DALLAS – When the members of the National Button Society gather for their annual convention, a week doesn’t seem like enough time to cover the diverse creations in this growing hobby. The society’s publicity director, Jim Albanowski, stresses that buttons are a cross collectible linking many antique categories.
“The hobby of clothing-button collecting covers a lot of ground, age, materials, subject matter and uses,” Albanowksi said in the wake of the NBS convention held Aug. 11-18 in Dallas. “Like many other areas, the hobby gained popularity during the Great Depression, with the NBS and state societies being formed in the late 1930s.”
Familiar names connected with buttons include Wedgwood, Lalique and Staffordshire. Collectible buttons come from all over the world. The Japanese made many desirable buttons, mostly for export, though most antique buttons are from Europe, with France and England being the major producers.
Values on buttons range from a few dollars for some common 19th-century glass examples to $1,000 or more for creations from the 18th century. “Some Civil War (mostly Confederate) uniform buttons bring many thousands of dollars,” Albanowksi added.
The sales area at this year’s gathering held 58 dealers from all over the United States. Sellers from England, France and Italy were also in attendance. The show is open to the public.
“Aside from the collecting of rare and colorful examples, we find that our buttons are used for jewelry, period costumes, quilting, beading and other craftwork. All we ask is that the shanks not be cut off,” he said.
Functional buttons with buttonholes for fastening or closing clothing appeared first in Germany in the 13th century. They soon became widespread with the rise of snug-fitting garments in 14th-century Europe.
Some buttons dating from the 1700s are miniature works of art in their own right, incorporating many materials, with pearl and shell, metal, ceramics and glass being favored.
“The NBS exists to bring collectors together to share information and help in identifying and cataloging buttons,” Albanowski said. “We have a system of classifications based on the materials, designs, usage, etc.”
A big part of the hobby focuses on contests and awards presented for judged displays of buttons, which serve to show off collections and help with the identification.
“We also have a special program during the show for junior members,” Albanowksi said. “This year we staged a scavenger hunt for clues based on our button classifications. We are very pleased at the excellent support we get from or dealers who donate some exceptional buttons to our junior members, both for their ‘goody bags’ and for the prizes awarded.
The National Button Society convention offered programs for both advanced and beginning collectors. Topics included:
“Revisiting Briare and More Recent China Button Discoveries,” a discussion and review of recently found China buttons with comparisons of buttons/body types.
“Celluloid Buttons by Classification” with a review of new guidelines.
“French Tights: Recognizing and Collecting Them,” which focused on two-piece metal buttons.
“Buttons for the China Trade,” a presentation and workshop on mid-19th-century brass buttons with oriental themes and marks.
“Buttons in Fashion 1900-1959” was described as “a fun-filled look at buttons and the fashions they adorned. From feed-sack dresses, couture, frocks, from actresses’ ensembles to button collectors’ moms in all their finery. A peek at the first half of the 20th century through photos and advertisements.”
“Button, Button, Is That a Button?” Presenter Cindy Cox said, “It’s surprising how often we find buttons in places where we are not expecting them to be. Looking at button-construction methods and details to see how they relate to jewelry and other accessories, we gain insight into where some real treasures may be hidden.”
The National Button Society’s Web site, www.nationalbuttonsociety.org, offers a listing of state groups, publications and details about membership.