by Terri Horton
Excerpt from California State Button Society Button Brief, Spring 2010
Reprinted with permission from the author
“Charmed, I’m sure”, “it’s charming”, “she charmed him”, “charm school”, “prince charming”…the word “charm” has many implications. The Merriman-Webster Dictionary gives us several definitions for “charm”—“1. An act or expression believed to have magic power, 2. Something worn about the person to ward off evil or bring good fortune, 3. A trait that fascinates or allures, 4. Physical grace or attraction, 5. A small ornament worn on a bracelet or chain” and for “charming”—“greatly pleasing to the mind or senses”.  In the button collecting world, a charm string certainly fascinates, could be thought to resemble a charm bracelet, and definitely is pleasing to the mind or senses!
In 1939 one author wrote “Sixty years ago, small girls vied with each other to see which could add the greatest number and most beautiful buttons to a long string, known as a “charm”, “love”, or “memory” string. The idea was to collect 999, and the owner would see her future husband. But woe betide if inadvertently more were added, for that would be a fateful sign of spinsterhood. There was also a game called “touch button” in which the owner of a string of buttons would designate in her own mind a certain button. If her friend touched it the owner received the handsomest button from the friend’s string.”  “The fad of making button strings started in the 1860s…[and] remained popular until 1900”. 
In our button literature there are many references to charm string-type buttons and to lore that surrounded creating a charm string, but few about specific charm strings….
As Sally Luscomb says of charm strings in The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons “To start…first tie a string to a large button.” It is wonderful to speculate about the strings we own, but even better to know the real story. The historical documentation by the Charm String Museum is a wonderful resource. At the time the above article was published, I included a photograph of an identified young girl who is holding her prized charm string and appears to be in bed, propped up on pillows. It is reprinted here with the permission of the owner, The Thanatos Archive, in hopes that someone knows her story.