Along with shoulder pads, fingerless lace gloves, jelly shoes, parachute pants, add-a-bead necklaces, oversized hoop earrings, giant scrunchies, neon headbands, Sony Walkmans, Swatch watches, and Rubik’s cubes, one of the most popular and inclusive trends of the unforgettable 1980s was bell charms.

Collecting bell charms was widely popular, open to all ages, inexpensive, fun, diverse, and, ultimately, very satisfying. They were the ultimate birthday party favor for tweens and teens who danced to songs like Madonna’s “Material Girl,” The Go-Gos’ “Our Lips are Sealed,” and Bon Jovi’s “Runaway.”

So, you remember the drop-waist Laura Ashley dresses, the Official Preppy Handbook, and ruffle-collared blouses, but you just don’t remember bell charms?

Well, you are not alone. Why? Bell charms were not made of quality materials, they were not at the forefront of the collecting arena in the mid-1980s, and since they looked like something that came out of a Cracker Jack box from the 1960s, many people missed the bell charm trend altogether.

Known interchangeably as bell charms or flash charms, the most coveted examples of these collectible toys were mass produced by a handful of toy companies: Jingle Gems, Imperial, and Boogie Oogie charms.

Each of the tiny bell charms hung from a colorful plastic clip that could be attached to the pocket of a denim jacket, plastic link necklace, backpack, belt loop, etc. There were different styles of bell charms, which helped collectors distinguish between which manufacturers produced a specific charm.

The plastic charms consisted of a tiny bell attached to a brightly colored and realistic miniature version of an everyday item: telephones, cookie jars, scales, articulated figures, batteries, fire hydrants, keys, Oreo cookies, traffic lights, mirrors, whistles, tennis racquets, birdhouses, dress shirts, racecars, blenders, kitchen sinks, hearts, boom boxes, robots, shoes, eggplants, 7 Up bottles, calculators, basketball hoops, orange juice containers, fruit, dune buggies, Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip, pool tables, footballs, pianos, guitars, baseball bats, unicorns, boots, mailboxes, candles, bicycles, vinyl records, and even toilets.

This list of bell charm types illustrates how wild collectors were about buying the tiny charms. The bright, neon-colored charms were traded actively and with vigor. Many collectors spent months looking for a specific, ever-elusive figural charm of an Olympic swimmer or a tub of Play-Doh.

Others attempted to amass the largest collection of bell charms. They’d continually clip the newest charm added to their collection to a bright-pink or yellow-link chain that could be worn as a necklace or hung from a bedroom mirror. Some dedicated collectors would collect bell charms and keep them in a protective vinyl binder, housing their collectibles for both storage and display.

Trading bell charms became so intense that some American schools banned the toys, as schoolyard trade deals grew into full-blown arguments. Teachers complained the tiny bells distracted students from learning.

Despite the criticism from school administrators and teachers over the little plastic items, some report that all the academic-based hoopla about banning bell charms just made them more desirable and more sought-after by kids.

Today, a large and diverse collection of bell charms can bring you some cash from collectors. Most charms range in value from $5 to $10 each for typical examples to $15 to $20 each for rare examples. Large collections with original link chains filled with charms command several hundred to thousands of dollars with devoted 1980s bell charmers.


Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning personality Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide, appears on History channel’s The Curse of Oak Island and Pawn Stars Do America, and helps clients with appraisal services at Watch her show you how to find valuables at bargain prices on or call (888) 431-1010.

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