Peter Rabbit and Friends
The Tales and Collectibles of Beatrix Potter

By Donna L. Singer

Sterling silver charms on sterling necklace from around the world.

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, February, 2004    

I am a woman who leads a charmed life! Over the years I have collected charms

that represent important events in my life, places I've traveled, and special hobbies, such as my love of Shakespeare. I display these keepsakes on gold and silver charm bracelets, or on charm holders that attach to a chain around the neck. But I am not alone in my love of charms. Many women lead charmed lives! They have found that these little decorative objects make wonderful gifts, keepsakes, or collectibles.

Bracelets and charms can be made of gold, silver, gilded metal or some inexpensive material. Bracelets with interlocking links are the preferred design for attaching charms. These links can be thin and single or large with two or three strands intertwining.

The idea of a charm in the shape of an animal or some other object originally meant something "worn or carried for its supposed ability to bring good fortune or ward off evil or illness," according to An Illustrated History of Jewelry. Interest in charms can be traced back to the amulets of mythological creatures carried by the ancient Egyptians and the jade amulets of the Shang-Yin Dynasty (c. 1766-1122 BC.) in China. During the Middle Ages a charm or talisman was often representative of some astrological or magical symbol Today, this fascination with astrology can be seen in the popularity of charms that represent the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Usually, in these earlier historical periods, the charms were worn as pendants, put in a ring, or carried in the hand. One of the most beautiful examples of an early charm/amulet is one made of coral and gold, resembling a tree branch; it dates from sixteenth century Italy and is in a German Museum It was the Victorians who popularized the concept of charms specifically designed to be suspended from bracelets.

Although charm bracelets remained desirable jewelry accessories throughout the twentieth century, they became especially popular during the 1950s through the mid 1970s. People eagerly collected charms that commemorated birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and special events like graduations or the birth of a child. Some chose charms that reflected hobbies or activities such as cheerleading, music, or sports.

Today, charm bracelets are enjoying a renaissance in popularity. They are coming out of dresser drawers and safe deposit boxes where they languished during the 1980s and 1990s. Recent interest in these charm bracelets has been spurred by the introduction of the Italian charm bracelets where the charms clip onto a band rather than dangle on a linked bracelet as the older versions do. Vintage charm bracelets are showing up at jewelry stalls at antique shows and in antique shops with increasing regularity. In addition, the older individual charms are attracting buyers. Charms that are three dimensions have moveable parts, are intricately designed, or have enamel work or semiprecious stones on them are especially prized.

Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art has jumped on the charmed bandwagon, offering a 24K gold-plated bracelet filled with enameled shoe charms, and a sterling silver bracelet with five hearts sporting enamel work and crystals. The Museum is also offering a Christmas charm bracelet in gold plate with five hand-painted angels that represent the antique Italian angels that hang on its famous Christmas tree.

Prices on vintage gold charms and charm bracelets vary according to the amount of gold in each bracelet and each charm, the intricacy of design, whether the charms are flat or three-dimensional if there are moveable parts or gemstones, and the rarity of the representation. Recently, eBay featured a classic rose gold charm bracelet with several charms for $445.00 and a vintage 14K gold bracelet with several charms (a total of 81 grams of gold) for $910.00. In contrast, QVC shopping network was advertising a new 14K gold charm bracelet with seven stylized crosses for $166.00. The older, individual gold charms can range from $50.00 for a flat silhouette of a dancer to $250.00 for a three dimensional church whose roof opens to reveal pews and an altar inside, to $375.00 for a rare three-dimensional carousel with four horses that turns.

These miniature gems can be worn singly on a chain or combined with others on a charm holder instead of a bracelet. Charm holders take various shapes, such as a unicorn, a heart, an elephant-almost anything-and are worn on a chain. For people who only want to collect unusual vintage charms, a charm holder is a great idea, since the charm display can be changed as desired.

Collectors who prefer sterling silver charms and bracelets also will :find a vast array of vintage pieces from which to choose. Generally more reasonably priced than gold, sterling charms are priced according to silver content, design intricacy, moveable parts, and uniqueness. For example, an early 1950s charm from Romania that depicts a coffin that opens to display the figure of Dracula was selling for $200.00 at a recent antique show in New York. Most classic sterling charms, however, are priced from $15.00 to $75.00.

Collecting vintage charms and bracelets can be fun. Especially for the traveler,  charms as souvenirs are easy to carry and very evocative of a place. For example, my charm of the Sphinx reminds me of an uncomfortable camel ride to the Pyramids at Giza.

While many collectors wear their jewels, some have found ingenious ways of displaying them One woman shows off her gold charm bracelets draped on ceramic hands (the kind often used by jewelry stores to display items) arranged on a table; another exhibits her unique charm collection in a glass case. Getting started is easy; all it takes is: finding that one charm that sparks your imagination or memory. Then, you are on your way to a charmed life!

The Antique Shoppe
"Florida's Best Newspaper for Antiques and Collectibles

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