The old West had a shortage of everything except hard times and backbreaking work, that there was plenty of. Pioneer women took extra pains with all their belongings and to lose something as small as a button really was difficult to take.
Buttons have been around approximately 4,000 years with its history dating back to Egypt. Archeologists have unearthed them in ancient tombs and in archeological digs.
At first buttons were used entirely for decoration. Men and women both wore buttons to adorn themselves. King Louis XIV of France spent $600,000 a year on buttons and King Francis I once had 13,600 buttons sewn to a single coat. The First Duke of Buckingham had a suit and cloak covered in diamond buttons. Talk about extravagant.
From ancient times buttons have been fashioned from pearls, shells, glass, metal, wood, bone and antler, precious stones, porcelain, and leather among other materials. It appears that our ancestors made buttons from everything imaginable, but probably from what was available at the time where they lived. Buttons with images of angels on them dates back hundreds of years.
But buttons were not just for clothing. They could be found on purses, bracelets, belts, and shoes and still can today. Early buttons showed beautiful artistry. Artists filled their time painting portraits and scenery on them. Europe became so button crazy the church denounced them as “the devil’s snare,” mainly because of women’s buttoned-front dresses. Even the Puritans condemned buttons as sinful.
No one is quite sure when someone came along and fashioned the first buttonhole, but it was quite an accomplishment. Everyone jumped on the button wagon. It was so nice to able to make form-fitting garments that didn’t have to be secured with a belt or other device.
In the 1890’s, there were 53 button companies in Muscatine, Iowa earning it “The Pearl Button Capital of the World.” Over 4,000 men, women, and children were employed in the button business in that one town.
Sadly, decorated buttons have become a lost art. Today, most buttons are made from inexpensive plastic.
The National Button Society was formed in 1938. There are thousands of collectors today. People collect all kinds and shapes and some of the prices fetched for a single button is outrageous. Recently, a button was sold in auction for $850. People are serious about their buttons.
The Smithsonian Institution has an extensive button collection as do many other museums.
Did you know that March13-19 is National Button Week?
We all have buttons somewhere either in jars or in sewing baskets. I have a zip lock bag full of buttons that I’ve cut off clothes that I tossed in the rag bin. My grandkids love to play with them.
Do you have your stash of buttons? Can you imagine wearing a piece of clothing that has over 13,000 buttons sewn on it?