Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Risking death to save a button

O.k. maybe not death but injury.  I love parades and will go whenever I have a chance.  Well, we were at one where some of the various groups that do civil war re-enactments were participating.  If you've ever been fortunate enough to talk to someone who does civil war reenactments you'll know they strive to be as accurate as possible with their costuming.  Since I have a friend who is quite involved in this, I know that many of them will even purchase vintage buttons to use on their clothing.  

Back to the parade.  It was a beautiful sunny morning if a bit on the cool side.  I could here the fife and drums off in the distance as I settled my blanket on the curbside (Yes, these old bones still sit on the ground with the kids!).  The local band led off the parade followed by some of the Pee Wee leagues and a couple of clowns.  Then came the Civil War group.  As one of the drummers passed by, a button dropped off his shirt.  Well I had to have it!  So as the group passed I made a mad dash into the street to grab the button - right in front of the mounted division of the Knights of Columbus.  Have to give the horse credit, he didn't seem too upset, though I can't say the same for his rider!

The button turned out to be an authentic 4 hole bone button as was common on shirts of that era.  Not nearly as valuable as an authentic civil war metal button would've been (the one pictured recently sold for $600+), but a find nonetheless.  Besides, if it had turned out to be a metal one I would have felt compelled to hunt the guy down and give it back! So, what lengths have you gone to in order to get a button?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Button Cat

Normally I blog about vintage and collectible buttons.  Today I'm blogging about buttons and a crazy cat.  The cat is an all black male, about 10 months old and addicted to buttons.  His name is Spaz and all I can say is never was there a cat more aptly named.  Personally, I think he must have been a goofy dog (think Marley) in another life. 

Now I love buttons.  Old ones, new ones, fat ones, skinny ones.  If it's interesting, I want to get my hands on it.  Here and there I could've sworn I had a particular button only to not be able to find it when I wanted it.  I alternated between thinking I'd been looking at too many button sites and only imagined having it and believing I was losing my mind!

Besides collecting them, I also use them to create unique jewelry pieces.  In the process of creating, I usually set up a layout.  Sometimes a piece comes together immediately, other times it'll need some rearranging.  If I don't like the look of a piece I'll leave it laid out so that I can get a feel for what needs to be added or changed. 

The other day I had a bracelet laid out using nice bright bakelite buttons.  Since I intend this piece to have flower charms and such, I'd used a variety of colors but it was still missing something.  Thinking a hint of a silver mirrorback might do the trick I fetched those buttons.  About this time the phone rang, dinner needed to be started and some kid or other wanted help.  Fast forward a couple hours and I'm back to working on the bracelet.  Only thing is, the mirrorbacks that I thought I'd placed into the piece are now missing.  Starting a search, I eventually locate one of them on the bathroom counter.  Now I notice the cat sitting there with a goofy grin on his face, but I don't associate him with the missing buttons.  Instead, I assume I must've had it in my hand and stopped to do something (like pick up the towels, fix the blinds someone had to look thru, put the cap on the toothpaste, and on it goes..)  O.k., 1 button found, 1 to go.  I look and look and can't locate the button.  It's not like I don't have lots of others so I finally go get another one.  As I go to place it in the arrangement, who should stroll in but Spaz, with the button in his mouth.  Still not having a clue, I think he must've found it on the ground.  I even praise him for bringing it to me! 

Now that the mirrorbacks are twinkling amongst the Bakelites and the daisies, I'm much happier with the layout.  It's too late to begin creating the bracelet, so I shut down the lights and prepare to retire for the night.  While I go about my business, the cat shadows me like the faithful companion he is.  Off to sleep I go only to be awakened several hours later by a strange sound.  It went kind of like plink, thud, pause, plink thud, pause.  Unable to think (I don't process well at 2 in the morning!) I groggily staggered out of bed, stepped on a Lego, barely stopped myself from swearing, and headed towards the sound.  What I found was Spaz, up on my work table, happily batting buttons off 1 at a time.  He'd bat the button, wait for it to hit the floor, hop down, grab it and take it away.  Then he'd be back to do it all over again.

