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The Hidden Meanings Of European And American Charms

Aug 28, 2007
Starting at the inception of the 20th century and extending until the 1960s, it was a mark of the middle-class that young girls be given a charm bracelet before they reached puberty. At every holiday or anniversary, a new charm is added to the bracelet, often by the relative who had given the original bracelet.

The demand for charms is ancient; only the 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 number of charms available, and the ordinariness of many of them -- a telephone, a car, a cheerleader's megaphone, a windmill -- may have devalued the word "charm" in the English language, so that today it's often misunderstood that if someone refers to "charms" when that person means "amulets."

The French, in particular, had a list of charms called "Le Langage de Porte Bonheur" ("The Language of Good Luck Charms") and included 10 charms that symbolized:

* An elephant: "Felicite" (happiness)
* A heart: "Amour" (love)
* A four-leaf clover: "Bonheur" (luck)
* A horsehoe magnet: "Argent" (silver -- or money, due to the magnet's "drawing" power)
* A die, showing seven spots: "Veine" (games of chance; gambler's luck)
* The number 13: "Joie" (joy; the usual use of this number is as general luck or gambler's luck)
* A pig: "Prosperite" (prosperity)
* A hamsa hand: "Richesse" (riches; this is not accurate -- the hamsa hand protects against the evil eye
* A horseshoe: "Fidelite" (fidelity; not entirely accurate -- the usual meaning is attraction or "drawing")
* A pansy: "Souvenir" (remembrance; it belongs more properly to the "language of flowers")

During 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 traveling through the tourist traps, flea markets, jewelry stores and yard sales. Many of the more modern American charms symbolize:

* 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 enameled 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 often found on European and American charm bracelets include:

* A swastika: luck (pre-Nazi Germany)
* Twin hearts pierced by a single arrow: reciprocated love
* An Amanita muscaria mushroom: luck
* A chimney sweep or his ladder and brush: luck
* A "Lucky Buddha": luck
* A black cat: gambling luck

And although unrelated to European and American charm bracelets -- but probably made to meet Occidental rather than Far East tastes -- are, what are know as, 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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Authorized distributor of beautiful pandora bracelets and beads.
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