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It?s Button time again

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Show and Tell - Share your treasures' started by amandainvermont, Jan 18, 2010.

  1. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing Administrator Staff Member

  2. hatfeathers

    hatfeathers Trade Member

    I've got drawers full of buttons, I can see your appreciation for them. They used to be such an art form!

    Welcome Matthew. Please, come educate us!
  3. Welcome Matthew,
    I just looked at all of your buttons, they are amazing.
  4. matthewenbray

    matthewenbray Member

    Hello, again, everyone!

    Thank you so much for your warm welcome!

    To answer a couple of your questions:

    I suppose my interest in buttons could be traced all the way back to my childhood. When my mom (a farmer's wife and mother of seven, to give you an idea of how busy she was!) needed a few quiet minutes, she would plunk me down somewhere out of the way with her tin of buttons and tell me to "sort" them. I have to confess that even now, sorting through the tins (and bags and boxes) of buttons I pick up here and there is still one of my favorite aspects of the hobby.

    When I was in high school and college, my best farm auction and thrift shop buddy accumulated buttons because she liked them too, and she kept a basket of her favorites at her house to entertain her nieces and nephews when they came to visit. When I moved to France and started going to flea markets here, I started rummaging through button boxes to find things to send to her... and gradually I found that I was keeping more than I was sending! It was also interesting to me that a town less than an hour's drive from where I live now was a center of the French button making industry up until the mid 20th century. One of the old factories has even been turned into a button museum.

    Selling of extras and duplicates on ebay put me into contact with serious collectors in the US, and it's just snowballed from there!

    As far as what makes a button collectible... that's a tough one! I would say that it has to have something about it that is unusual, interesting or attractive. A plain brown plastic button will never be collectible, but it's surprising what can be. There are probably about as many collecting "styles" as there are collectors. Some (like me) are interested in specific materials and try to find those materials used in unusal ways, for example. Others collect according to subject matter. One of my best button pals collects buttons with the image of Minerva -- it's amazing the variety you can find in what seems at first to be such a limited subject. There are people who collect according to historical periods or artistic styles, and some collect only buttons that served a particular purpose, like uniform buttons. Another of my friends collects modern blue jean buttons.

    Here are some more interesting buttons...

    This one is far from spectacular, but it's a true rarity because of the combination of materials -- a vegetable ivory button with a gutta percha decoration (or "other material embellishment", in official button jargon!)


    This card brings button collecting back to my love of vintage fashion, since it shows what the fashionable woman would have been wearing in 1898:


    This button is one of my current favorites -- a gilt mother of pearl disc decorated with an enamelled pinwheel with cut steel embellishments.


    Finally, this is one of the most beautiful buttons I own. Japanese gin geppo enamel in akusake (pigeon blood) red... the underlying floral design is worked in the surface of the silver, and then a thick layer of bright red enamel is fired over it. It's just stunning in person!


    I will have to stop there... it's dangerous to get me started on buttons if you don't have an hour to spare! I'll be happy to answer your questions if I can, so don't hesitate to send me an email. I am going to have a crazy teaching schedule starting in a couple of weeks, so I may not have time to check in as often as I'd like.

    Thanks again!

  5. amandainvermont

    amandainvermont Trade Member

    Oh Matthew - absolutely lovely buttons and thanks for sharing the story about your Mom and her buttons. Is it fair to say your "specialty" is vegetable ivory buttons? Maybe you could explain what that is? Heck - we could turn this into a button workshop.

    You mother of pearl disc has a kind of shriners/masonic feel to it!
  6. The deco buttons are way fab. I'd love to see more of those! (And hi, M.!)
  7. The Vintage Merchant

    The Vintage Merchant Administrator Staff Member

    what a WEALTH of information and really neat "stuff"!! how wonderful of you to share with us!!

    a very warm welcome to you, Matthew!
  8. matthewenbray

    matthewenbray Member

    Hello again!

    Yes, Amanda, vegetable ivory buttons were among the first to intrigue me -- they're very tactile, and the material takes dye in a way that results in some great colors.

    Vegetable ivory comes from the nuts of certain species of palm trees that grow in South America and on some Pacific islands. If I have the story straight in my mind, the nuts were originally used as ballast in ships in the 19th century, so a lot of them ended up on docks in the UK. Some enterprising soul decided that was a waste and it was discovered that the nuts could be carved much like ivory. The natural nut is a creamy to buttery white on the inside, with darker brown "bark" that is sometimes incorporated into the design of the button.

    As time went on, it turned out that vegetable ivory was well-suited to any number of working methods -- machine pressing, turning, piercing, etc, and took finshes well. One problem is that the dyes used in the early days (I would guess up till about WWI) were not very stable, and those buttons have mostly faded to various shades of gray and brown by now. Dyes used in the 20's and 30's seem to be much more stable, and it's possible to find VI buttons in vibrant colors with great art deco designs.

    After WWII, with the arrival of plastics, which were even more versatile, durable and affordable, the use of VI for buttons all but died out. There has been a recent resurgence, though, as people have discovered that it's a great renewable resource that offers some true opportunities for equitable trade. I know of a guy in California who employs (on a very small scale) Micronesian ivory carvers who were put out of work by the international ivory ban to carve some fantastic modern vegetable ivory buttons. I also enjoy going to a couple of the chic craft/sewing stores in Paris to see their new collections of vegetable ivory buttons -- they use modern techniques like laser etching to create some stunning designs.

    The link below takes you to the first tray of vegetable ivory buttons I ever entered in competition at the National Button Society's annual convention. (I won second place, which was considered quite an achievement for a new collector!)

    Some of the interesting buttons...

    An Hermès vanity button, pressed with their logo.
    Silver pearlized finish
    Modern laser etched design of a pansy
    VI mounted in metal with a paste embellishment
    A handcarved lion door knocker (a "studio button", made specifically as a collector's item)
    Hand painted Latin American button
    Button with shell inlay
    Face button with bark, paint and moveable metal earrings!
    VI frame with velvet center
    White metal on VI
    Art nouveau stencil
    Yellow metal in VI frame

  9. Hope I'm not too late to say hello and welcome to Matthew. It's great to have you here. I've really enjoyed reading about you and looking forward to more of the same in the future.

    All the best! :)
  10. Midge

    Midge Trade Member

  11. Beach-Bygones

    Beach-Bygones Registered Guest

    Hi there, nice to meet you Matthew, it is interesting to find out more about buttons. I felt I had to reply as I've had a recent 'button experience'. Last week I went to our local auction rooms and spotted 2 boxes of old buttons, mostly still in their original cards but in a very poor state. On a complete whim (as it is not what I collect at all) I left a written bid - I think I just got carried away with the romantic idea that they hadn't been touched for over 50 years and they intrigued me ( but then I regretted it when I got home!). I didn't hear anything so presumed I hadn't won them. But then I got a letter in the post a few days later to say I had won them. Apparently they had been stored in a damp basement of a local country house for years. I went to pick them up and I have sadly had to throw out about half of them which is a real shame but the yellow mould, bugs, and disintegration was just too bad. Then I spent hours and hours cleaning up what was there ( my hands were red raw!). Here are some photos!


    Now - what to do with them? I'm not sure! There are a few nice ones in there and at least some have been saved. It's made me realise how important it is to store things properly.
  12. Beach-Bygones

    Beach-Bygones Registered Guest

    Ps: The boxes also contained lots of these - I'm not sure what they are exactly but they are French.

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