Button collecting is now second only to doll collecting as America's most popular area to collect. Why? Buttons are fun! They can also be very beautiful. They're small, easily stored, and can be attractively displayed in picture frames.
Collectors may find anything from pretty glass and cut plastic and bakelite buttons to beautiful picture buttons- or, on occasion, even a rare 18th century painted pictorial under glass.
In the 18th century, it was men who wore buttons. Whole sets of finely jeweled buttons with real gold and precious stones were worn by the genteel. Some sets were painted by artists and set under glass. These men's buttons were worn down the front of their cutaway coats and on the cuffs. They are now rare and valuable.
About the mid-19th century, with the reign of Queen Victoria, women gradually gave up lacing garments and used buttons instead. Buttons of this period, 1850-1900, are often the most available and artful. The materials they were made of were endless: porcelain, metals, pearl, enamels and black glass, to name a few.
Victorian buttons were decorated with all sorts of motifs: cats (now quite rare and hard to find), dogs and other animals, flowers, people, pictures representing fables, stories of the opera, pastoral scenes, ships… the list goes on and on. There is truly something of interest for everyone. No wonder button collecting has become so popular!
Since 1918, thousands of new types and styles of buttons have been made. Most were made for use on clothing. All of the pre-1930s buttons were used on some type of garment.
Around the 1950s, we started to see a new type of button on the market, "Studio" buttons made not to wear on clothing but to collect. Most are signed and usually dated; some are even numbered. The hottest modern collectables are the plastic, two piece buttons that snap together, making a whole button. There were first made in Germany and France in the 1980s. New designs are being made in lower quality plastic, mostly in Japan. They are fun, colorful and available.
The popularity of buttons is evidenced by the
collector groups and antique dealers who are making them their
Star Center Antique Mall in Snohomish, WA has several dealers who
in buttons among their other beautiful antiques. There is always a
fine selection for both beginners and advanced collectors. Do you have
a few buttons in a jar or box? Look again- you may find a treasure!
-Marjorie Lou Erickson
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