FUMSUP – a First World War lucky charm

This strange little chap was familiar to thousands of British soldiers

I don’t think Steve Grundy is a metal detectorist, but he was interested in my blogpost on the subject of sweetheart brooches, and contacted me about a curious little item in his collection. I must confess that I’d never come across this before, and was rather intrigued.

The brooches I highlighted earlier were, in effect, good luck mascots. What Steve showed me was a good luck charm, popular in the 19th and 20th centuries and often given, by wives and girlfriends, to soldiers about to go to war. The tiny charm has an interesting history, which the Victorians probably believed …

The Fumsup (Thumbs-Up)👍is believed to hark back to Roman times and the days of the gladiators. The story goes that the emperor would decide whether a gladiator would live or die. A ‘thumbs up’👍meant he would die and a👎(Thumbs Down) would mean he would live. This is opposite to what we think today.

This advertisement displays three types of lucky charm or good luck mascot available from JC Vickery of Regent Street, London. On the left is a lucky white heather pendant. In the centre is a lucky number charm, in this case, the number nine and on the right is thumbs up, made from wood but also but also available in silver or gold with real gem eyes.
Courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library

It was the outbreak of WWI that saw the popularity of the FUMSUP soar. This was also when the *wooden head first appeared and he became a touch wood charm as well as a Fum’s Up one. Steve tells me that the head is usually oak, and when new would have had two bead eyes. Oak was the preferred structural building material in the superstitious medieval times. Apparently builders would looked for an oak tree that had been struck by lighting and use a piece of the tree in a house build as ‘lightning never strikes in the same place twice’. The FUMSUP with its acorn or oak nut head was derived from this. Notice that the arms are articulated so it can touch its own head. Touch wood.

My head is made

of wood most rare

my thumbs turn up

to touch me there.


i’ll bring good luck

to all away

just send me to

a friend today

I’ll bring good luck

to all away

Just send me to

a friend today.


*Oak was preferred by medieval builders John, because it is very hard to burn. When Oak was touched by flames it cindered on the outside and then became impervious to the fire. Also during the period sheepswool was recognised as having the same qualities which is why they mixed it in the lime plaster. My Fearnought jacket as First Firefighting Attack team leader in the Royal Navy was made of Lambswool and I wore it through several conflagratians without harm befalling me!’

Shaughn Malcolm Tyreman

I was wondering if any metal detectorist reading this has found a FUMSUP charm. If so, I’d love to see it and add to this blogpost.

FumsUp’, one of a number of charms or mascots produced during the First World War designed to bring good luck.
Date: 1916

7 thoughts on “FUMSUP – a First World War lucky charm

  1. I remember you did a story a few years back on this John.. Or am I mistaken?.. I had heard that our thumbs up and down are the opposite of what the Romans meant.. Strange how that has completely reversed.

    Thank you for this.. It was a pleasure-reading it


    Liked by 1 person

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.