Family Heirloom: Jacob’s Ring


I was told by its current owner, my third cousin, that the ring depicted above is rose gold with an onyx table and diamonds in the initial.  I was also told that it once belonged to my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen, the successful Philadelphia pawnbroker, father of thirteen children including my great-grandfather Emanuel.  According to my third cousin, the ring was passed down from Jacob to his son Reuben, who gave it to his son Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen, Sr., who then passed it on to his son Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen, Jr., who gave it to his son, my third cousin, for his twenty-first birthday.  Jim shared with me the following story about the ring:

This ring is deeply important to me. The story behind it is as follows:

I found it one day while, as a kid who was doing precisely something he was told not to do (because, we do that kind of thing as kids), I was looking in my father’s jewelry cabinet in my parents’ room. For some reason the ring just grabbed me. I really loved it right from the start.

When I got older, and it actually fit closely enough to wear, I kept swiping it to wear it, and he would always catch me with it.

He’d give me the stern warning and ground me. I think he probably came to view this recurrent situation with some amusement. I think it was pretty obvious that I really had a thing for this ring, and if he had been truly angry the groundings would have been a LOT longer. So he must have known that, aside from swiping it, I wasn’t going to be irresponsible with it.

Then one day, I went to swipe it again, and it was gone. I thought, “I can’t believe he hid it!”

On my birthday, after our party, he took me aside, away from my twin brother and handed me a quite large box. It was covered all over in clear packing tape – and inside that was another box, and another, all wrapped in clear packing tape. Apparently, he wanted me to really work to get into the last box, and every time another box came into view, he laughed.

And then I got to the final box, opened it, and there was the ring. He had taken it, polished and cleaned it, replaced stones that had gone missing over the years, and sized it to fit my finger “for real.”

So yes, this was my 21st birthday present, and it meant a great deal on its own.

Then, he had a fatal heart attack two weeks before my 22nd birthday.

This ring, and its story and history, are the last birthday present I ever received from my father.

How lucky my cousin is to have something that once belonged to Jacob, our mutual great-great-grandfather.  I wish I knew more about the story behind the ring and more about the men who have owned it.  I wonder why Jacob gave it to Reuben of all his sons.  Or did each child inherit something similar from Jacob and Sarah? If my great-grandfather Emanuel did inherit a family heirloom, I have no idea where or what that would have been.

I’ve never been one to care about jewelry for its material value, but I care deeply about the sentimental value of any jewelry that has been given to me.  I have no idea what Jacob’s ring is worth in monetary terms, but to me the fact that it once belonged to my great-great grandfather, that it was once worn by my great-grandfather’s older brother Reuben and then by his son and grandson and now his great-grandson, makes it priceless in my eyes.  I’d gladly trade a new piece of jewelry worth far more in material terms for one small “worthless” trinket that had come from one of my ancestors.