10 Things You Didn’t Know about Memory Jugs

Did You Know: Memory jugs go by many names: Forget-me-not jugs, memory vessels, mourning jugs, spirit jars, ugly jars, whatnot jars, and whimsy jars? 

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American memory jug, 10 inches high, circa 1900, plastered with shards of metal, china and clay objects along with toys and shells; sold for $50 by Cowan's Auctions, Inc., May 22, 2010.

1 Researchers show memory jugs originated in Africa’s Bakongo culture, which influenced slave communities in America. The culture believed the spirit world was turned upside down, and that they were connected to it by water. They decorated graves with water bearing items (shells, pitchers, jugs or vases), which would help the deceased through the watery world to the afterlife. Items were broken to release the loved one’s spirit so as to make the journey.

2  A surge of interest in memory jugs took place during the late 19th century as ‘scrap booking’ Victorians sought to keep their mementos in one place


 memory jugs, folk art memory jar, scrapbook jar
This set of three memory jugs sold for $500 during a May 2010 auction by Slotin Folk Art of Gainesville, Ga.

3 Jugs are often found coated in a thick layer of lacquer or gold paint to further glorify the recipient

4 Memory jugs are also called forget-me-not jug, memory vessel, mourning jug, spirit jar, ugly jug, whatnot jar, and whimsy jar.

5 The matrix used to hold objects in place include mortar, plaster, and river clay or windowpane putty

6 Most makers did not sign their work, however it is possible to date a memory jug by determining its under-structure or identifying the type of adhesive used

7  A grass-roots revival of ‘memory jug making’ swept through Appalachia and the African-American south in the 1950’s and 60’s.

8 A revival of memory jug art is taking place in contemporary ‘found object sculptures.”

9 Values for memory objects range from $20 to simple forms and adornments to as much as $3,000 for elaborate examples with provenance.

10 Other objects decorated with mementos: high-button shows, cigar boxes, lamps, transistor radios, tea pots and even duck decoys. 

Ames Gallery of Berkeley, Calif. www.AmesGallery.com

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More Images:

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This pig memory jug, 9 1/2 inches high by 15 inches long, was sold Oct. 6, 2006 by Sotheby's for $3,300.
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Memory jug with a mortar snake coiled around a 5-gallon crock is decorated with small pearlized shells and covered in old mirror bits with old keys, watch faces and beach glass in a worn gold finish.

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