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Vintage Carved Glass Charms

Carved Glass Charm Beads
12 charms on 12 strands
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We were, frankly, stumped when we got these from Japan. There are 12 colored glass charms hanging from 12 strands. Mostly women's faces and horses. We've asked around and have come up with some very interesting theories about these, some of which we will print here, including a very interesting theory that they might not even be Japanese. That perhaps these were actually Chinese and sold in Japan since there was trade there some time back.

As for uses, they can probably be sold as is and the uses are endless: pull strings for ceiling fans, wine glass "charmers", prayer beads, kimono sash pull, charms for a charm bracelet, pendants, good luck charms, amulets, talismans.. the list goes on and on.. Of course, you can always just pull them off the strands and use them for jewelry making. :-) We do know that these are very old, dating pre-war, or perhaps even before. They are all hand carved glass beads with a little metal ring on the top to hang them as charms

Size of each charm is about 10-12mm in length and about 9mm wide. The glass beads are faces of women (almost like Cameos) and horses (maybe), and some of the strands contain elephants and roses. Each strand is knotted and the 12 strands are held together with a thread. Color of the strands is optional, they may be red, yellow, blue, green... no choice.

Answers on a postcard, please...

We were flooded with suggestions as to what they might actually be. Here are the best.

  • June Williamson - "This is just a guess - wish my aunt was alive - her husband was the cultural minister at the embassy in Tokyo. Would they be an accessory to a kimono - each separate and tied onto the obi? As I say - just a guess..."

  • Liz Winterbourne - "Are they animals related to the signs of the Chinese Astrology system? There are 12 animals to the system and they could have been kept on this piece of string in order to keep them safe and then one of them removed depending on what year it was (for example the year of the monkey) then carried either as an amulet or talisman for good fortune."

  • Joanne D'Antonio - "Aren't those *worry* beads? You know..,you keep them in your pocket and fiddle with them when your stressed???"

  • Claire Boone - "I believe that the origin of these beads is most likely Chinese -- even though they were purchased in Japan. There was much trade between China beads and Japan. In The History of Beads, plate #155 illustrates a similar sort used as ojime beads that were used on the pouches of obi robes with a counter-balancing weight (The History of Beads, pp. 166). These would be the much later ojime, when the regular classes began to use ojime -- the most precious are carved netsuke. Here the carving ofhuman and animal faces is imitative of netsuke. All of the beads could hang together indicating wealth, and counter-balanced by weight. It would be interesting to know if these beads are jade or carved glass and would help to date them more precisely. The chapters on China and Japan are most helpful in The History of Beads: see plate #189 for ojime with kagamibuta and imagine your strand replacing the netsuke. The other end of the piece would hold the counter-weight. You mentioned colored glass -- so I would expect these to be from early 19th century when "Glass ojime were frequently worn by the less affluent classes." (The History of Beads, p.179)

  • Rebecca Tapley - "Many cultures carry or string little amulets for luck, for health, or for protection. This is why (for example) you see so many scarab beads, pendants, and bracelets in Egyptian jewelry - the scarab beetle had special meaning (I think it was for protection). But this is also the reason why some Arabs carry the Hand of Fatima, or Buddhists will carry a small image of Ganesh or the laughing Buddha."

  • Moyia Zamora - "These are exactly what you said they were, very old colored glass charm beads!"

  • Patricia Lynn Lovett - "Just a guess but I'd say they represent the "Gods" and are used as some kind of prayer bead. Or in a special ceremony. Sorta looks like Bhudda too."

  • Robin Reid - "Regarding your 12 charms of unknown origin (I know, you know they're from China, but work with me here). I think they might be related to Astrology. Kinda like Aries, Pisces, etc., only the Chinese version instead, one for each month. Just a guess. Or, if in the group of 12 there is a monkey, a snake, a dragon, a pig, a dog, etc., it might be the representations for the different Chinese years."

  • Aya Ando - "I couldn't see the photo well - they're monkeys....am I correct? And if they are putting their hands on their noses or mouths or ears? Maybe...called NETSUKE, and if they are monkeys, it is "mi-zaru, kika-zaru, iwa-zaru", which means "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". They are very famous and traditional monkeys in Japan. Please go to the website".

  • Lori Smith - "My guess is that they're some sort of prayer beads. Both of the two major Japanese religions (Shinto and Buddhism) use prayers beads from what I know. Sometimes a nice large bead or pendent like this is attached to their strand of small, plain prayer beads (they're used as their equivalent of a rosary). Other times larger beads or stones are carried solo and used in prayer or like we would use a worry stone. I admit this guess is based mostly on observation instead of actual knowledge. I've been to Japan before and I would see locals with their prayers beads at the various temples. Since I don't speak Japanese I couldn't exactly ask, but that's the gist I got from my view. Hope this helps!"

  • Pam Weaver - "I think they are possibly Chinese zodiac symbols. I have only seen them bundled together. There are twelve of them. The only picture I could really tell was a horse (I think). They are as follows: Dog, Pig, Dragon, Horse, Rabbit, Monkey, Ram, Rat, Tiger, Ox, Rooster, Snake. I hope that I at least came close. Let me know!"

  • Asahi Japan Collectibles - "We could be wrong, of course, but this doesn't seem to be Japanese..."

  • Joni Stevens - "I have no proof, just a guess. I would think that with the number of beads, 12, that it is possibly some sort of counters to be used to mark the dates. Like the Japanese calender. Like the year of the horse, rat, etc. My other quess, would be prayer beads. They are linked together like a rosary or greek worry beads. Good Luck!"

  • Wen Hsu-Chen - "These might be netsukes (used in Ancient Japan as amulets and to tighten sashes and strings in their attire) They a were commonly carved from jade, ivory and other similar materials. Never have I seen Netsukes in glass...but that might just be a variation due to the introduction of a new (cheaper) technology. If the drill goes from "head to toes" longitudinal through the bead, it is definitely a netsuke. And you mentioned in strings of 12. Which animals are in each string? If it goes like this: Rat, Ox, Tiger, rabbit (or cat), dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig...it's the 12 animals of the asian zodiac. If not, I think I can see a white fox and a blue slipper among them? Japan has many symbols in everyday life artifacts and animals, usually they are homophone to words of good fortune, good luck, longevity and such."

  • Dr. Judith N. Rabinovitch, Karashima Tsukasa Professor of Japanese, Language and Culture,University of Montana - "The beads appear to be Chinese, not Japanese. I collected antiques in China for a period of year and note that those pink cotton cords are often attached, with antique wax seals, to many of my objects. Those pink cords are not normally used in Japan, in my experience. Moreover, in many many years of scouring Japanese antique stores, I have never seen amulets of this sort. They appear, more over, to have a folk-art "roughness" of the kind often seen in Chinese carvings, more so than in Japanese carvings, which are often quite finely detailed."

 

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