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Jeremy Bentham had 26 rings made when he died – now scientists are searching for them

Jeremy Bentham just gets weirder and weirder


We all know the classic UCL tale of Jeremy Bentham: how the eccentric philosopher asked that his body be stuffed and preserved as an auto-icon upon death, and how the mummification of his head went slightly awry, leading it to take on the leathery form it has today.

But those aren't the only ways our dear Bentham attempted to preserve his legacy. He also had made 26 memorial rings, which he bequeathed to people including famous politicians, intellectuals and even a few of his servants upon his death in 1826. Each ring featured a silhouette of his bust on the front, and in the back, a compartment encasing a lock of Bentham's hair.

One of Bentham's memorial rings – ©UCL Digital Media – Tony Slade, Courtesy of UCL Culture

Of the 26 rings made, only six have been located today. Three of these six are engraved with the names of their owners: Belgian politician Sylvain van de Weyer, bookseller William Tait, and Bentham's own utilitarian protege John Stuart Mill. UCL also possess one unidentified ring, and are aware of two more: one in the possession of the descendants of one of Bentham's servants, and the other originally bequeathed to economist French Jean-Baptiste Say and recently auctioned by Christie's.

Whilst the original owners of the remaining 20 rings are known, their whereabouts are no longer known and the UCL research team seeking to track them down believe they could be anywhere in the world – after all, Mill's ring was found in a New Orleans jewellery shop.

The team suspect that by tracking down the living descendants of the ring owners, they may be able to find some answers.