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Button collectors form group for like-minded enthusiasts

Sylvia Durell of Spring Hill uses buttons to create works of art, like this tree and her necklace. Durell also studies their history through the materials they’re made from.
Published Feb. 18, 2016

BROOKSVILLE — "I haven't met a button I didn't love," Anne Buckingham said with a chuckle. "They're like little pieces of art, and they're inexpensive."

Along with Sylvia Durell, Buckingham is spearheading the organization of the Hernando County Button Collectors Group.

"A lot of people think it's crazy," Buckingham, of Ridge Manor, said. "I laughed out loud. But here I am."

She fairly peeked over a stack of button display boards that were threatening to slide off an overflowing dining room table.

"It's amazing," Buckingham said of a test-the-waters gathering in November that attracted 30 people. "There's a lot of interest."

Anyone with a box of buttons or a love for fastening is invited to an organizational meeting from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Monday at Lykes Memorial Library in downtown Brooksville. The group's unwritten mission is to preserve and study clothing buttons and, along the way, maybe find a $5 to $400 treasure in a button tin, or to discover buttons as a medium for creating works of art.

To those who might scoff, Buckingham pointed out: "Today, button collecting is No. 3 after stamps and coins."

And it's not as whacky as collecting belly button fluff.

Durell, of Spring Hill, is well into the study of buttons.

"Their artistry, the materials they're made from, like carved shells," she said. "You can date buttons by their type of shank. So, you learn history and the art."

Buckingham showed off a Colonial-age button fashioned from cloth. Her grouping of art deco buttons bearing line-drawn faces of flappers, to hold up stockings, date to the glitzy 1920s. Bone buttons hark to her granddad's long underwear.

Well organized, with each grouping fastened to a matte board, Buckingham's collections also include: rubber buttons, rolled out in a bygone age, representing the "& Rubber" in Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.; "Bethlehem pearls," carved from the mother-of-pearl in mussel shells; buttons from dress uniforms of every branch of the military; and leather-shanked buttons that likely fastened a man's cloak.

A gentleman during the Renaissance would pluck a gold button from his cloak to pay a debt, Durell said.

Along with her historical interest, Durell, who has pursued the hobby for less than a year, is fueling her artistic bent with the use of buttons in home decor: a framed collage of buttons playing at blossoms on a stylized tree; a heart-shaped candy box with each decorative button nestled in its pleated paper cup; and glass jars filled to the brim with buttons of a single color, mostly those collectibly worthless "sew-through" plastic buttons.

She can't toss them because "it's hard for me to give up any buttons."

Beyond her craft buttons, Durell does specialize, which Buckingham calls smart collecting. Durell goes for the bling, the highly decorated, the colored glass, the specialty-shanked.

Buckingham collects any and all. Her prize may be a button from the tunic of a guard at Buckingham Palace for which she paid — gulp — $200.

"With a name like Buckingham, what did you expect?" she said.

Yet the hobby need not be costly.

"The fun thing is, it works for any budget," Buckingham said.

She has bought buttons for as little as 25 cents each. She has perused modern glass buttons of collectible caliber available from $1 to $5 each. Selections in Durell's candy box cost $1 apiece.

Buckingham, collecting for 20-odd years, also is into exhibiting. Yes, button enthusiasts stage competitions around the globe. Her biggest thrill to date is a blue ribbon at the Florida State Button Society Show in Daytona Beach for her entry of state seal buttons.

"I beat out a dealer."

At the state show next year, Durell already has been invited to the stage, presenting her 45-minute DVD, The History of Buttons. The narrative covers their history, collecting and button types and materials. A PowerPoint presentation has garnered hurrahs from audiences at three retirement centers, where, she noted, "They'd all had button jars, and a lot of them still have."

"You all have a tin," Buckingham said in issuing the public invitation to join with the Hernando group of collectors. "It's ingrained in us. You have to save."

And, lest people think collecting is "an old ladies' thing," they emphasized men make up nearly half of the membership of a sizable collectors club in Ocala. The Hernando group already counts among its participants a 13-year-old.

In what she considers another enticement, Buckingham said in attending shows, auctions and other club gatherings around the state, "I got acquainted with lots of offbeat people, just like myself."

Contact Beth Gray at graybethn@earthlink.net.

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