings on which the imagery refers to the name of the owner, such as a bell for the Keble family, an eagle for the Eagletons, and a cradle for Mister Cribb (Oman 1974, 30, nos. 40G, 39A, 40D). Once a mark of identifi cation passed down as an heirloom, the signet ring is making a comeback today as a "must-have" fashion statement according to the Financial Times, Elle, and Harper's Bazaar.