Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The small things

This piece of jewellery was handed down to me from my great grandmother, via my grandmother.  My mother tells me that for many years as a child and teenager she asked to have it but was always denied it.  In turn, from when I was a toddler my grandmother tried to give it to me.  My mother always felt a little crabby that she was never the “keeper of the charm”.[1] It is a teddy bear charm, made in the silver repousse style with articulated arms and legs.  
It measures approx. 2.5x1cm considerably larger than modern charms that are usually around 1cm in size, or a circular bead style like the Pandora charm.


Figure 1. Kelli Schultz, Repousse style teddy bear charm front, 2017, digital image.
Figure 2. Kelli Schultz, Repousse style teddy bear charm back, 2017, digital image.

It is not known if my great grandmother was gifted the charm or whether she bought it herself, it may well have been handed down to her from her mother.  Alice Maude Thynne, nee Bracken lived all her life in Launceston so it would have been likely that it was purchased in Launceston.  Neither the Brackens nor the Thynnes were wealthy families and it is the only piece of its kind to have been passed down through generations.  Alice was born in 1872[2] and died in 1936[3]; so she grew up during the latter part of the Victorian Period when charm bracelets were all the rage, especially repousse and articulated style charms.  Perhaps she was given a bracelet at her christening or first birthday.  There is no way of knowing how or when she received the charm and we only have the word of my late grandmother, Mary Kathleen Thynne that it did indeed come from Alice in the first place.

Although charms have been used for thousands of years in conjunction with superstitious beliefs; and were commonly found in ancient Egyptian tombs and thought to be used by the early Romans to ward off evil[4]; their modern revival as part of a decorative bracelet rather than a superstitious belief could be said to have started with Queen Victoria in the mid 19th century.  Albert gave her a bracelet with a heart shaped charm engraved with the birth year of their first child.  He repeated this practice after the birth of each child. Victoria is said to have loved wearing, designing and gifting jewellery; in particular, charm bracelets.[5] 
The Victorian period of jewellery fashion is often divided into the Romantic Era (1837-60) and the Grand Era (1861-1901); the latter was Victoria’s mourning period after Albert’s death until her own death in 1901.[6]  Repousse jewellery became very popular toward the end of the romantic era.  Repousse translates literally as “pushed out” and was commonly made with sheets of silver cut into shape with patterns pressed into them using a variety of metal or wooden tools. As the process sometimes stretched the metal care had to be taken not to distort the shape of the original design, this was done by folding edges over on themselves, and can be seen in a side view of the bear.[7]

Figure 5. Kelli Schultz, Side view of repousse bear charm, 2017, digital image.
Repousse patterns were usually a floral design, presented as light and feminine. A popular style of charm at the time was also the articulated charm, with moveable parts.  This was seen in bears such as mine and cancan dancers with moveable legs.[8] 
Although the Grand era, was a mourning period for Queen Victoria, meaning that she wore only black clothing and black jewellery it was actually a period of rising popularity in repousse pieces for the rest of society.  Historians attribute this to the general public wanting a “reminder of happier times”.[9]
When searching online for this charm I came across a few second hand dealers selling the same piece and it appears to be highly collectable and somewhat rare; fetching quite a good price. This is indicative of the popularity of charms in modern society[10].  Although styles have now evolved to the more common “Pandora” style charm, which became popular in the mid 1980’s[11], the older style charm is still available to buy and collectors are still sourcing Victorian and Edwardian era designs.[12]
For me personally, the value is purely sentimental. My grandmother was already 63 when I was born and died when I was 21, for most of that time she was affected by dementia.  I was fortunate to have spent quite a bit of my early childhood with her and value that time immensely.  This small piece of silver is a connection directly from her to me.  I think she placed great value on this charm and the fact that she was adamant that I be given it out of all her children and grand children honours me greatly. I feel blessed to have this piece of silver, regardless of its dollar value.

[1] Genevieve Schultz, interview by Kelli Schultz, written record, Bicheno, 14 April 2017, in author’s possession.  
[2] Birth registration of Alice Maud Bracken 20 July 1872, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office,  RGD 3/1/50 no.987
[3] Examiner, 31 Jan 1936, p1 (Alice Maude Thynne)
[4] The Charm Works, The History of Charms and Charm Bracelets: A Short Introduction by David Clark, https://www.thecharmworks.com/HistoryofCharms, accessed 29 April 2017
[5] Collectors Weekly, Charms and Charm Bracelets, http://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/charms , accessed 29 April 2017
[6] Periods of Jewellery History – Victorian Era: 1837-1901, https://www.kalmarantiques.com.au/articles/periods-of-jewellery-history-victorian-era-1837-1901/, accessed 29 April 2017
[7] Ganoksin: Jewellery making resources, https://www.ganoksin.com/article/goldsmithing-repousse-chasing/, accessed 29 April 2017
[8] Collectors Weekly, Charm and Charm Bracelets.
[9] Hesse, Rayner W, Jewelry Making Through History: An Encyclopedia, Westport, Greeenwood Press, 2007,  p.192-3
[10] A History of Charms and Charm Bracelets, http://www.mymotherscharms.com/history.htm, accessed 30 April 2017

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