FUMSUP and TOUCH WOOD CHARMS
Behold in me the birth of luck,
Two charms combined TOUCH WOOD-FUMSUP.
My head is made of wood most rare
My thumbs turn up to touch me there.
To speed my feet they’ve Cupid’s wings,
They’ll help true love 'mongst other things.
Proverbial is my power to bring
Good luck to you in everything.
I’ll bring good luck to all away,
Just send me to a friend today.
That is a poem that would sometimes be written on the card that the Fumsup charms would be sold on and I thought a very fitting start to my article on touch wood and Fumsup charms.
The Fumsup character is believed to be a nod back to the Gladiator days in Rome when the Emperor would decide if a Gladiator would live or die. Supposedly a ‘thumbs up’ would mean he would live and a ‘thumbs down’ would mean death. Historians have since proven this to be wrong but when this Fumsup character emerged in the late Victorian period I expect they still believed the original stories.
So why the strange spelling of the name Fumsup? I have a theory. The majority of the Fumsup charms have registered design numbers. For the character to be registered it would need a name that could also be registered and the name ’thumbs up’ couldn’t be because it was a universal saying so they spelt it differently. Only a theory but quite a good one I think.
The Fumsup character first appears around the 1880's. It wasn’t just as charms but on all sorts of items including crested china, postcards and even packs of playing cards. The postcard pictured above has a small write up on the back which calls the character a ‘baby Mercury with the emblem of luck on his forehead’.
It was the outbreak of WWI that saw his popularity soar. This was also when the wooden head first appeared and he became a touch wood charm as well as a Fumsup charm. He was sent to soldiers from sweethearts as a good luck charm and there are some lovely stories to be found on the internet today from families who still have their Fumsup charms that saw their Grandfathers through WWI and in some cases WWII as well.
Pictured above is the classic sterling silver Fumsup with the wooden head and articulated arms. This has a registered design number for 1914 on the back as seen in picture two. Some had white glass eyes but others were available with lucky birthstone eyes. Next is a thin pressed one sided Fumsup that is a Christmas pudding charm. This mould was also used to make a fully puffed version. The one on the end is a cheaper version in brass with a wooden bead head that has painted features rather than the carved or pressed features that the silver one has.
The classic version was also made in 9ct gold as pictured above. Also available is another silver one that has the words “Lucky Luce” on the front instead of "Fumsup" along with a much rounder head made of glass (ultra rare). These were originally thought to be English but since obtaining one I have realised that they are actually American in origin. They are marked "JMF Co STERLING" which I believe is the J M Fisher Company of Attleboro in Massachusetts. They made literally thousands of charms from the turn of the last century. I haven't yet found out why "Lucky Luce" but I shall keep on looking.
A silver Fumsup can be found for around £110, gold ones around £150 and the brass ones around £35. Lucky Luce will set you back about £150.
TOUCH WOOD CHARMS
You will either be a “touch wood” or a “knock on wood” person. It will depend on what part of the world you live in. Both have the same effect, they ward off bad luck. The saying is believed to have come from a child’s chase or tag game in the Victorian era. If you “touched wood” you were safe from being tagged. Others think it is a pagan belief to do with tree spirits. If you knock on wood whilst speaking your bold words the tree spirits won’t be able to hear you so won’t be able to interfere with them. Whatever its roots it is something we all do when we say something like “I’ve not had a cold in ages……touch wood”.
These three pictured above all have raised arms that are touching their own wooden heads for luck. These date from the First World War period circa 1914. The first one is fully round with silver arms and legs. The second one is flat backed with a silver frame and, as can be seen in the third picture, it holds a photo of General French. These were issued as good luck charms for the troops to help with morale and were available with different military leaders or Royalty pictured in the back of them. These are valued at around £85 each. There was also a lady touch wood charm in the style of picture one but she wore a dress and her legs were straight. I have had one but unfortunately can‘t find my picture of her. She is rare and I haven‘t seen one for a while so I would have thought £120 at least.
This British bulldog touch wood charm is a very rare one. Impressed into the wood is the word “Victory” rather than the normal “Touch Wood” and the registration number on the bulldog is for 1915. This was issued as a “Touch wood for Victory” charm rather than one that was issued after victory had been achieved. There should be a painted British flag on the front but that has worn away. I would expect £120 for this.
There was an even rarer touch wood charm issued in 1922 called the “Footer Touchwood“. I don’t have permission to show a photo and I don’t own one myself so I will describe him to you instead. He has a leather football shaped wooden head and an enamel body wearing a blue and white striped football shirt with white shorts. This was issued by Huddersfield Town Football Club for the 1922 FA Cup final against Preston North End. It obviously worked because Huddersfield won the match 1-0. I can’t imagine many were issued originally, probably only to the directors, so there can only be a few remaining today. Ultra rare and at least £250.
Also in the 1920's ballotini beads were being used in Czechoslovakia. They were wooden beads covered in tiny globules of glass. It was these tiny glass balls that were actually the “ballotini”. Originally they were used to make a surface reflective but the jewellers in Gablonz in Czechoslovakia saw the potential in jewellery making and used them to cover wooden beads.
One of the items they made was the beautiful little doll charm above. It had the wooden “touch wood” head with painted face and the jointed arms with raised thumb that would lift up to touch the head, just like the Fumsup charms. The legs are also jointed and made of celluloid. These are getting harder to find today so I would expect £50 plus.
During the 1930's and 40's the touch wood charms weren’t very interesting. They tended to be polished pieces of wood in silver mounts but by the late 1950's things had got much more exciting. A series of wonderful animals & characters had emerged all with round wooden bodies. They are all marked with ST SIL within a double diamond shape. This is believed to be an early Nuvo mark. The charms are of wonderful quality and superb moulding. Some are pictured below.
The gnome seems to be the most common so expect to pay around £50 for him. The animals can normally be found for around £50-70 each. Along with the ones pictured above I also know that in the characters there was a Policeman and a Cowboy and in the animals there was an elephant, cat, squirrel and an owl. There is also the teapot marked the same, see below, which sells for around £30 and the ball and claw which sells for around £25. If anyone can add more to this list please let me know.
There were other touch wood charms available. There is a particularly nice pixie on a wooden toadstool as pictured below. Expect to pay around £45 for that one.
Finally I have pictured a simple but quite effective 1970's touch wood charm. Worth about £25.
(Values updated January 2016)
All images and text copyright Sandy’s Vintage Charms 2009.