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!

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