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Households have long followed the practice of snipping buttons from clothing headed for the ragbag. Do you remember playing with your mother’s—or grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s—button box or jar or tin? The impulse to collect is a basic part of the human psyche, and buttons have been admired and collected for centuries. Button collecting was recognized as an organized hobby through the founding of the National Button Society in 1938.
Listening to the radio was a favorite activity during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Dave Elman, a former Chautauqua performer and vaudeville actor, launched a radio show called "Hobby Lobby" in October of 1937. Elman’s show featured one hobby each week, with an offer of a free trip to New York City for the person with an unusual or particularly interesting hobby. In 1938, Gertrude Patterson brought to Elman’s show her passion for collecting buttons, a hobby just about anybody could afford during those lean times, and a national search of attics, basements and sewing rooms commenced.
Perhaps Gertrude was influenced by Otto C. Lightner, an entrepreneur who believed everyone should collect something. He had founded Hobbies magazine in the 1920's
and in 1938 organized a hobby show at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. Button collectors contributed to the show and later that year they formed the National Button Society, hosting their own show in Chicago in 1939. Many state and local button clubs were established during the 1940's, and many of those clubs sponsored their own button shows.
Right from its beginning the National Button Society has emphasized the preservation
and study of clothing buttons. The National Button Society now has more than 3,000 members on four continents, with 39 of the 50 states represented by state and local button clubs. Membership in the National Button Society is open to individuals and organizations who collect buttons and who wish to support the objectives of the NBS. Principal among those objectives are the promotion of educational research and exhibitions, the publishing and dissemination of information about buttons, and the preservation of the aesthetic and historical significance of buttons for future generations.
NBS Webmaster Deborah Hanson
NBS thanks to:
Janice Stutts, for designing our NBS logo
.Jane Quimby, Deborah Hanson, John Whiteford,
John Quimby & Renee Comeau
for the buttons from their personal collections.
Pictures © copyright Deborah Hanson.
Jim & Mary Weinberg for their endless assistance & enthusiasm!
And a special thanks to AL Schulz for designing & overseeing
the membership only section of our website!