Turning on the light, I discovered about half my buttons for the bracelet were missing.  All the charms and beads were still there, he'd just been stealing the buttons.  You'd think being caught would have some effect, but no, he looked up as if to say "Isn't this fun?  Want to play?" and went right back to destroying my bracelet.  About then I decided it was a good night for him to sleep in the garage!

The next morning I begin the hunt (again) for my buttons.  Not in the workroom, not on the floor there, the kitchen or the living room.  Bathroom and family room are empty as well.  I know they're not in the kids rooms as they sleep with their doors closed (It's either that or be attacked by the kamikaze cat at 3 in the morning!  Spaz's thought process goes something like this:  "I want to sleep with you so I must first dive bomb your head!")  Where, oh where could my buttons be?

Decided I could get down on all fours and try to figure it out or I could let the cat lead the way.  Digging out the mirrorback from the day before, I attached a piece of yarn to it, left it on the table and walked away.  Sure enough, the cat couldn't resist the lure of the button.  I watched as he quickly dashed into the living room.  Following behind, the button was gone before I got there, but the attached string gave it away.  He'd hidden it beneath the cushion where he sleeps.  Removing the cushion from his bed I discovered about 20 buttons!  Seems he'd been stealing buttons for awhile.  Curious to see if this was the only hiding place, I dumped the wicker basket containing cat toys.  You guessed it, more buttons.   On to the couch.  The couch is too low to the ground for a cat to get under as there is only about 2 inch of clearance.  Grabbing a flashlight and laying on the floor (whereupon the cat promptly laid down on my back!) I looked under the couch and found more buttons.  He'd evidently used his paw to push them back as far as he could.  At this point I could be heard murmuring "I love my cat, I love my cat" over and over again as I fought the urge to throttle him.  Not that I could, as he was still curled up smack in the middle of my back purring away!  Rescuing my buttons, I shook them at him and said in my sternest voice "NO!  Bad kitty!  My buttons!"  Now, if I'd used that tone with a dog I would've gotten a head and tail hung down in shame.  But Spaz?  He looked up, grinned his grin and did his little happy dance on his too large feet! 

Needless to say, and much to his dismay, the cat is now banned from the workroom.  I feel a bit guilty about that as he does love to curl up in a spot of sunlight and nap while I'm working, but when it comes to my buttons I'm gonna save them from that cat!  Of course that doesn't solve the problem of the buttons I displayed. I've got them in decorative glass baskets, interesting bowls and jars throughout the house.  My husband jokes that the only room that doesn't have buttons in it is the bathroom!  Until I figure out how to keep him out of my buttons I'll be spending a lot of time reminding myself "I love my kitty, I love my kitty" that AND crawling around on the floor looking for my buttons!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fun Friday Finds

If you're a button lover you have to take time to see this!  This lady's button collection is absolutely amazing. 

Even better, the buttons have been displayed in amazing ways.  There's buttons by category on standard display cards and then there are buttons that have been used to create art.  Lots of pictures and well worth the visit.  Just looking at all those lovely buttons makes me want to go button hunting!  House cleaning and work can wait there are new buttons to be found!  Hope you have a great weekend and may all your finds be good ones.  Feel free to stop by and share your treasures.  I always love seeing cool buttons!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's a great day for Goofies!

I love Goofies or realistics (O.k. let's face it, if it's an interesting button of any kind I probably love it!)  They almost always make me smile.  Technically, Goofies are plastic realistic buttons dating from the 30s - 50s era.  They can be in any shape or theme.  You can find circus characters, devils, fruit and lots of animal buttons.  They're often made from either Bakelite or Celluloid.  Buttons made from other types of material or from a different date range are usually referred to as realistics, though people often refer to newer buttons as novelty or snap-together. 

