Valley News – Button Society Celebration Brings Lebanon Fixing Finds
LEBANON — While to some, buttons may seem like a simple tool for holding clothes together, they hold much more wonders for the more than 40 members of the New Hampshire State Button Society.
“The more I learn, the more fascinating they become,” said Shirley Richardson, president of the Laconia, NH society, as she sat at a table inside the First Congregational Church of Lebanon on Saturday during a an event to celebrate the company’s 70th anniversary.
Richardson has said his favorite buttons include those from the “Gay Nineties” – the 1890s, that is. They are made of metal and contain gemstones in the center. She also likes the “tin type” buttons that date back to the Civil War era. They often contain pictures of soldiers’ wives or mothers. She said she found them “fascinating, historically.”
Saturday’s rally, hosted by the Twin Valley Button Club, marked the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that society has been able to come together. The group typically meets three times a year, hosted once a year by each of the state’s three button clubs. Collecting buttons has become “kind of a pastime for old people,” Richardson said, but the tradition first started among housewives a few generations ago. It gave them an excuse to go out and visit friends.
Tim Kennedy, of Pelham, NH, said he considers the button company’s origins to be “like the Tupperware party of the (19) 50s.”
Kennedy, who was masked like all of the attendees, stood behind a table containing boxes from his late wife’s collection of buttons that he was trying to sell. He said the collection had its roots in some buttons he inherited that originally belonged to his great-grandmother, who lived in Epping, NH.
Kennedy said he likes work buttons the most, such as those that come from the top of a pair of jeans and include the manufacturer’s name. While some companies such as Carhartt are still around, many aren’t.
“It’s amazing the number of companies,” he said.
He also said the buttons can be made from “any material you can think of,” including bone, antler, rubber, and celluloid, a type of plastic. Buttons can be worth more than $1,000, depending on the type of material and the history of the button, he said.
Buttons can also be turned into works of art, such as a display in another part of the room pictured. It featured vests and wall hangings made by the late Kit Hartshorn, of Warren, Vt. Hartshorn decorated with buttons, creating patterns that resembled owls.
“She never sat down,” Hartshorn’s daughter, Rachel McCuin, said of her mother.
In another corner of the room, a group of Society members sat huddled on 8½-by-11-inch sheets of paper decorated with buttons. The judges were tasked with evaluating the buttons according to the standards set out in the National Button Society‘s Blue Book.
For example, one contest required clubs to include buttons representing New Hampshire, including five animals, five objects, five plants, and five outdoor activities. The winning sheet included a wider variety: a fruit, a seed, a flower, a seed and a tree, Antrim, NH, said Twin Valley Button Club resident Thelma Nichols. The other sheet had some overlap in plant types.
Although in-person Button meetings were halted “like everyone else,” Nichols said, she continued to interact with Button aficionados across the country and around the world via Zoom in the meantime. She said she would like to involve young people. “We are an aging group,” she said.
South Royalton resident Betty Cross, who will soon be 88, said she had been a member of the Twin Valley Button Club since 1992. She had inherited some buttons from her grandmother and wanted to know more about them. She’s learned a lot about the history and the materials over the decades, but she said, “I’ve only scratched the surface. There are so many things to know.
More information about the New Hampshire State Button Society is online at: nhstatebuttonsociety.org.
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3213.