|The Rose Files
True Scary Stories from Life
| Pretty Little Murder Weapons
… The Strange But True History of Poison Rings!
~ Rose Titus ~
I love looking in antique stores, thrift stores, and pawnshops. You never know what wonderful junk you’ll
find! In a city close to home, there are several shops that are supposedly antique stores, but are basically
junk shops selling stuff that either your grandma had, or stuff that you had when you were a kid, such as
Lone Ranger lunch boxes, vinyl records, old mink stoles, manual typewriters, and other fun old stuff that is
mostly useless now but somehow we just can’t be without.
Other shops advertise being “jewelry stores,” but have signs in the window stating, “We Buy Gold.”
These stores often have names like “Jewelry and Loan” and really are pawnshops. Some of these
pawnshops don’t just deal in other people’s jewelry, they sell basically everything that’s used and still fun to
have – videos, medieval swords (reproduction, most likely), ninja weapons, old coins, military and sports
memorabilia, even “stuffed animals” – displays of the fine art of taxidermy up for sale: a coyote for $500.00.
I liked the coyote, but I didn’t buy it.
Anyway, I have discovered that great jewelry bargains can be found in these stores. On one occasion, I
was looking at the rings in the glass case and asked to see an ornate and antique-looking silver and
garnet ring. When viewed up close, I saw it had hinges on one side and a sort of “release” on the other.
Was this one of those notorious “poison rings” that we see in old black and white murder mystery movies?
I held it and hit the release; it opened up to reveal a secret compartment! The sales lady didn’t seem to
even know that the item had a secret compartment. She looked surprised.
“Fifteen dollars,” the girl said.
“I’ll take it.”
So now it was mine. It’s fun to wear, and it’s fun to flip the switch to see the lid pop open to reveal the
secret compartment. I recall seeing an old movie featuring a lady who wanted to murder someone and
emptying the contents of her ring into her intended victim’s drink when he wasn’t looking… being a decent
person, my ring is empty of any illegal substance.
But looking down at it, I do get curious about the ring. What is the strange history of these so-called
“poison rings?” I often see them in the “Victorian Trading” catalogs, and always wanted one, but was
unwilling to pay the full price plus shipping and handling. Do these rings have a history? Or were they just
something invented by Hollywood? I decided to do some research to find out…
I found a great article in the October 2001 issue of Antiques & Collecting Magazine, “A Ring to Die
For,” by Marcy Waldie. This article tells everything about these pretty little murder weapons! And guess
who owned one of these rings? The infamous Lucrezia Borgia, the Queen of Murder herself!
These rings originated centuries ago in the Far East, and were also called “locket rings.” They
appeared in Europe in the Middle Ages, and were used to carry a relic of a saint, a secret message, or a
lock of a loved one’s hair. Also called “coffin rings,” in the olden days they were distributed to mourners at
funerals, rings in the shape of a coffin, with an image of a skeleton that could be seen when the lid was
opened. Probably the original purpose of these rings was quite innocent.
In fact “secret compartment rings” were popular toys for kids of the 1930’s and 1940’s who were fans of
Dick Tracy and Captain Midnight. These were put in cereal boxes or given out at movie theaters. The
makeup company Avon even offered a secret compartment ring that held perfume.
But in history they were used to contain deadly poison, as used by Lucrezia Borgia. They were also
used by secret agents who would take poison if captured by the enemy, and therefore they were also
called “spy rings.”
Poison rings weren’t just for murderous ladies; they were worn by killer noblemen hell bent on getting rid
of their enemies. Recently as reported by the Huffington Post (“Medieval Poison Ring Discovered in
Bulgaria,” by Meredith Bennett-Smith, August 22, 2013), an ancient ring made of bronze was discovered
with a secret compartment that could hide poison, and it is believed to have been used by powerful
noblemen to assassinate each other.
I wear my poison ring and being a law abiding citizen, it continues to remain empty. I haven’t killed
anyone yet, and have no plans to do so at this time.