Charm strings

Charm string from the Wellington County Museum in Ontario

Charm string from the Wellington County Museum in Ontario

In the latter half of the 19th Century, the fad amongst young ladies was to create a “charm string” or “memory string” of 1,000 buttons. There were two schools of thought: the first said that when you collected 1,000 buttons, your Prince Charming would appear. The other said that the Prince himself must string that last button, and if you collect it accidentally, you will be a spinster.

A find at the Costume Museum of Canada

A find at the Costume Museum of Canada

Charm strings were kept in the public rooms of the house, because the buttons were supposed to come from others–friends and family–or by trading. You couldn’t buy a charm string button.

Each button had to be unique, and shank buttons were much preferred.

""Give my button string to Sister, I'll not want it any more. E're the morrow sun is shining I'll be on the Golden Shore."

“”Give my button string to Sister,
I’ll not want it any more.
E’re the morrow sun is shining
I’ll be on the Golden Shore.”

Beginning the string with a large “touch button,” girls collected the most striking buttons they could find. Paperweight, colored glass, embossed metal, and myriad others.

Great Grandma's Charmstring

Great Grandma’s Charmstring

It is rare today to find an intact charm string. As is the way with things that require the continued attention of a teenager, most were not finished. Many have been removed from their strings to be collected or sold separately.

A charming collection begins

A charming collection begins

I already have my Prince Charming, so I consider myself free of the stricture against buying buttons. Here’s the beginning of my own charm string. It is a mix of Victorian and mid-20th Century moonglow, for which I have a weakness. With only 16 buttons, already it has a lovely heft. I’ll let you know if anything interesting happens when it’s finished.

Oh, and feel free to send me pretty buttons. Shank only, please.

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