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?