Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bonkers for buttons: Antique dealer finds herself immersed in strange collection

Telegram Staff Writer

You've got them on your clothes. Your grandma kept them in baby jars. Bags have them.
And you - you may use them as paperweights or replacements for game pieces you've lost. Maybe you've stashed some stray ones in that drawer with the expired coupons and empty medicine bottles.
They may be tiny, but buttons, my friend, are everywhere.
Hundreds of people pay them no attention because - well - because they're just buttons. But because they are buttons, countless others pay homage to them.
They buy them, sell them and construct button altars. These people are button collectors.
Their breed isn't endangered. With 50 state chapters, the National Button Society boasts a membership of thousands.
They're not as recognizable as hunters or athletes, but they're there.
They're lurking around garage sales, estate sales and antique shows, thumbing through all sorts of odds and ends, looking for anything that might have a button, or for something that might be hiding a button - like hope chests or dollar grab bags.
One such person is Janice Canard of Temple. 'I've got more buttons than I know what to do with,' Mrs. Canard said. 'I thought I could sell some, but when it came down to it, I couldn't part with them.'
Her first pile of collectible buttons came from Maine.
'I was down there looking for junk. Antiques I mean,' she said. 'That was about five years ago.' (Mrs. Canard runs an antique shop in Salado.)
Her mistake, she said, was her decision to start reading books like 'The Collector's Encyclopedia of Buttons' and 'Button Button: Identification and Price Guide.'
'I didn't know anything about any of this,' she said. 'I was busy making my living. I was like, 'Buttons? People collect buttons?''
Even though she does it herself, she still finds the idea of button collecting difficult to comprehend.
'There's just so many rules,' she said, pointing to the National Button Society guidebook. 'They have to be displayed just so on a piece of cardboard - I mean a tray.'
According to the guidebook, 'tray' is the appropriate term for the tool that displays the buttons.
Mrs. Canard scoffs and rolls her eyes at the formality of it, but she's no less knowledgeable.
'Each button has got to sit in a circle, which you've got to draw with a protractor,' she said. 'And each button type has a particular way the design has got to be.'
The lists of sections and subsections seem endless, almost as endless as the buttons of Mrs. Canard's life.
She's got buttons that look like cucumbers, ones six-inches wide and ones made of seashells. Hundreds of buttons covered her kitchen table and counter. Hundreds more are packed away in her attic.
'My favorites are the ceramic ones,' she said pointing to her porcelain buttons. 'There's so much history you can learn from them.'
She pointed to a tray full of black buttons.
'These are what ladies would where when they were in mourning,' Mrs. Canard said. 'And these vest buttons, well you can tell how rich the person was who wore it. You can tell that by what its material and detail. The more intricate the button, the richer the person.'

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