Many serious button collectors are against cleaning antique buttons. However, since I am not a collector but a user of antique buttons, I prefer to clean them & bring these miniature pieces of art back to their former glory & beauty. I once believed that cleaning a button would devalue it. Now I'd rather uncover the mysteries under 100 years of rust, grime & verdigris.
One of the first buttons I cleaned revealed a hidden strip of copper that was etched with a Greek key design. Just as we feel renewed after a good cleansing shower, so to are these buttons brought back to life.
Teeny tiny Czech glass buttons on original cards, c1920s. Buttons measure about 1/4". I imagine these trimming some gorgeous creation that flappers like Louise Brooks wore.
I often wonder about the reasoning behind some design choices of button manufacturers in the 19th century. Some designs include everyday objects such as the corner of a lacy handkerchief, dice, horseshoes, buckles, bows, tassels, wreaths, fringed pillows, shells, medieval weaponry, umbrellas, plant containers, vases & more. The design on the large unused buttons of this card are a decorative box on a fancy lace doily.
A bit too plain for jewelry, these lovely silk buttons are perfect for costuming & re-enactors. The 2 cards at the top have a subtle stripe, while the set at the bottom has a braided center. The braided buttons are in a hard setting, most likely vegetable ivory. All have padded backs to sew through. Because these buttons would be more permanently attached by being sewn on, they were probably made for garments that weren't laundered as often such as coats & vests.
Victorian twinkle buttons, that have a reflective inner layer that is meant to provide additional shine & brilliance; unused on their original cards.
Getting a full card of buttons is always a thrill. Even a partial card of buttons is a great find. However, the cards they come on are not always such a treat. In fact, 100+ year-old cardboard that's been exposed to too many elements can be down right disgusting. Like in the top picture, some are rusty, moldy, or crumble at the slightest touch. Others will surprise & delight as much as the buttons with their charming artwork.
For some reason I've happened upon lots of extremely nice cards of Parisian buttons lately. I purchased many and lusted after others. After what I've spent on buttons just in January, I fully expected these to be way out of my price range. They have many of the qualities that many collectors look for. Full card of Paris buttons? Check. Cardboard card still intact? Check. Near mint? Check. Pink? (always a popular & highly sought after color) Check. Bird design? (also very popular) Check!
Paperweight buttons refer to glass buttons that resemble glass desk paperweights, only smaller. These were first made in Europe in the mid 1800's. Most have a base with a preformed design & a cap of clear glass that covers from the top to the base. Some glass blowers would make these by building on the wire shank, adding the design & then the clear glass all while working over a flame to fuse them into a single piece of glass. Other glass blowers would insert the shank at the end of the process while the glass was still malleable & hot.
A question that I am often asked, especially at craft shows, is "Where do you find these?" And to be honest , it's not the easiest question to answer. I hunt for the buttons, and get them from all over the world. Antique shops, button collectors, estate sales, and quilt shows; there isn't a day that goes by where I'm not looking for buttons somewhere.
I called this group of buttons, "The Mother Lode." Sometimes I purchase a single button, other times, I'll buy them in large lots. Consisting of over 300 buttons, this was one of the largest groups of buttons I'd purchased together from an antiques dealer. This group had almost everything; perfume, picture, twinkle, mother-of-pearl, cut steel, and pierced buttons.
Not nearly as shiny or colorful, this is one of the "before" photos of this group of buttons.