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Buttons are among the oldest of all costume appendages. They are of infinite variety. The usual range in size is from three-eighths of an inch to about three inches in diameter. Buttons as small as one-eighth inch, as large as six inches, have been worn. They have been made of every possible material, from stone to butterfly wings, from diamonds to sawdust, from bronze to lucite.
In dating buttons we must remember that certain types were worn for centuries and others for only a season or two; that some were worn in one part of the world at one time, and in another part at another time; that some had a single vogue while others enjoyed repeated revivals. In this book we indicate only the period in which each type was popular in metropolitan centers.
Buttons have long been used in every quarter of the globe, and still are, to fasten clothing, to decorate garments, to indicate rank or position. Primitive peoples wore them to ward off evil, used them as money, and probably put them to other odd purposes as well.
No wonder that the collecting of them is so appealing to us or that museums today find them important for the light they throw on times past. Every woman who has saved the buttons from a dress or coat, not so much for re-use as because they were too pretty to throw away, is a button collector at heart. Every man who has brought home among his mementoes of a war a few buttons worn by soldiers of other countries, has the beginnings of a collection. The family that cherishes certain buttons for their personal associations also has the nucleus of a collection.
Fifty or sixty years ago, when nothing was thrown away lightly, buttons were carefully hoarded. Older people still remember, as one of the pleasures of going to Grandma's, the fun of opening the button box and playing with the contents. Lucky descendants who have kept Grandma's button box from the last century will doubtless find in it now many buttons that amount to trash, but perhaps also a welcome number of collectibles, and even an occasional prize of outstanding interest. Before the accumulation can become a collection, the good must be separated from the bad and the best given the care it deserves.
If you are looking into the possibilities of button collecting for the first time, you will find much to intrigue you as you go along. It may be you will want to linger over the carved "pearls," or that you will wish to know the enamels by name. You may decide to buy a few picture buttons or to invest in some "paperweights." Once you have become a confirmed collector, you will keep your eyes open for buttons wherever you go, looking for such prizes as "GW's" and "ivory miniatures."