Buttons are nifty little fasteners. Today they serve a multitude of purposes. They are used as fasteners on clothing, fasteners on shoes, fasteners on purses, containers, and even book covers.
They come in all shapes and in a variety of materials. Brightly colored plastic ones may be in the shape of crayons on a child’s dress. Wooden buttons can give a sweater a true rustic charm. There are ivory buttons, brass buttons, buttons of bone, and seashell buttons. They are square, round, triangular, rectangular, and even in the shape of objects. By financial standards today, buttons are still not that expensive unless you choose a gem encrusted button. However, buttons of the past have a much richer history.
Buttons have been fantastic archaeological finds that give us glimpses into the past. They can be significant artifacts. They may expose something about the culture of the people, as some buttons are examples of folk art. Some buttons are studio crafted, and yet others are miniature works of art. Such as a Wedgewood button.
The oldest button ever found was unearthed in Mohenjo-daro. It is believed to be about 5,000 years old and is made of curved shell. Archaeologists believe that it was more of a decorate piece than a functional fastener.
Buttons crafted from seashells have been found in the Indus Valley that are believed to be from the Kot Diji phase which was about 2800 – 2600 BCE. Other ancient buttons have been located in China and are from the Bronze Age about 2000 – 1500 BCE. Many buttons have been discovered in Ancient Rome. Most of these buttons were for purely decorative purposes or used as seals. Some are carved into geometric shapes. Some have holes in them where threads would have been used to fasten them to fabric. Many museums have button collections.
The first widespread functional use of buttons is believed to have been in the 13th Century in Germany.
Buttons have come a long way. In frontier days and in the days of the Great Depression, buttons were collected by women and kept in tins or jars for safekeeping, not because they were monetarily valuable but because in the west they were hard to come by. In the depression, waste was not an option. Patches on clothing and mismatched buttons were a sign of the times.
Buttons have other purposes. Political buttons have been around for much of American History. Old campaign buttons are highly collectible. Not all political buttons are campaign buttons. One of the most highly sought after buttons is a peace sign button from the 1960’s Vietnam War Protest Era. Sad to say, but this use of buttons may soon be phased out as the price of button making is sending candidates to the sticker route instead. (Hard to collect those stickers) Buttons are used for decorative purposes. Boxes and picture frames are sometimes clad in buttons. Some pop art features buttons.
Collecting buttons is a hobby of some. Fossil HD found button collecting clubs in the United States such as the American Buttoning Society and the National Button Society. There are button collecting clubs in the UK, Holland, France, and Switzerland.
A large number of books on button collecting can be found. Antique and collectible buttons are sold and traded on amazon.com and ebay.com. A set of 1800’s rare clam button shells are for sale on ebay.com for $500,000 as I write. I guess I can say, buttons have a “rich” history.