The Button Lady

My wife collects buttons…sewing buttons. She’s always liked them, but it wasn’t until she had a little antique store that she really, really got into them. I mean like tens of thousands of buttons. She found out that there was more of a market for little antique things than big antique things. Of course, like any good husband, I now know more about buttons than any man really should. Not that it’s gender-related, but I just don’t know any other men who are even remotely knowledgeable about buttons like I’ve become.

There are a large variety of types of buttons. There’s bakelite, celluloid, buff celluloid, wood, plastic, metal, picture, glass, bone, china, charm, perfume (yes, really!), military, and many more. They can range in value from ten cents to a thousand dollars apiece. Buttons are serious business!

There’s even a National Button Society supported by individual state button societies. This last week, we went to the National Button Society Convention where my wife spent 6 hours browsing the hundred or so button dealer tables. To top it off, there were easily five hundred or more people involved! I hung out by the door because they had soft seats and just played with my phone. Apparently, a couple people thought I was having a miserable time (I wasn’t) and even gave me a door prize out of pity. I picked the buttons I thought my wife would like and thanked them. My wife had a great time and since I like to see her happy, I had a great time.

One of the things my wife did at her little antique store was place a large bowl of lesser buttons in the middle of the store. Sometimes I would fill in for her at the store and I was amazed at how many people would pick through the bowl, running their hands through and sometimes smiling at the feel of it all. Kids especially liked rummaging through the bowl and my wife had the cost so cheap, parents would buy little bags of buttons for their kids to take home.

One of the coolest things that happened while I was filling in was a young guy with purple and blue hair who came into the store and looked around. He saw the bowl of buttons and spent a good five minutes digging around before pulling one out and matching it to one of his shirt buttons. That’s when I noticed he was missing a button on the shirt.

YOUNG GUY: How much for the button, man?

ME: I think you earned it.

YOUNG GUY: Thanks, man!

About twelve years ago, my wife had decided she was through with buttons. At that time, a good third of our basement was devoted to buttons and she would hold about 5 sales a year as well as have private appointments. She found somebody that paid her thousands for her collection. My wife did manage to keep some special ones, however. I would watch as she would pull out a little basket that she kept them in and sort through them for the thousandth time. Then she would sigh.

It only took a couple years to rebuild her collection and even though she threatens to get rid of them all again, she still has them. We will sometimes plan an entire trip just to find more. I think some of her best finds have been at garage sales. Sometimes people will get a can or jar of buttons from “Grandma” and then sell them because nobody sews anymore. That’s good news for my wife’s collection.

One of my wife’s favorite kind of buttons is what she calls an “astronomical” button. It can have stars, planets, the moon, the sun, etc. They are definitely pretty cool. She actually took a bag full of these buttons and handed them out when she went to an outdoor star party last summer. They were a hit.

For those of you who are still scratching your heads and muttering, “buttons?” You should take some time and go to an antique store and look at some. I would suggest looking at some picture buttons first. After the first couple glances, you will suddenly find yourself really looking at it. You will find yourself getting a little amazed at both the simplicity of a button as well as the complexity of a button. If the artwork is good, you’ll find yourself tracing your finger around in admiration. Yes, I’m still talking about buttons.

I can tell you another advantage to having a wife who collects buttons…they’re small. My life would be a whole lot different if my wife collected porcelain elephants. Besides, Porcelain Elephant Lady doesn’t sound as good as The Button Lady.


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