Oops, sorry. Channeling the children’s lit (or in this case, songs) again there.
Sometime in the early seventies, as I understand it, my mother attended the auction of the estate of an elderly relative. One of the things she bought was an old wooden box full of buttons, which had belonged to the wife of this elderly relative, my grandmother’s great aunt (great-grandmother’s aunt?)
Even at this time, the little stash was “vintage”—the newest buttons were probably added sometime in the 40s, and most of the collection dates to much earlier. Put it this way: although there are plastic buttons, the majority of the collection is shell, metal, horn, and even glass. There are a lot of boot buttons—the tiny toggle buttons you see on Victorian and Edwardian women’s footwear.
Although I’ve been familiar with this collection all my life, when we went to visit my mother this weekend she had pulled it out, so I got the chance to document some of it for your (I hope) viewing pleasure. We also, as one must when playing with button stashes, did some sorting, as well as some unraveling of matted clumps of button-groups. Unfortunately my camera battery was dying, so I didn’t get to take as many photos as I would have liked, but I hope I got most of the highlights. Fortunately, my mom’s checked tablecloth is a perfect 1/4″ grid for scale. 🙂
Everything from giant coat buttons to tiny shell buttons are represented. There are a lot of fabric-covered buttons, including some “homemade” ones which are just regular buttons with fabric sewn around.
There are also a number of inclusions of buckles, garter clips, screws and other bits of hardware, and even two little spigots.
Since there are SUCH a lot of photos, I’ll leave you to peruse the flickr gallery for the most part.
I love pawing through this stash, but I don’t think I could ever actually bring myself to take anything out of it. To me (and I’m known to be sentimental about such matters, so your mileage may vary) this collection has gone from stash (to be used) to time-capsule, to be cherished, curated, and preserved for future generations. I suppose realistically there isn’t a huge amount of historical data in a bunch of buttons—or is there? Considering that most of these buttons were probably cut off clothing on its way to the rag bin, perhaps you could perform some kind of an analysis—proportions of shirt buttons to boot buttons to coat buttons? Dating the various buttons would be interesting, though I don’t know if carbon-dating is feasible at this age (it would work on the wood and horn buttons, potentially. Is there enough carbon residue in shell?). Stylistic dating would probably be more useful. Isotope studies on the shells could probably shed light on their origin, and maybe highlight trade/manufacturing pathways in the early 20th century.
… okay, pulling back from the brink of madness. What would you do with a treasure trove like this? 🙂