For as long as humans have needed to keep clothing fastened, we've counted on buttons to do the heavy lifting. But more than being simply useful, buttons have become highly collectable.
The Illinois State Button Society annual convention is this weekend at the Bloomington Holiday Inn. Dealers from across the region will bring their buttons for those who care to peruse or purchase.
Brenda Eilbracht is one of those dealers. She majored in home economics and has a fascination with fashion. So it was a short jaunt from just admiring buttons in an antique store, to making them her focus.
For her, buttons are little works of art that can come with an interesting backstory.
"Many times when we're in antique stores, we'll come across a card of buttons that says 'was used on Grandma So-and-So's dress in 1854.' And then we also have a reference book, 'The Big Book of Buttons,' and it's two volumes of research with all different types of materials, all the different subjects. There are fables, animals, people. Pretty much anything you can think of you can find on a button. The book helps us do the research and see what significance there might be to a button."
Everyone has a different reason for collecting buttons. Eilbracht prefers those that are pretty, especially glass buttons from the Czech Republic.
"They're still making buttons there from old molds that they found from the 20s and 30s."
There are so many buttons to collect today because of the habits of the past, said Eilbracht. When a garment was too worn to wear, before it went into the rag bin, off came the buttons to save and possibly reuse.
"Practically everybody you talk to, their grandma had a button box. That's why they're still preserved and saved to this day. My mother and grandmother grew up in The Depression, so, yes, they saved things."
Like clothing, buttons have tides of fashion. Plastic buttons, known as Bakelite, were very popular in the earlier part of the 20th century. Then there were buttons made of coconut shells or horn.
"Now you find simpler buttons, and newer, more modern materials," said Eilbracht. "Back in the 1800s, they had picture buttons that maybe had Little Red Riding Hood on it or the fable of The Fox and the Crane. Some of those types of buttons are still around, depending on how well they were made. Some of the Victorian glass buttons are just absolutely fabulous."
The annual convention of the Illinois Button Society is running through Saturday at the Bloomington Holiday Inn and Suites on Empire Street.
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