In the course of searches through the First World War magazines in our archive, this blogger has come across a strange little chap, who was, nevertheless, familiar to thousands of British soldiers. Advertisements for the jeweller, J. C. Vickery from 1916, show a picture of a curious charm entitled, "Fumsup" together with a recommendation to send one, 'to your friend on active service.'
As lucky mascots go, Fumsup is an endearing one, reminiscent of the Kewpie doll characters of the 1920s. He first began to surface around the end of the 19th century, but enjoyed a heightened popularity during the Great War when charms and mascots to bring the owner some mystical luck at the Front proliferated.
Fumsup came in various forms but the majority had a body formed of brass or silver (sometimes with moveable limbs) and an acorn-like head made from wood, either featureless or with a cherubic expression, marrying two of the most commonly used forms of luck-bringing superstitions - touching wood and the thumbs up sign. J. C. Vickery offered him at four price levels - silver with natural eyes, 9ct gold, 15ct gold or, at a cost of 30 shillings, in gold with real gems for eyes. Their advertisement included a short rhyme reminding readers of Fumsup's powers:
Behold in me
The birth of luck,
Two charms combined,
Touchwood - Fumsup
It was a shortened version of a longer poem that often accompanied the tokens when they were sold. The rest read:
We now have some examples of this humble little object via the David Cohen Fine Art collection, but also a charming postcard featuring Fumsup grinning his eternally cheery smile, as well as a Fumsup doll.
Fumsup was by no means the only token exchanged between loved ones during the war. In an environment where the pervading shadow of possible death permanently lurked, it seems natural that good luck charms should be used to ward against the random and arbitrary nature of modern warfare. There were pendants in gold and silver in the shape of white heather, crosses, those that might contain a lock of hair and other oddments such as bones, lucky bullets, heart shaped lockets and a special Empire mascot, designed by John Hassall formed of a British bulldog sitting squarely upon the German eagle. The image of Eve, the fictional gossip columnist of The Tatler magazine, drawn by the illustrator Annie Fish was even marketed as a lucky charm during this period though targeted at women rather than military men one imagines.
But Fumsup was small enough to be secreted away upon one's person and sweet enough to bring a little cheer to those serving in the armed forces. Today, despite his diminutive size and worn appearance, surviving examples of Fumsup bring considerable sums on auction sites like ebay. We'd love to see replicas of him revived as a commemorative item for the forthcoming centenary, an idea that would definitely get the 'fumsup' from us.