If you own a button box, you have the start of one of the most popular hobbies and — very likely — the makings of original accessories
by Muriel R Hanson
Collectors of specialties lead active, purposeful lives. If they are truly interested in acquiring lovely or unusual examples of certain kinds of objects, they must be informed and tireless, roaming from attics to antique shops to auctions in search of undiscovered treasures. No likely place may be passed up by those whose homes are utterly charming “museumettes” of Americana.
But, in one field, the collector can simply sit back, while the collection pours unbidden into her house, and that is the field of buttons. However, even here, the authoritative collector ranges alongside the pursuer of glass and china, both in knowledge and effort expended, for there are great rarities among buttons, too.
Most of us, however, are involuntary collectors, keepers of buttons inherited from our mothers, of those we clipped from worn-out dresses and blouses because they were so pretty and could be used again. But not many of us are aware of the potentialities of the collection we possess. Partly this is due to the fact that we have not gone out to look for old and odd buttons, but chiefly it is because we limit in our minds the use of buttons. We see them solely as fasteners, decorative and utilitarian, for our family’s wardrobe.
But, thanks to the infinite variety of design and material in buttons, they can be used in many different ways — once we call on our imagination.
1. Seaport scene – French porcelain of about 1860. This is one of a set of four hand-painted buttons showing port scenes.
2. Theater Italien – French sepia print (eighteenth century) under glass. Each of the buttons in the set of sixteen showed a different scene.
3. Polished agate – This very highly polished stone, mounted on copper gilt, was made in France in the eighteenth century.
4. Bird on grass – a Dresden porcelain button of about 1760.
5. Woman with lyre – Characters from mythology were especially popular in the eighteenth century; this French button is painted on ivory under glass.
6. Fleur-de-lis – Also under glass and of the same era, this one is made of woven silk.
7. Woman in bicorn hat – made of French Limoges enamel in about 1850.
8. Hunter with dog and rabbit – a fine example of an eighteenth century French enamel button with sterling mount.
9. Head of woman – French lithograph under celluloid, with steel-point border, of about 1860.
10. Strass button – About 1750, a German jeweler living in Paris invented a method of simulating gems. It was named after him but more commonly is called paste. This French “emerald” button is paste and sterling.
11. Cronus, father of Zeus – of eighteenth-century Wedgwood with a border of steel point.
12. Mythological figures – eighteenth-century Wedgwood, once more, with a peach-green background, rare today.
13. Child with bubble – hand-carved of mother-of-pearl in Palestine shortly before the second World War.
14. Coaching scene – English mother-of-pearl, from a coachman’s coat of about 1820. The original coat contained eight buttons, each of which portrayed a different scene.
15. Lohengrin’s farewell to Elsa – from a set of buttons showing scenes from operas, made of French brass in the nineteenth century.
16. Fox and stork – At this time, too, Aesop’s fables inspired the button makers of France.
17. Sagittarius – Signs of the zodiac were also popular, then.
18. Bird and flowers – fine French Victorian Cloisonne enamel with steel-point border.
19. Canio – the clown from Pagliacci, another button from the opera set in brass.
20. The goosegirl – from a group of French Victorian brass buttons, based on favorite fairy tales.
Buttons provided by Herbert L J Partridge of New York, authority on fine buttons