A Brief History Of Charms Fobs Amulets And Talismans
This post will give you a brief history of how charms have been cherished through the ages and used as powerful talismans. In the middle of the post the various categories of charms are described and illustrated. The last section gives details of how to care for gold and silver charms.
Even in the prehistoric period, charms were worn to ward off evil spirits or bad luck. The first charms were fashioned from animal bones, shells and clay - anything durable would do. In ancient Egypt charms were used to protect during time on earth as well as in the afterlife.
Image above - The Book of the Dead of Hunefer. © British Museum.
Anubis brings Hunefer into the judgement area. Hunefer's heart, shown as a pot, is being weighed against a feather, which is the symbol of Maat. Matt is the order of things or 'what is right'. If the heart did not balance with the feather, then the dead person was condemned to be consumed by the 'devourer'. The devourer is shown here as part-lion, part-crocodile and part-hippopotamus.
Many people laugh at such superstitions. However, even in the twenty first century people have certain rituals they like to go through to give them good luck and religion often plays a part in the lives of many people. The ancient Egyptians were so serious about their charms / amulets that they had duplicate ones made in case the first one did not work.
In order for an amulet to possess the required power it had to be made in strict accordance to the rule laid down in the Book of the Dead. Once the procedure had been followed correctly the chosen god’s power would be present in the amulet. These amulets were considered sacred.
The faience winged scarab beetle amulet in the above photograph dates to 664-332 B.C.E. It was a gift of the Egypt Exploration Fund. © Brooklyn Museum
The Scarab amulet was dedicated to the Sun God Ra and was one of the most important of more than thirty funerary amulets. The Scarab was a stylized depiction of the dung beetle, which ancient Egyptians used to illustrate life-giving powers. The dung beetle was chosen because after it laid its egg in animal dung and rolled it into a ball the beetle would then move the egg into the sunlight. The heat of the sun would cause the egg to hatch. A perfect illustration of the life giving force of the sun. This important amulet would be placed in the mummy’s heart cavity whilst a dedication was read from the Book of the Dead. During life ancient Egyptians carried the scarab beetle amulet to protect their heart and give them a long life.
During the Roman Empire Christians were persecuted and so they would use tiny fish charms hidden in their clothing to identify themselves to other Christians.
Medieval knights wore charms for protection in battle, as well as talismans to give them and their families good luck and good health. There followed a natural progression that charms would be kept together on bracelets. The materials used were a good indicator of the status of the wearer. The earliest form of charm bracelets did not resemble the ones we have today.
ASSYRIAN GOLD CHARM BRACELET
PERSIAN GOLD CHARM BRACELET C.500 B.C.E.
QUEEN VICTORIA WEARING A CHARM BRACELET
English royalty were and are fans of charms and charm bracelets made from precious metals. Queen Victoria was a trend setter & what she wore the noble ladies / gentry did too. Queen Victoria was very fond of charm bracelets. As everyone knows when her beloved husband, Prince Albert, died she wore mourning clothes. As well as her black clothes she had mourning jewellery / jewelry made. Her favourite charm bracelets paid tribute to Prince Albert and her children. One of Queen Victoria's bracelets was a “mourning” charm bracelet. This piece had charms which represented moments in the life of the royal family. One of the charms was in locket form and contained a tiny photograph of Prince Albert and a locket of his hair.
The Royal Trust, “One of the mourning bracelets she wore constantly after Albert’s Death, consisted of sixteen various oval and heart shaped lockets, enameled in black on gold. Some set with jewels, others engraved, several with inscriptions and miniature photograph of male head comprise this bracelet which was worn.
The Monarch also wore a bracelet which paid tribute to her children. The bracelet is described below:
The Royal Trust Collection “it is a gold chain bracelet with nine enameled heart shaped lockets of different colors; containing the hair of Queen Victoria's children. This simple chain and locket bracelet is typical of the sentimental items Prince Albert gave to the Queen on November 24, 1840. The inscription on the clasp states that it was given to her three days after the birth of their first child, Victoria, The Princess Royal. A locket was added for each subsequent birth, each one containing a lock of the child's hair and inscribed with the name and date of birth."
"Both bracelets were part of a group of jewels placed in the 'Albert Room' at Windsor Castle after the Queen's death in 1901. This was the room in which Prince Albert had died in 1861 and the Queen left instructions for a specific list of personal jewelry to be placed there and not passed on in the family."
The Victorians were particularly sentimental and master silversmiths of this era made world class pieces which are still sought-after and valuable. Charm bracelets reflect the sentimentality of this era and beyond.
VICTORIAN 15 CT. GOLD MOURNING CHARM / HAIR ART
Often these charms would contain a lock of the hair of the loved one who had passed away.
A unique and fine sterling silver Victorian Albertina chain. As you would expect from this era, this piece is ornate and well made. Perfect for a romantic gift, as the chain features a heart. Originally this elaborate chain would have been worn attached to a pocket watch but now they are highly collectible & often worn as bracelets. A finely wrought tassel fob is attached to the T bar. All the sterling silver beads are still present on the tassel fob. The chain is multi-stranded, having three strands of belcher chain on each side which is separated by a delightful two dimensional repoussage heart.
