Buttons – from the French word bouton, meaning bud or knob – date back to prehistoric times when they were made from bone. Until the invention of the buttonhole, buttons were used primarily as ties. The Europeans first used buttons only as decoration for clothing, using strings and pins to hold their garments together. During the 1200’s, the penchant for fitted garments led to the use of buttons as fasteners. Most people had buttons made from bronze, bone, or wood, while the wealthy displayed their importance with ornate buttons made of gold or silver, often embellished with jewels.
It was in the late 1700’s that button “art” came into its own. Not surprisingly, the French led the way, with painted portrait buttons of famous men and women. Soon buttons sported pictures of trees, flowers, animals, and landscapes. After the French Revolution, they were used to make political statements, the forerunner of this century’s campaign buttons. The British excelled at metal buttons, which were often associated with military uniforms, and Birmingham toy-makers manufactured enamel buttons as a staple.
Buttons can be enjoyed as a bit of history, or a piece of art, or both. In fact, buttons are probably the most popular collectible in the world. Part of their is allure is that generally they are a relatively inexpensive collectible, although a rare button can fetch up to several thousands of dollars.
Today’s collectors have many different choices for their collections since buttons have been made of almost every material imaginable – metal, shell, enamel, horn, Bakelite, celluloid, ivory, glass, porcelain, and plastic, to name just a few. There are thousands of button collecting clubs, and collectors usually mount their collections for display and competitions.
The World’s Most Popular Collectible Secret! by Diana L. Hefti