BELLVILLE — Roberta Klaus, speaker for the last Bellville-Jefferson Township Historical Society meeting, began collecting buttons about 15 years ago when she got a box of pretty buttons at an auction. She and a couple of her auction opponents got together so they wouldn’t bid against one another at auctions.
From that was created the local button collectors society.
If you’re like I was, you’re thinking “What’s so interesting about buttons?”
To my great surprise, buttons have a fascinating history, and some of the rarest buttons sell for thousands of dollars. Roberta said that early on she was warned that button collectors need a room in their houses just for buttons. Initially she thought that was a ridiculous notion since buttons take so little space. However, thousands of buttons take up rooms, and an avid button collector accumulates thousands of buttons.
In the 17th and 18th centuries buttons were worn only by wealthy men, and the buttons were mostly decorative. That practice evolved into the servants of wealthy men wearing special buttons to identify their masters. The wealthy made their buttons from gold, silver, diamonds and other precious stones.
In the United States, the first buttons were made of pottery. A bit later the buttons were punched from crustaceans along the Mississippi in Iowa, which became the button pearl capital of the world. At one time, the Colt firearm company made buttons. These buttons were not sold as Colt products, but were sold under the names of other button manufacturers. However, they can be identified by their unique pattern.
Roberta talked about several categories of buttons from the common to the ornate, almost always passing around a card of buttons representing the buttons she described. Buttons can be very expensive, and very ornate. Buttons can be glass, plastic, ivory, wooden, carved, covered or painted, among other creative varieties. Buttons can be used for underwear, shoes, gloves, or veils, in addition to the more common uses on garments.
By the 1930s, the National Button Society had been created.
The last big button manufacturer in the United States was JHB in the 1960s.
The most expensive button Roberta knows about was a Civil War button that sold for $48,000. Roberta said when she first started collecting she would spend only 50 cents for a button, but now she will pay as much as $25 if she really wants it. She collects two of everything, so she can give each of her two granddaughters a button collection.
The next historical society meeting is Monday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room of the museum. Our speaker will be Will Humphreys, who will speak on the history of the Unitarian-Universalist Church, particularly in Bellville. The public is always welcome.
Lynn Fox is president of the Bellville-Jefferson Township Historical Society. For more information on this group, visit its website, https://bellvilleohiohisto.wixsite.com/homepage