In our last two installments, we’ve followed the trail of the curious glass poles called charm wands or charm sticks. Why have we not seen any reference to the use of these before the twentieth century?
To find out more, I asked at the Rakow Research Library of the Corning Museum of Glass. The research librarian helpfully sent me some articles on the topic, including an especially interesting one by G. Bernard Hughes from Country Life magazine from 1970.
According to Hughes, these curious shepherd’s crooks first appeared in the 1770s as part of a fashion fad, possibly inspired by ceremonial maces. They saw a resurgence in the 1820s, and they continued to be known throughout the nineteenth century. The first clue that we have as to their use as “charm sticks” is in Soames’ Curiosities of Literature, from 1847, dealing with superstitious practices in Devon. Given the lack of an online edition of that book, I’ll quote from the revised edition of 1849:
But the most curious of their general superstitions is that of the Glass Rod, which they set up in their houses and wipe clean every morning, under the idea that all diseases from malaria, as well as other contagious maladies will gather about the rod innoxiously. It is twisted, in the form of a walking stick, and is from four to eight feet long. They can seldom be persuaded to sell it, and if it gets broken they augur that misfortune will ere long befall some one in the cottage where it has been set up.
Hughes also adds that these devices were likely too involved to be made in a glassmaker’s spare time, especially due to their long hours.
At this point, it seems that the glass rods were originally created as fashion accessories, which later became associated with disease and good luck, and later became explicitly connected with spirits. Nonetheless, if you find another explanation, I’d really like to hear it.