AP NEWS

Colorful History of Buttons Comes Alive in Boulder

April 7, 2019

Button aficionados displayed their collections at Boulder’s Millennium Harvest House on Saturday afternoon — everything from domestic cats to blue glass and just about any shape and color imaginable.

“We work all year on our boards,” said Harriett Brittenham, publicity chair of the Colorado State Button Society.

The button society, which has local clubs in seven towns and cities on the Front Range, including Longmont, held its annual show and sale on Saturday.

Brittenham said that button collecting orginated during the Depression when women would clip off buttons from clothing destined for the rag pile.

“They started studying them and it just grew from there,” Brittenham said.

She added that the National Button Society currently boasts about 2,500 collectors.

“Every button has a story,” she said. “It has a story about when it was made, what it was used for ... what it’s made of. The back of a button tells as much of story as the front of a button.”

Boulder area resident Susannah Jordan has sold buttons for about 17 years and got interested in collecting when she was a young girl.

“My grandma collected buttons, but I paid more attention than my cousins, so my mother inherited them,” she said. “She said ‘Do you want to do something with these or should I get rid of them?’ I wanted to do something with them and it’s escalated.”

She said she has thousands of buttons and some that she finds the most interesting are black rubber buttons that were made between the 1850s and 1870s.

“The look like black nothing,” she said. “There are some buttons that I had to tell my kids they look like nothing, but they aren’t. I probably have one of the five best black rubber button collections in the country.”

Madison, Wisc. resident Lisa Schulz said that she started collecting buttons as a child and picked it up again later in life.

She said she likes specialty glass buttons including kaleidoscope radiant and lacy glass. She had buttons for sale on Saturday that date from the 1700s and are hand painted.

“I really got into selling when I bought a collection,” she said. “I kept part of it and sold the rest. It’s sort of mushrooming from there.”

New Mexico resident Bruce Cole also started collecting buttons as a child and was originally drawn to buttons made of glass.

“I’ve collected for 50 years,” he said. “Every day I see something new. There’s no end to it.”

He has since come to specialize in uniform buttons that were popular in the 19th Century for use by people like club members and rail road workers.

“Uniform buttons were really popular,” he said. “It was a form of security. If you saw someone wearing a uniform with custom made buttons, it proved they were who they were supposed to be.”

The show continues from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, go to coloradobuttons.com .

John Bear: 303-473-1355, bearj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/johnbearwithme