Thursday, September 24, 2009

Landsknechts Trumpeter: Antique Picture Button

Landsknechts Trumpeter
with Short Sword and Shield
Stamped and Pierced Brass
NBS Large, 1 7/16"

Landsknechts Trumpeter - Button Back

The medieval trumpeter is made of stamped and pierced brass. Note his curled hair, his puffed and slashed doublet and hose, ruffled sleeves, and the plumed feathers in his cap, the dress of a German Landsknechts mercenary soldier. He adorns himself with a short sword and a decorated shield, and his trumpet with a plain, unfurled banner. The actual button is a uniform golden tone, but the photograph, with its slightly reddish cast, shows the elaborate detail.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fabulous Creature: Screen Back Dragon/ Cockatrice

Fabulous Creature
Screen Back Dragon/ Cockatrice
NBS Large
Extra Large, 2" Wide
Steel Metal Liner
Tinted Two Piece
Dragon Escutcheon

Fabulous Creature
Screen Back Dragon/ Cockatrice
Button Back

This truly Fabulous Creature is a 2 inch wide, extra large antique clothing button, circa 1880s, depicting a dragon-like creature known as a cockatrice. It would be categorized as an NBS large, but a button of this size is rare. The screen back is also rare. The main part of the button is made of one piece brass, with the front of the button constructed of the steel liner, the screen back, and the brass escutcheon of the fabulous creature.

The photograph barely captures the majesty of this impressive button. The shiny metal liner is perfect, twinkling like the shiny bright metal you can observe in the photograph below the creature's breast, in contrast to the screen back, which is tinted almost black. In dragon mythology, a cockatrice is a cross between a rooster and a snake, evolved from the concept of the basilisk. Note the creature's beak, comb, claws, and feathers, and his otherwise dragon-like appearance.

The flower tail is also a distinguishing mark, not because it bears any relation to a cockatrice, but because many button collectors are enthralled with owning "flower tail" dragons, the flower at the end of the tail added as an embellishment. Special thanks to my friend, Christine, for letting me know some of the dragons on my buttons are the "evil" cockatrice, lain by a rooster but hatched by a toad, its very glance capable of killing animal or human.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Genesis of a Button Collector/ Button Collecting Advice

One of My Favorite
Antique Picture Buttons

I became a button collector when I was sixteen years old, visiting my grandmother in her two story wood frame house in upper Michigan, just before she sold it. I remember sorting buttons from a huge glass jar on the small table in her kitchen. She had diminutive metals and silvered glass, twinkle buttons, fun plastic faces, three large Syroco flower buttons, reverse painted clear glass, and Mexican hats. She had a large black crochet button, a row of tiny brass on a remnant of silk, dyed mother of pearl, bakelite ball buttons in yellow and red, and round black glass with faceted rhinestones. It's possible a few buttons came with her when she emigrated from Finland. They all became mine.

Years later, I began looking for buttons in antique shops and at antique shows. I was about twenty-five when I acquired a small button stash from a shop going out of business, including heraldry buttons, transportation buttons, and a set of brass palm trees with silver gilt, all for $5 plus $3 for the trees, because I didn't know what they were worth, and neither did the dealer.

After that, my success at shops and shows was limited. At shows, I'd sometimes find a few buttons in a jewelry case, but they were often common or damaged and outrageously priced, partly because the dealers were generalists. Worse is when I found only plain plastic buttons in a pickle jar with a calico bonnet, passed off as "vintage" or "collectible," or 1970s plastics in a dusty box or a rusted tin. (Though my brother once found me one of those pickle jars and it contained some of my favorite buttons, several black glass and a carved mother-of-pearl.)

I visited the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida, and I was fascinated by what to me, at the time, was an incredible collection. (It still is, but I own buttons now, in some categories, to rival it!) I started purchasing books about buttons, and devouring the illustrations. I've never had the chance, to this day, to visit the National Button Society's annual button conference, or my state sponsored show, but, if you can afford it, that is a way to purchase buttons from reputable, knowledgeable, and enthused button dealers.

It's not my intention to promote commercial sites, but e-bay is where I've found most of my buttons. It's important to educate yourself about button designs and materials, and to bid cautiously as you are learning, and not to get caught up in the frenzy. Most button designs, not all, are common enough they will come up for purchase again; and if they don't, there's always another design to satisfy your artistic leanings; and there are some rarer buttons that only the truly rich or the insane can afford.

There are also button dealers that sell from their own sites, but I've found the fixed prices are not always reasonable. It's possible, on e-bay, to sometimes get a deal, or at least a fair price, but it's also incredibly easy to pay way too much on a button that may indeed be beautiful, but common.

As in all antiques, condition is everything. Only bid on a damaged button if you love the design, you're planning to keep it for yourself, and the price is right. When buying a button, I always ask myself, would I pay this price if it were a piece of jewelry?

Regarding jewelry made of buttons- never, never, never buy a piece of jewelry, where the button's shank has been removed- it's like separating Lyra from her daemon. The button will no longer have any value as a button, and a piece of history will be forever destroyed. Almost always, the value of the button, as a button, is greater than the ephemeral button conglomerate the jewelry has become.

Another way to develop your collection, is to ask family members and friends if they or their relatives have any clothing buttons from an earlier generation. Though buttons from the mid to late twentieth century will never rival those of the nineteenth and the turn of the century, modern buttons from the 1920s through the 1960s can be a lot of fun with a surprising variety of subjects and materials, including the Art Deco era and early types of plastics like bakelite and extruded celluloid.

