Korean charms are much scarcer and frequently much more elaborate than Chinese charms.
A visitor to my website recently asked if I could provide any information on this old charm which was purchased in Shanghai in the 1930’s.
This is a traditional Korean charm fully embellished with tassels, ribbons and old Korean coins.
This side of the charm shows a large and very stylized Chinese character shou (壽), meaning “longevity”, in the very center.
To the right and left of the “longevity” character are images of children.
Around the perimeter of the charm are images of five bats with their wings highlighted in red.
The “bats” are a visual pun or rebus. The Chinese word for “bat” (fu) has the same pronunciation as word for “happiness” or “blessing” (fu).
The “five bats” therefore are a symbol of the “five happinesses” or “five blessings” which are: longevity, wealth, health and composure, virtue, and the desire to die a natural death in old age.
Surrounding the “lion” are a number of flying birds which may be magpies. Magpies symbolize “happiness” because the first character in the Chinese word for “magpie” (xi que) has the same pronunciation as the Chinese character for “happiness” (xi).
There are seven “magpies” depicted which may refer to the ancient love story of the Oxherd and the Weaver Girl. The two lovers were separated in the heavens for eternity but are allowed to meet each other once a year by crossing a celestial bridge composed of “magpies” on the 7th day of the 7th month.
The Chinese characters for the “Five Blessings” are written around the perimeter of the charm.
The coins hanging from the bottom of the charm are ancient Korean “sang pyong tong bo” cash coins which were produced during the years 1633-1891. While these coins do not display the year they were cast, many can be dated to a specific time period due to the mint marks and other symbols on their reverse sides.
The charm is made of brass and was probably made sometime during the 1800’s although it could possibly be even older.
This charm is an outstanding example of ancient Korean folk culture.