My dear departed Mom had a Button Bottle that she inherited from her mother and now it is in my proud possession.
Just a simple old jam jar with an ornate metal lid that holds a miscellany of glories!!
I wonder if any of my offspring will want it, when I pass on to a better world
The button-with its self-contained roundness and infinite variability-has a quiet perfection to it. Running a cascade of buttons through your fingers feels satisfyingly heavy, like coins or candy; their clicking whoosh and blur of colors lull you. A button packs an extraordinary amount of information about a given time and place-its provenance-onto a crowded little canvas. Children learn to button and unbutton early in life, and they keep doing it until they're dead.
The earliest known button, was originally used more as an ornament than as a fastening, the earliest known being found at Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley, (now Pakistan). It is made of a curved shell and is about 5000 years old.
The medieval period was the era when wearing lots of buttons meant big money. Franco Jacassi, reputedly the world's biggest button-collectors, describes this as a time when you could pay off a debt by plucking a precious button from your suit. Italians still describe the rooms where powerful leaders meet as 'stanze dei bottoni', 'rooms of the buttons.'
After the Renaissance in Europe, buttons-along with many other things-became increasingly baroque, then rococo. Among the more extreme examples were 'habitat' buttons, built to contain keepsakes like dried flowers, hair cuttings or tiny insects under glass. Hollowed-out smuggler buttons allowed thieves to transport jewels and other booty secretly. (This tradition of buttons-for-crime resurfaced in a heroin smuggling attempt in 2009.)
Ornate buttoning among the wealthy required some help. Around this era is when buttons migrated to different sides of a shirt for men and women. Men usually donned their own shirts, so their buttons faced right for their convenience. Women with ladies' maids wore their buttons on the left, to make it easier for the maids to manouver while facing them!
No modern plastic buttons here in Granny's Button Bottle ! Instead there are covered buttons, bronze buttons, buttons made of whalebone, buttons made of ivory, buttons made of horn and wood. In the olden days buttons came in all shapes and sizes, but most often they were mounted on a shank; you ran thread through the shank's hole to attach the button to fabric. Unlike modern buttons with their iconic four-square holes, the shank style left the button's face totally free: a tiny blank canvas one could cover, carve, polish, or paint with luxurious abandon.
The covered buttons are my favorite. One could take one's dress fabric down to Sanders or Haddon and Sly, and the button covering machine would cover the metal shanks as a beautifully cushioned button in no time at all.
Running my hands through these beautiful buttons - here is a spare button covered in the dress fabric that Mom made me for my confirmation. There is a covered button from the coat Mom made herself when Gavin graduated from Brady Barracks.
Such a wealth of memories pour from that exquisite little bottle that has fascinated my children, and will hopefully fascinate my children's children, in the years to come!!