It's possible to purchase beautiful antique, Victorian, and Art Nouveau buttons for as little as $2 to $6 a piece. Glass, pewter, and vegetable ivory buttons are often sold in groups, bringing the price down to as little as 50 cents each, depending on the size and complexity of the buttons. In general, the larger the button, the higher the price. Most of the metal picture buttons depicted on my site range in price from $12 to $24, and I've purchased some for as little as $6, or as much as $38. I don't feel like I've ever paid too much for a button, because a few years later, they've still held their value; and I purchase to keep my buttons, not to sell.

I started this blog as a celebration of antique clothing buttons, and a place to feature the best of my permanent collection, photographing both the front and the backs of the buttons, and at a high resolution, so the buttons can be studied for their artistry and construction. For additional and more comprehensive sources of information on buttons and button collecting, I've provided links to button organizations and museums on my sidebar, including a link for the National Button Society (United States), and the British Button Society.

Soon, I'll be posting a bibliography of the button books I own, indicating which of the books are currently in print or likely to be available in libraries. The books are a joy in and of themselves, so if you can't afford buttons or don't have the space to store them, you might decide instead to buy a book, or to borrow them from your local library, or through interlibrary loan. Still, a picture of a button on a printed page is not the same as a button you can hold (carefully, by the edges, so not to transfer moisture or oils to the surface!).

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Monday, September 7, 2009

Falcon Huntress with a Pierced Border

Falcon Huntress
Stamped and Tinted Brass
Pierced Border
NBS Large, 1 3/8"

Falcon Huntress - Pierced Border - Back

If this Falcon Huntress seems familiar, it is because she is patterned after the Falcon Huntress I featured in an earlier post. Both share the same basic design. The Falcon Huntress rides side saddle as she leaps a fence, her loyal hound running beneath it. She wears a high necked gown and a hennin with a flowing veil. This button is a stamped and tinted brass disc framed by a stamped, tinted and pierced brass border. I enjoy both buttons, but my favorite of the two is the version with the cut steel border.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dueling Dragons with Cut Steels: Antique Picture Buttons

with Cut Steel Body
Two Piece
Tinted Brass
Japanned Back
NBS Small, 11/16"

Dragon with Cut Steels
One Piece
Tinted Brass
NBS Small, 11/16"

Dueling Dragons with Cut Steels

Dueling Dragons - Backs

These buttons are great examples of the art of button construction and design. They both depict dragons (AKA fabulous creatures) with cut steels. The dragon with a cut steel body is made in three main parts with a front, a back, and a rim. He is a depiction of a cockatrice (without his legs or rooster comb). The second dragon is a one piece stamped brass button with four riveted and faceted cut steels. The term "fabulous creature" applies to all dragon or dragon-like creatures depicted on buttons. When placed together, the two creatures appear to be in opposition. I'm fascinated by the exceptional detail on buttons that are just shy of 3/4".

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Immo and Hildegard: Story Button

Immo and Hildegard
Story Button
Stamped and Pierced
Tinted Brass
Shiny Metal Liner
NBS Medium, 1 3/16"

Immo and Hildegard - Japanned Back

~ Immo and Hildegard ~

from Gustav Freytag's The Wren's Nest
Printed in the book
Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham, 1810-1897
Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama.
A Revised American Edition
of the Readers' Handbook Volume II (1892)

Immo and Hildegard
Artist - H. Kaulbach
Printed in the book
Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham, 1810-1897
Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama.
A revised American Edition
of the Readers' Handbook Volume II (1892)

There is a beautiful story to go with this button. The button is known as Immo and Hildegard, or, the Lover's Meeting. It is a stamped and pierced brass button, mounted over a shiny metal liner, with a japanned back. At 1 3/16", it is 1/16" shy of being an NBS Large. The streaks in the silver liner are an artifact of the photograph, and do not appear on the actual button. If you click on the image above, you can read about Immo and Hildegard. The full text is available from the The University of Wisconsin's Digital Collections, as printed in Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama, circa 1892. The entry starts on Page 204 and continues on Page 205, with the print and a frontispiece sandwiched between them.

Freytag's story of Immo and Hildegard, and H. Kaulbach's image are in the public domain. I wonder if H. Kaulbach had anything to do with the design of this button, since it is clearly patterned after the woodcut illustrating Freytag's story. I also haven't been able to determine how long a work the original volume, The Wren's Nest, might be, because what is printed in Character Sketches is flowery and romantic, but brief. Freytag, a controversial German novelist and playwright, lived from 1816-1895. Kaulbach is probably Hermann Kaulbauch (1846-1909), a German artist best known for his portraits of children.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Guest Book

If you have one or more buttons you treasure, you are a button collector. If you appreciate the design, artistry, and construction of antique buttons, you are a button fan. Either way, please sign this guest book by writing a comment, and let everyone know a little about your passions.

Do you own family heirloom buttons? How did you begin button collecting? What types of buttons do you collect? What do you enjoy most about antique buttons? If you were to design a picture button, what theme would you choose to depict? What is your favorite button material? What is your favorite antique button era? If you've saved buttons from your childhood, what memories can you attach to them?

This moderated guest book is open to whatever information you'd like to include. And comments on individual buttons are always welcome!