“Anyway,” Barbara said, shaking her wrist, “with my charm bracelet, we’ll be safe from trouble, even if it’s Mickey Rooney.” The metal and celluloid figurines rattled, among them a lion, a star, a pony, an Indian head with feather bonnet, and a pair of owls perched on a laying down crescent moon. ~ From BARBARA REILLY
Charms and charm bracelets meant a lot to women and girls of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Actually charms have held significance to people for ages — men and boys included. Even today charms are carried as jewelry or in pockets and pouches. Charms are classic and ageless and never out of style despite trends of greater and less popularity.
There is a degree of comfort in carrying miniature versions of objects we love as totems or tokens for luck. We like to collect what we fancy, whether it is fancy or not.
While some women of the 1940s wore bracelets adorned with figurines of silver, other fine metals, and even precious stones, girls would usually own stamped steel or celluloid versions, which nonetheless could be just as charming.
Celluloid was a forerunner to plastic. It was made from cellulose, camphor, and dyes. The cellulose came primarily from cotton. Celluloid was also used for molded items such as beads, writing pens, and doll heads. And it was used as a base for motion picture film. Celluloid was highly flammable and tended to break down over time. These are two reasons so many old movies no longer exist. And it is why vintage celluloid charms in good condition are hard to find today.
In Native American cultures charms were also known as amulets and fetishes. Many natural materials lent themselves to charm-making, including seashells, stone, and carved wood. These materials are still used today as well. They are especially adaptable if one wishes to create one’s own charms. Nothing can be more personal or meaningful than gathering materials in the wild and fashioning talismans with one’s own hands, working from inspiration or visions.
“Far thirteen?” she yawned, and checked her wrist that her charm bracelet, strung with her favorites, collected over the years from Cracker Jack, birthday forays to shops with Grampa, and other occasions, was secure. ~ From BARBARA REILLY
Charms were popular enough in the 1930s and 40s that Sears Catalogs featured bracelets of them.
Cracker Jack, the famed popcorn and peanuts confection, probably did as much as anything to make charms collectable by the girls of those times. Today we think of the prize in each box as a slip of paper with a puzzle or joke, but in the days of yesteryear prizes could be a tiny game, metal statuette, or celluloid figurine with chain loop.
I grew up in the sixties when boys were wild about charms too. Not bracelets, mind you. Pocket charms. With bated breath we’d feed coins into gumball machines hoping for the desired rubber monster or small toy. We’d horde special marbles. We’d run like the wind with rabbits’ feet swinging at our belts on chains, feeling protected from harm. We felt enraptured by the tiny soldiers in our toy boxes, the Disney characters, tiny favorite animals, and other secret objects in our secret hideouts. Decoder rings, little water pistols and spinning tops, temporary tattoos, miniature jack knives and compasses, whistles. We’d get them any way we could, from cereal boxes, five and dime stores, and by trading with our friends.
While he dragged the bale to the wagon, she unfastened her charm bracelet and clutched it to her heart. Steering the tractor back uphill, she kissed the bracelet and dropped it behind her, carefully, between the wagon tires. ~ From BARBARA REILLY
In the book, Barbara cherishes her charms. They give her confidence and power. They solidify her resolve to stand up to the threat she faces. They start her on her way to greater power. They protect her, in her mind, giving her strength to protect that which is beyond herself.
Charms are a natural ally. They put us in touch with “the other side” of life, connect us to the mystery beyond the physical, whether we acknowledge it or not. And they feel good.
Charms don’t need to be in a bracelet. They can be displayed in an old print type drawer screwed on a hallway wall, the curios of your youth, or a collection of latter day fantasies. They can fill an antique dollhouse in a spare room. They can constitute the train set sprawling over tables in the cellar, added to with landscape and house construction in spare time. They can be as simple as the innocent totem carried on a key chain, which gives solace and cheer whether consciously registered each time we touch it or not.
She pulled off her barrettes and tossed them onto the bank, then her charm bracelet. She floated, steadying herself on the rocks. She found herself thinking how the stream had moods like a person, rushing fast and hard after a rain, other days sliding slow and easy like this. She closed her eyes and let the water wash her thoughts away. ~ From BARBARA REILLY
This is the fourth in a series of articles exploring The World of BARBARA REILLY.
Illustrations and text Copyright 2013 Carl Grimsman, All rights reserved.