Whichever term you use, the buttons all have one thing in common.  They are made to look like an every day, ordinary object.  Although some can be quite expensive (such as a Weeber fruit) others can be had fairly cheaply.  Thus, if you're just starting a button collection this is a fun category to collect.  Plus, since this category includes modern day buttons as well, there are lots of fun finds out there.  Since I make jewelry from both vintage and contemporary buttons, I can often be found in the button aisle at my local craft store.  There's always something that gets my creative juices flowing.   Being that Halloween is just around the corner, this is what I've done with some new novelty buttons:

This bracelet is currently listed on Ebay and is made from a novelty packet of halloween buttons plus a few interesting teardrop beads.  Definitely fits the Halloween theme as there are pumpkins, tombstone, a ghost, potion, spell book and other spooky stuff all of which started out as buttons!

Goofies and realistics - fun to collect, fun to create with, and always guaranteed to make you smile.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Buttons, string them one by one thus a charm string is begun

Button charm strings are a unique part of American history.  Also known as memory strings, they were all the range in the 1860s and remained popular up to the 1900s.  According to folklore, when a girl collected 1000 buttons on her string she would meet her prince charming.

Now, you couldn't just string a bunch of buttons together as there were rules to this game.  The buttons were to be one-of-a kind, with a pretty or interesting theme.  The girl was not to buy them, they were to be given by friends and family members.  They could also be traded with another stringer.   Until the string was completed, it was kept in plain view as a way to inspire visitors to contribute buttons.  I'm sure, much as we do today,  stories were also recounted about how certain buttons were acquired. There were bound to be buttons on the string that commemorated events as well, such as the button from grandma's wedding dress, a mourning button from the time of an uncle's death, etc.

Strings were always begun by tieing on a large button known as a touch button.   The material used for stringing was either ordinary string or wire.  The girl would continue stringing on the prettiest,  finest small glass and jeweled buttons of the period. Original charm strings of the late 1800s often had a large quantity of very small and dainty glass buttons, Victorian metals, and early paperweight buttons.. It wasn't uncommon to also find non-button items on the string such as religous amulets, small carved wooden charms, coins and other small items.

Nowadays it is very rare to find a charm string.  In truth, most strings never made it to the required 1000 buttons.  Many strings were destroyed, with the buttons being used or divided up amongst family members.  Still others fell to the hands of button collectors who couldn't resist taking the buttons off the string.

If you actually do happen upon a string of buttons, it is wise to check to see if you actually have a charm string as they are quite collectible and valuable.  The way to do this is to first look at the age and condition of the string or wire.  Secondly, look at the buttons themselves to see if they were made during the proper time frame (roughly 1850-1900) 

Charm strings are thought to have eventually led to the practice of charm quilts (also known as memory or friendship quilts)  With the quilts the practice was somewhat the same in that the goal was to make a crazy quilt with no 2 pieces of fabric being the same.  While both practices are now things of the past, it doesn't mean you can't revive them and start your own charm string - all you need is a few good buttons!

Should you be lucky enough to own a vintage charm string I'd love to see your pictures!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Best places to find buttons

Vintage and collectible buttons can be found in all kinds of places.  Of course the easiest (and cheapest) place is to simply ask family and friends if they have any old buttons.  Many people are more than willing to give up that old button box that's been sitting around gathering dust. 

Of course half the fun of button collecting is the hunt itself.  In a way it's like hunting for buried treasure.  You never know what little gem will turn up in that ordinary pile of buttons.  There are so many places to seek out buttons that the list is almost endless!  

Estate sales often yield good results.  Even if you don't see any buttons out, asking if they have some will often net a good group of buttons.  People often don't think of grandma's button box as being something that will sell.
Next on the list would be your local antique or resale shops.  If you don't want to spend a lazy afternoon going from shop to shop, calling and asking if they have buttons is easy enough.  Again, if you are at the shop and don't see any, ask.  One of our local shops never has any buttons out, but if I ask she usually pulls some out of drawer somewhere.  Seems she throws them in there when she finds them mixed in with other things.  Luckily for me she sells them cheap!

