Wednesday, January 7, 2009

No Buttons Were Harmed In The Making of These Accessories!

This is an important distinction to be made. Some craftspeople who work with vintage and antique buttons aren't fully aware of the fact that they are fully devaluing their collectible nature when they use epoxies and glues, or add non-removable metal findings. They use these techniques to attach the buttons to another element in their design.

At Talisman Studios, we are aware that a pretty old button is actually more than just that. They are historical artifacts, collectible not only for their intrinsic beauty but as a relic of our social, artistic and manufacturing pasts. There won't BE buttons like these, once they are gone. There's no place in a collector's cases not a museum's archives for a button that doesn't retain it's true nature. To a button connoisseur, the back of the button often holds as much intrigue as the face, for it provides clues as to the button's age and provenance.

As well, from a practical standpoint, a button that retains it's integrity may be used again, over and over. Whereas, once a button has been altered to perform merely as a decorative element, the damage has been done. The button loses all historical value and indeed any value whatsoever other than the cost of the doodad it is now indistinguishable from.

The above paragraphs may sound harsh to the average person. Talk to a button collector, on the other hand, and you will get an earful!

I've always loved antiques, perhaps due to the fact I was surrounded by them. As a child growing up in the midwest, our homestead, which had once been part of a working farm, still included some relics from it's previous owners. The barn included one of those wooden telephones one cranked a dial to signal an operator, and a glorious old oak icebox. My father collected functional antiques; a wind-up phonographs with 78rpm records, candle molds, lanterns and such became part of the home's decor. I still have an old coffee grinder that has been as much a part of my family as any object can be.

When I came upon a cache of antique buttons at a flea market, it was no surprise that I would sense in them a deeper value than their surface beauty. The idea of reviving their usefulness as hair adornments was obvious to me. Upon turning them over and seeing the craftsmanship in the backings, how could I even think of chopping their shanks, or plopping a glob of glue on them in order to affix the button to another, "prettier" article?

And so I have taken a very understated approach to the collection of hair accessories called "Vintage Notions." In their simplicity, I hope people will feel a gentle pull towards a quieter existence in their own lives.

In order to maintain the button's full function and not lessen their value, I do as little as possible in their transition. Obviously, there's the elastic band, which threads through the button holes or shanks as they were designed to do. In cleaning the caches I come across, I am quite careful. Many old buttons are comprised of several pieces, with metal and paper components. Soaking in water or chemical cleaning agents will be their ruin. Even the removal of patina built up over the ages is a no-no.

Mostly I buff with a soft cloth to remove dust and dirt particles, and leave things at that. Some buttons WILL show their age and use. Though I try to use "perfect" buttons, sometimes a beauty has a blemish. That's not reason to discard them. So, occasionally a gorgeous metal pictorial may show oxidation on the back. An exquisite faceted glass may have a chink in it's polish, nicked in the hands of time. In these cases, that devaluation is reflected in the cost of the item, and I hope people will understand.
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  1. hi there,
    You are to be commended for finding a craft that you can keep the buttons intact. I've seen jewelries made with some very valuable buttons and it's heartbreaking seeing them destroyed, to someone like me who really appreciates them.

  2. Good for you!! I am developing quite the addiction to vintage buttons and as I learn more about them I have become conscious of how many buttons are being butchered in order to be incorporated into jewellery and accessories. I wince when I see how many Etsy sellers have nipped the shanks off vintage buttons, or glued metal findings to them.

    I have purchased some of your hair accessories and as well as being beautiful, I feel very happy knowing that they are ethical, too!