Friday, September 24, 2010

Buying Just One Button

I like to wear baseball caps, though that’s really not my persona. So a while back, I thought it would be fun to buy a well-made baseball cap and turn it into a stylish statement. My idea was to get something plain (which turned out to be a dark blue wool cap from the GAP) and then sew one antique button on the front. I imagined the result would provide a look that was quasi-military, or perhaps Victorian, in an Abner Doubleday sort of way.

After I found the cap, it was time to go antiquing. My first stop was a antique shop where there wasn’t a button in sight. “Are you looking for anything in particular?” said the owner. When I casually mentioned buttons, the owner produced - from behind the counter - the estate of a national button club president! On my very first try, I’d hit the mother lode! And in that one moment of supreme manifesting, my search for one antique button became a wealth of buttons that continues to grow to this day. Now I’m hooked on antique buttons!

My antique buttons. I’m particularly attracted to buttons that have Greek and Roman faces, which apparently was a popular theme.

My friend Martha gave me this beautiful book by Diana Epstein and Millicent Safro, with a foreword by Jim Dine and a preface by Tom Wolfe, no less! Below it are seven of my favorites from the book. They remind me of a set of similar dog buttons I had on a childhood vest.

The authors run a most wonderful store in New York, called Tender Buttons. I hesitate to link to their site for fear that you will go on a button spending spree before I get there.

They say that the emerald buyers in Hong Kong wear sunglasses on their rounds. That way the dealers won’t be able to see their eyes dilate as they feast upon the emeralds in which they're really interested. Perhaps I’ll have to wear my sunglasses when I visit Tender Buttons!


  1. oh -interesting collection! I have some gold buttons (plated I assume) from a 19th century swedish officer's uniform that i used to use to hide the clips of old curtains in my old bedroom sitting around in a box. So many interesting uses for them!

  2. Stefan, so many of these antique buttons are incredible pieces of miniature art! The details are so fine that I sometimes look at them with a loop. In fact, I've started recognizing some contemporary jewelry - earrings and bracelets - that are remakes of these old button designs.

  3. What a beautiful post.

    I also tend to like the plainest caps, and always reach for those in khaki, or herringbone denim without design. From time to time I do wear one with a light hearted vintage advertising logo (Orange Crush).

    What a splendid collection of carefully assembled buttons. They are all the more beautiful as a collection because they relate in material, style and theme…what a treasure. You can tell the quality is superb…paste stones, crisp detail, quality plating on bronze or brass. Some large buttons are beautiful as pins or brooches, such as the one in your photo with the helmeted warrior. It takes years of searching to assemble such a carefully selected group.

    I like sets of good blazer buttons, old Chanel buttons, and a few from old hunt clubs which are evocative of a certain epoch and lifestyle. Once I saw a woman in a simple dress of beautiful heavy, textured black linen; it had huge black glass anemone flower head buttons. I admire good fashion and couldn’t resist asking her who the designer was. She had it made herself by an anonymous dressmaker, and used a splendid set of vintage buttons. I think that a simple silhouette, quality fabric, a good vintage buttons will often result in an outstanding garment that can rival many “designer” creations. Buttons are critical garment details that are often overlooked nowadays.

    Obviously you have a lot of fun at antique shows and flea markets. A treasure hunt for grownups, right?

  4. Actually, I keep these buttons in a little wooden box I think of as the treasure chest.

  5. I smiled the whole time! Every state including Florida has their own Button Society and I was wondering if you are a member. I also wanted to invite you to Like us on Facebook and post a link to your wonderful Blog. Thank you Mark!

  6. Dear California State Button Society - I am not a member of any button society, but I would certainly qualify as an avid collector. I do like you and will like you on Facebook. Thanks for visiting, and for the invitation!