Another great place for buttons is auctions.  If you enjoy local auctions or have always wanted to try one but aren't sure where to find them, you will benefit from checking out Auction Zip    This website allows you to search for auctions within a set distance from your zip code.  It then brings up the choices by date and auctioneer.  Once you click on an auction, you'll usually find the auction house has posted both a general description of items as well as photos of some of the items.  Auctions can be a lot of fun and net some great buttons.  Of course internet auctions are also popular.  Everyone has heard of Ebay and it can be an excellent place both for large lots of buttons and individual buttons.  Since it is so popular, competition can be stiff.  An excellent but lesser known site is Proxibid.  Proxibid merges real auctions with online ones.  You can search for specific items and it will bring up auctions happening within the next few weeks.  Click on a link and you can see the item and leave a bid if desired.  On the actual day and time of the auction you can follow the live link in real time.  There you can either watch each lot as it comes up or bid against others - both online and at the auction.  Since most auction houses charge a premium for internet bidding, it always pays to read the house rules before you bid. 

Besides these ways to find buttons there are many button sites as well.  Doing a google search will bring up 100s of choices.  Join a forum and you'll be amazed at how many people are selling buttons or willing to share good websites to buy buttons.  Joining the National Button Society and your state or local club are also excellent sources.  Not only will you get tons of really useful information, you'll also learn great sources for buttons. 

Speaking of the National Button Society (NBS) the yearly convention is a button collector's dream.  Buttons in every conceivable shape, size and material or on display.  Some are entered in competition, others for sale plus there are LOTS of button vendors!  If you go, bring cash as you won't be able to resist!  The convention is held in a different state each year so it's possible to plan your vacation around the convention.  The NBS always has details posted well in advance. 

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fun Friday Finds

Thought I'd use Fridays to highlight interesting button finds.  After all, Christmas is coming and I'm always on the hunt for a new or interesting button item to give as a gift!  Ran across these (from a link at Amazon) recently:

I'll be giving this one as a gift to a good friend and one of my best "button buddies".

This one I'm going to ask for.  Maybe if I drop enough hints I can get if for Sweetest Day?!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Buttons make good memories

A couple months ago a friend of a friend mentioned she had some old buttons that I could have.  Being a seriously button crazed person, I jumped at the chance to get new buttons for free!  When I arrived at her house, she pulled out an old cigar box filled with buttons.   She said, "I've kept these for years because they were my mother's.  It's silly as I don't even sew."  Opening the box I saw wonderful Bakelite and celluloid buttons as well as some great chintz and china stencils.  I also saw memories.  I'd heard the wistful, somewhat melancholy tone of her voice when she gave me the buttons.  Having lost my own mother, I know how simple everyday things can bring back memories as well as a touch of sadness at the loss of a loved one. 

Pouring some of the buttons on the table, I asked which of these she could remember being on a piece of clothing.  Just like so many of us, she began picking up buttons and saying, "This was on my mom's church dress, this one came from my dad's coat, I think this was off of one of my outfits"  It's funny how a simple little button can bring back such a vivid memory. 

Already knowing what I was going to do, I thanked her for the buttons and left.  When I got home, I pulled out the buttons she had pointed out and set to work.  A few hours later I had created a lovely bracelet out of her buttons.   When I returned the buttons, now in bracelet form, to her she actually cried.  Here was a tangible and beautiful memory of her mother.  She tell me she wears it often and always smiles as it makes her feel closer to the loved ones who are no longer with her. 

