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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Buttoned Up

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, May 02, 2005

Button collector Loretta Chesbro
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Clarksburg – Forget about snaps, zippers, and Velcro; it’s all about buttons for town resident Loretta Chesbro.

She’s Got the Buttons

A button collector for over 40 years, Chesbro said she believes she has amassed an estimated 500,000 buttons. The estimate is likely accurate; at a glance, one sees dozens of large glass jars filled with buttons of every shape and size. Shelves are filled with dozens of catalogues that contain page after page of buttons, and more buttons occupy drawer space and canisters. Framed button artwork is displayed along walls.

“The problem is that I can’t throw a button away,” Chesbro said with a smile.

For button buffs, collecting is serious business. The National Button Society hosts an annual week-long convention; this year, the event will be held in Burlingame, Calif. from Aug. 6 to Aug. 13. Button auctions lure collectors willing to bid on boxes of buttons in the hopes of finding rare specimens in the mix, and security guards are often on hand to prevent theft.

Chesbro said she has attended auctions but acquires most of her buttons at tag sales. “Auctions are expensive,” she said.

Tag sale finds can be exciting, if one knows the ins and outs of collecting, said Chesbro.

“The back of a button tells you more than the front,” she said.

Button Bounty

The collection includes comparatively modern moonglow buttons as well as buttons made during 1800s. Rhinestone and colored-glass buttons that resemble brooches add sparkle to specially-made collectors cards and framed designs. Buttons made of wood, metal, plastic and fabric punctuate every corner. A vintage button card filled with sales samples was discovered intact and is part of Chesbro’s collection.

Chesbro has fashioned personalized button art framings for each of her eight grandchildren. Her son Chip Chesbro is the town’s fire chief; Chesbro designed a fire department button collage as a gift. A grandson’s love of golf was acknowledged with a framing of Scottish golf buttons.

“And those are hard to find,” she said.

Portions of the collection have been displayed at the North Adams and Williamstown public libraries.

Care is essential when cleaning, storing, and working with buttons, Chesbro said. Glass buttons may be stored in plastic, but plastic may damage buttons made from other materials. The cleaning process differs depending on button composition, and when affixing buttons to cards or design surfaces, Chesbro said she often uses slender wire. The work can be slow and tedious, but the end result is worth the effort, she said.

“You have to clean buttons very, very carefully,” she said. “Metal buttons must be cleaned individually.”

A Collection of Circumstance

Chesbro began collecting buttons when her three children were young and she made many of their clothes. She often borrowed buttons for the clothing from a button-box kept by her mother-in-law Isabel Chesbro. Eventually, Isabel Chesbro gave Loretta Chesbro the button box, and Chesbro’s daughters spent hours stringing buttons and creating their own button designs. Chesbro acquired buttons at rummage and tag sales and as the years passed, her fascination grew. Buttons were put away and stashed beneath beds, in the attic, on a porch and inside drawers. Finally, after her children were married and her grandchildren born, Chesbro decided to organize the years’ worth of gathered buttons.

“I could not believe how many buttons I had,” she said. “I started sorting them, cleaning them, and organizing them.”

As the process unfolded, Chesbro’s interest in the history of her buttons increased, and she began research at the city library. She joined the National Button Society and the rest is history.

Who Knew?

Friends and family members are often awed by the artwork and the volume of Chesbro’s buttons, she said.

“People are amazed, same as you were, and they say 'I didn’t know that you could do all this with buttons,’" she said.

While she admitted to a particular fancy for glass buttons, Chesbro was unable to choose a favorite button or button design. “It’s really like trying to pick your favorite child.”

And while present-day buttons are not as well-made or ornate as the buttons of yesteryear, Chesbro said she believes they will someday be prized by a new generation of collectors.

“In about 100 years, the buttons of today will probably be eminently collectible,” she said.

Chesbro said she would enjoy hearing from other collectors. She may be reached via e-mail at kielore@yahoo.com. Information about buttons and button conventions can be acquired at www.iwantbuttons.com and www.vintagebuttons.net.

Susan Bush can be reached at 802-823-9367 or by e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net.
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