Monday, October 11, 2010



Beginning in the early years of the 20th century and extending until around 1960, it was a mark of middle-class properity that young girls be given a charm bracelet before they reached puberty and that at every holiday or anniversay, a new charm be added to the assemblage, often by the doting relative who had supplied the original bracelet. One suspects that jewelers were behind the craze, but in fact, the demand for charms is ancient; only this method of marketing them is relatively recent. Not all the charms on these bracelets were lucky emblems -- equally common were hobby-related and school-related charms. In fact, the multiplicity of charms available, and the mundanity of many of them -- a telephone, a car, a cheerleader's megaphone, a windmill -- served to devalue the word "charm" in the English language, so that today one may be misunderstood if one refers to "charms" when one means "amulets."

The 20th century American charm bracelet at left features a variety of lucky charms in a bright mix of brass, copper, sterling silver, and gold-plated metal.

This bracelet is typical of the kind of jewelry worn by adolescent girls in the 1950s and 1960s, collected charm by charm while travelling through the tourist traps, flea markets, jewelry stores, and yard sales of the heartland. It is, in fact, my very own charm bracelet! There are 13 charms on it, demonstating the use of "unlucky" 13 as reversed bad luck. Clockwise from the top, they are:

a silver heart engraved with initials: love for the named individual
a brass heart pierced by an arrow: smitten romantic love
a silver horseshoe: attraction or "drawing" luck
a gold wishbone set with a pearl: wishes come true
a silver horseshoe on which is placed a wishbone, a four-leaf clover, a horseshoe and the words "Good Luck": good luck
a gold and green enamelled four-leaf clover: luck
a silver money bag with a $ sign: wealth
a copper horseshoe on which is placed a four-leaf clover: good luck
a brass heart padlock: faithful love
a silver spread of playing cards: gambling luck
a gold double horseshoe set with an artificial diamond: money luck
a brass money bag marked 1000: wealth
a silver horseshoe: attraction or "drawing" luck
Other popular 20th century charms not depicted on this page but often found on European and American charm bracelets include:

a swastika: luck (pre-Hitlerian, of course)
twin hearts pierced by a single arrow: reciprocated love
an Amanita muscaria mushroom: luck
a chimney sweep or his ladder and brush: luck
a so-called "Lucky Buddha": luck
a black cat: gambling luck
Unrelated to European and American charm bracelets -- but probably made to meet Occidental rather than Oriental tastes -- are the so-called Chinese charm bracelets made with glass beads, jade carvings, and metal amulets strung on black cord and tied around the wrist.

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