Since that time I've been getting requests from others to do the same.  I'm finding these are particularly popular with military families.  A young woman (twenties) just sent me buttons and charms from her family.  She tells me the military buttons in the mix are from her grandfather, father and now brother who is currently stationed in the middle east and the charms from a grandmother who recently passed away.  She even sent photos of the 4 of them so when I make her bracelet I'll know who's buttons I'm using.  Funny thing is, I think I enjoy making these bracelets every bit as much as they enjoy getting them!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Buttons Bring Fame and Fortune

In my search for different and unusual buttons, I often run into interesting and unusual things people do with buttons.  Periodically I thought I'd share some of them.  So, today I introduce you to Dalton Stevens, The Button King.  This man has attached buttons to some very unusual things such as a car, hearse, 2 caskets, a toilet an outhouse and more!  All those buttons have brought him his share of fame as he's been on The Letterman Show, The Tonight Show, Nashville Now and local and national news shows.  Should you like to see his creations in person you can find them in South Carolina at the Button King Museum.   His website gives directions to the museum as well as having lots of pictures of the different button creations.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bakelite, charms, lapel buttons and BOLTS?

You've probably gone to an estate sale or bought a box of buttons at an auction only to find the box contains things other than buttons.  Now I expect that a vintage sewing tin might have things such as needles, pins, zippers, etc. mixed in with the buttons, but often I find other things as well.  Some of them it's easy to understand how they ended up in the button box, but others seem so out of place you just have to wonder how they got there.

The other day I went to an auction and was the winning bidder for a really nice big box of buttons ( lot of which will be turned into vintage button charm bracelets).  After bringing my treasure home, I immediately began sorting.   I was very pleased to find a huge carved Bakelite belt buckle as well as both bakelite and celluloid sweater clips.  Digging further into the box I pulled out some nice vintage lapel pins and some religious charms.  These plus some really great buttons all made my collecting heart beat a little faster.  As I pulled out the next handful, the weird stuff began to appear.  Nails, screws, bolts and brass fittings!  There was even a little hammer that unscrewed to house a miniature screw driver.  Not that you could've used that tiny screwdriver on those screws as they were huge!  By the time I was done sorting, I had filled an entire cigar box full of nuts and bolts.  That got me to thinking about all the stuff I've found in button boxes (besides buttons) through the years.  There's been brooches, broken chains, a few rings, several charms, some coins, the occasional piece of child's jewelry, and lots of marbles. 

So, what's the weirdest or most interesting non-button thing you've found in a button box?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Categories of Vintage Buttons

There are several good sites on the internet to help you learn to identify vintage buttons.  When I first started collecting I found them both useful and overwhelming.  Useful, as I gleaned identification tips from several places.  Overwhelming in the sheer volume and detail of information.  So, I thought I'd do a very basic guide to the more common button categories.  At a later point I'll do a blog about some of the subsets and more unusual types of buttons, but for now we'll stick to the basics.  Identifying old buttons isn't as hard as it would seem.  For the most part it's a simple matter of using our senses - seeing, feeling, hearing and smelling.  Occasionally we'll need to do a little more, but for the most part it's fairly simple once you know what to look for.  Most buttons fall into one of the following categories:

Metal - easiest of all to identify and some of the most beautiful.  Most are made of brass, nickel, or aluminum but occasionally you find them made of pewter, silver and even gold.  The most popular to collect are the pictorials and the twinkies (buttons with a cut out design that "twinkle" as they catch the light.) which are also known as mirrorbacks or flashbacks  Within this category you'll also find military buttons (with civil war being the most popular), gay 90s or jewels, enamels, and cut or faceted steels.  Identifying the older ones is done by looking at the back of the button where the shank is.  The shape of the loop and how it is attached to the button give clues to the possible age of the button.

Glass - Feels cool to the touch.  Take a glass button and a plastic button and touch both to your cheek and you'll find that no matter how hot or cold the day is the glass will feel noticiably cooler.  Glass buttons are one area where you'll find people who collect both vintage and modern buttons.  Czech glass is highly sought after for it's iridescent quality as well as the beautiful and intricate designs.  Besides the Czech collectors also seek out rhinestones, black glass (Victorian era), moonglows and paperweights (which look like miniature paperweights).

Ceramic or China - A close cousin to glass, china buttons come in all shapes and sizes.  Probably the most popular are the china stencils which look like they have a stenciled geometric design and the calicos which are patterned after calico fabric. 

