Handmade: Collecting unique ‘miniature works of art’
Chances are, whether you’re a crafter or not, you have a jar or old tin filled with a mishmash of buttons you’ve collected during the years in case you need to replace one, or two, missing on your favorite coat or sweater.
But, there’s a difference between collecting buttons and being a button collector. Just ask Joy LeCount, president of the Michigan Button Society.
“In the past, and even now, many people cut buttons off clothing that is either worn out, or they’ve outgrown, and they put those in a jar and saved them for future use, of sorts. This has gone on for centuries. There are buttons that are just for utilitarian use that are plain and nondescript,” she explained.
“Then there are buttons from all eras, that are higher qualities and better made, that would last a long time. Those are the buttons that a button collector would want. And they don’t have to be high dollar, and they don’t have to be old. I collect modern buttons, as well.” She also noted, “A button collector would never cut the shank off a button for any reason.”
The Michigan Button Society (michiganbuttonsociety.org) formed in May of 1940 to study the hobby of button collecting, classify buttons and educate the public through publications and exhibits. The group of mostly women met at the old J.L. Hudson store on Woodward in downtown Detroit. “Michigan was the first state to form its own association after the National Button Society (nationalbuttonsociety.org) had organized in Chicago in 1938,” informed LeCount.
Throughout Michigan, there are seven clubs all together, including two in the Detroit area — the Mayflower Button Club and the Blue Water Buttoneers. LeCount said, “Each club, typically, meets once a month.”
LeCount lives in Wawaka, Indiana, and although there are clubs in Indiana, they’re further away. She said, “It was closer for me to go to Coldwater in Michigan. We have members in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. The club I belong to is called the Jacksonian. There is also a button called the Jacksonian. The button was popular when Andrew Jackson was president.
“The Michigan Button Society meets twice a year — spring and fall for the purpose of holding a board meeting, general membership meeting, educational programs, button buying and fun activities,” added LeCount. “At the fall show, button competition is held in addition. Thirty-nine states have state button societies and there are members in other countries, which comprise the National Button Society.”
Why would someone want to become a button collector? LeCount said, “It’s like everything else — why do we collect pictures or baseball cards?”
Although being a button collector doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, the amount of money spent, like with any other leisure time activity, is determined by how much the hobbyist is willing to invest. Take for instance, the time LeCount stood in line to make a button purchase at her first National Button Society Show in Omaha. “The lady in front of me wrote a check for $14,000 for eight buttons! They were all 18th century,” she remarked.
But, if 18th century buttons are a little out of your price range, you might want to focus on a less expensive theme/topic — like, certain materials, or more modern buttons, including those at your local craft store, which LeCount describes as “collectibles of tomorrow.”
LeCount said buttons are actually “miniature works of art,” and that, “Every major event in history has buttons that reflect those events, like the French Revolution and the inauguration of President Washington.” She noted, “There are two types of buttons” being made today — “those made for commercial use, and studio buttons made by artists, almost exclusively for the collecting world.”
If you’re interested in becoming a button collector, LeCount said, places to hunt for the small treasures include antique shops, garage sales, auctions, estate sales, dealer displays, eBay, Etsy and Online auctions.
Membership to the Michigan Button Society is open to everyone, and dues are $30 ($33 Canadian) a year, which includes the bulletins, and admission to its events.
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/
Contact the Michigan Button Society at (260) 761-3155 or michiganbuttonsociety.org. Email: email@example.com.
Attend the All Fired Up Michigan Button Society Spring Show (May 11-12) at Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, 2019 South Harrison, East Lansing. Admission is free. Visit michiganbuttonsociety.org (under “Shows”) for details.