This impressive Edwardian 9ct gold fob is fully hallmarked. It was assayed at London in 1907 & what a wonderful talisman this is! The fob is set with a carnelian which has a Roman Centurion Intaglio* (*a design incised or engraved into a material.)
It is no accident that this gem stone was chosen for the adornment. In ancient times carnelians were given to those who needed to become bold. Warriors wore carnelian around their necks to give them great physical power & courage. This gem stone was also used to show the higher rank of the Egyptian master architects. At one time it was believed to prevent illness & the Plague. The colour / color of carnelian ranges & this one is a deep subtle & vibrant red - Autumn red. This stone is attributed with many qualities such as endurance, leadership, courage & motivation. It is also said to attract prosperity & bring good luck. Known as a talisman, carnelians have protected throughout the ages. The dark reddish brown hues are associated with the male energy stone.
The British affection for charms made from precious metals has never gone away. During the 1950s and before this they were handmade and their unique status means that they are still highly collectible.
Sometimes it is possible to find themed charm bracelets.
Click to see our 1960s charm bracelets.
Our 1970s charm bracelets.
9 CARAT GOLD SLIPPERS CHARM 1971
The popularity of sterling silver and gold charms has never really waned in England. By the early 1970s most young girls had charm bracelets. Girls & ladies would add charms to their bracelets to remind them of events they had been to or occasions like their coming of age, marriage ceremony, births and holidays. Themed charm bracelets are the most highly desired of all. Charms, charm bracelets & fobs are often given as christening gifts too. The charm bracelet is one of the few items of jewellery that can be completely personalized & reflect the owner’s journey through life.
CATEGORIES OF CHARMS
STAMPING HOLLOW OR PUFFED HEART CHARM
Stamping Hollow: Often these are referred to as 'puffed'. A hollow charm is made by soldering together two stamped or pressed components. They can usually be identified by a seam running around the centre, a tiny hole to allow air to escape during manufacturing. A stamping hollow will be lighter in weight than a solid cast charm.
STAMPING ONE PART: A FLAT LIGHTWEIGHT ONE PIECE. NOT 3D
OPENING HINGED: MADE FROM A MINIMUM OF TWO PARTS WITH HINGE
Solid Cast (Poodle charm): Basically this means it is not a hollow stamping. The item may be completely solid and it may have voids
Opening: For example, a box with a lid.
MOVING PARTS CHARM - CARRIAGE WITH MOVING WHEELS
Moving Parts: Made from a minimum of two parts where there is free movement between the parts. The parts may be riveted together or joined with links.
ARTICULATED TEDDY BEAR CHARM
Articulated: A classic example of this could be a snake or a fish design where several segments of the body are riveted allowing the pieces to move in two directions.
MECHANICAL MOVING CHARM
Mechanical: This is a type of moving charm where there is a functioning part / parts in the design. For example, one with a winding handle.
Enamel: Sometimes this is vitreous enamel which has a glass like appearance. More usually they are decorated with enamel based paints and hand painted. The one above has both & is very beautiful.
Automaton: A charm that moves. Animals and clocks are the usual themes but it is very rare to see them due to their small size & the amount of intricacy.
Care of your gold and sterling silver charms / charm bracelet
Often collectors of antique and vintage items state that they will never clean their cherished possessions for these reasons:
They wish the items to build up the patina that gives antiques their charm.
Patina can be used to help in dating antiques when there isn’t a fixed date noted. The patina, style of the item, size etc can give collectors a rough guide of how old an item is.
This is one of the reasons patina is valued so much.
Many collectors do not want their pieces to look new.
Cleaning will gradually ( over many years ) wear away the surface.
For example a piece of gold that has been regularly cleaned for fifty years will be less thick / heavy than when it was made.
The appearance of ancient gold and silver is more appealing than modern precious metals.
We expect antiques to look “ antique “.
Solid gold and silver items are remarkably durable and they do not develop unsightly marks if kept in the right conditions.
We store our collectibles in cardboard boxes wrapped in acid free tissue paper.
We do not recommend using plastic bags for storage if the items have mirrors, as a sealed bag can produce condensation. Moisture is bad for the mirrors and also paper.
Display / wearing:
Sterling silver does not tarnish easily unless it is kept in damp conditions.
Charms / fob are robust items of jewellery and require no special care.
If you would like your vintage sterling silver jewellery to shine like new you can polish it with Goddard’s silver polish. For tiny detailed items, like charms, do not apply to the polish to the charm as some may dry in small crevices and become difficult to remove. Instead apply a small amount to a soft small brush then gently brush the silver. Polish with a soft dry cloth before the polish has dried. Charms with paper inlays and sealed in a glass fronted silver box should not have any moisture directed at the glass section as this may seep into the box and damage the paper. Crystal charms can be polished with a soft cloth. If they are very dirty moisten the cloth with warm water. Be careful not to allow moving charms to become clogged with cleaning fluids etc.
Gold really does not require any cleaning.