Of buttons, Collector’s Weekly writes, “As long as human beings have needed to keep their clothing fastened, buttons have been there to do the work.” Buttons may be utilitarian, however, even well into the era of mass production, they were made to be reused on the garments of succeeding generations, resulting in little works of art that please collectors’s eyes today.
Many still recall our grandmothers’ button jars or boxes filled with delightful miniature wonders of carved shell, shiny metal augmented with brilliant cut-steel embellishments, luminous glass, light and fancifully shaped celluloid, and bakelite of eye-watering colors. I was born in 1963, my father in 1928, and my father’s mother in 1891. Some of my earliest memories are of Nanny, as I called her, sewing on a black Singer treadle machine richly decorated with Victorian gothic revival red and gold designs. As Nanny pumped the ornate foot panel in a soothing rhythm, I played in a pool of buttons scooped from the sewing machine’s cabinet drawers. I remember, especially, bakelite raspberries, as tart red as the real fruits, and a large navy blue button shaped like a bundle of roses. I have recently obtained a white version, seen below.
I’m especially fond of celluloid, a composition plastic made of cellulose dinitrate blended with pigments, fillers, camphor, and alcohol, that was invented in the mid-1800s and meant to mimic ivory. In some colors, it produces a soft, comforting glow when illuminated, rather like a glass of apple juice or beer.
And then there are the metal picture buttons. Oh my.
I’ll close with a few more interesting examples.
All buttons from my modest collection.