Mother of Pearl or Shell - Again, a button easy to tell by feeling as well as looking.  First, it too feels cool to your cheek.  Second, if you turn the button over you can see the striations (looks like little ridges or lines) as well as the strange coloring of the shell.  In this group, anything that's carved or etched is highly collectible.  If it's got a natural coloring to it, that's even better.

Plastics - the hardest of all to identify for the new collector.  We'll break this down into Celluloid, Bakelite and Lucite
  • Celluloid - Early plastic popular until about 1920 or so.  It is highly flammable!  Place this button under hot tap water (only with a solid button, not one with any type of metal as water can destroy a tight top button)  Pull it out and sniff.  You should get a menthol smell.  Think back to how the Vicks vaporub your mother used to use when you where sick and you'll know what it should smell like.  Popular types of buttons are the carved/etched wafers and the tight tops which are celluloid tops stretched over a metal back.
  • Bakelite - 2 basic ways to identify are hot water or Simichrome polish.  Hot water test can be used just like for celluloid except this time when you pull it out it'll smell "fishy" - think cod liver oil.  Another way to identify it is to start with a clean button, put a tiny amount on a clean cloth and gently rub the button.  If the cloth turns yellow the button is Bakelite.  Simichrome is also useful for cleaning and polishing buttons.  Bakelite buttons are one of the most collected.  People collect cookies, apple juice (a kind of clear one) those that come in shapes, and practically anything else you can think of.  Also a very popular type for turning into jewelry.
  • Lucite/Early Thermoset - doesn't have any smell when tested.  Usually lighter than Bakelite but heavier than celluloid. 
  • Casein - If using a hot needle test (not recommended) this one smells like sour milk (Peee-ewwww!) 
Realistics/Goofies and Snap Togethers - Realistics or goofies are buttons (usually plastic) that are shaped like everyday objects.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  You can find flowers, food, circus animals and even cartoon characters!  Snap Togethers are the modern day plastic buttons that you can find in any fabric store.  Again they come in fun shapes.  They're known as snap togethers because they are formed in 2 parts that "snap" together.

Miscellaneous Materials - Buttons have been made out of practically anything you can think of.  There are ones made from wood, rubber, bone, antlers, paper mache, horn, and  corozo nuts (buttons were carved from the corozo nuts of the tague palm. The material resembled ivory, therefore “vegetable ivory” buttons)

That would be a basic breakdown of button categories.  As you can see, there are lots of  categories to pick from.  Whether you collect a specific type of like a mixture, there's sure to be a button out there to catch your eye.  As this blog progresses, we hope to do more of the categories and buttons styles. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How Did You Start Collecting Buttons?

Do you remember how you came to collect buttons? Was it a gradual thing or a sudden passion? For me, it was gradual.  I can remember being a child and stringing together the buttons in my mom's button box, pausing to look at the sparkly (rhinestone) ones.  As an adult I saw a box of buttons at an auction and it sparked that old memory. On a whim, I bought them.  Bringing them home, I happily dumped them out and began examining them.  Part of the fun of button collecting is that feeling of a "treasure hunt".  Each box or jar of buttons just might have the "treasure" you're looking for!  Oh, it might not be a rare George Washington inaugural button worth thousands, but it may be just perfect for your collection.  That single box soon led to more and more buttons.  Those found online, at auctions and in dusty little antique shops.  You never know where they'll turn up.

As my button collection grew, I soon turned to internet sources and books to help me learn to identify my buttons.  Then there was the day I learned about button jewelry.  I was well and truly hooked.  Now, not only could I collect, I could create wearable art of vintage buttons! 

Most collectors I know have personal favorites in button styles.  If I'm hunting for buttons to make jewelry, I'm looking for mostly metal or bakelite.  If it's for my own personal collection then it would have to be metal, Victorian black glass, or celluloids.  I'm particularly fond of celluloid carved wafers and luckily for me, that's one area of button collecting where prices are still low.

So, how'd you start collecting and what's your personal favorite style to collect?