Sunday, July 10, 2016

“To start…first tie a string to a large button”

by Terri Horton

Excerpt from California State Button Society Button Brief, Spring 2010
Reprinted with permission from the author

“Charmed, I’m sure”, “it’s charming”, “she charmed him”, “charm school”, “prince charming”…the word “charm” has many implications.  The Merriman-Webster Dictionary gives us several definitions for “charm”—“1. An act or expression believed to have magic power, 2.  Something worn about the person to ward off evil or bring good fortune, 3.  A trait that fascinates or allures, 4.  Physical grace or attraction, 5.  A small ornament worn on a bracelet or chain” and for “charming”—“greatly pleasing to the mind or senses”. [1]  In the button collecting world, a charm string certainly fascinates, could be thought to resemble a charm bracelet, and definitely is pleasing to the mind or senses!

In 1939 one author wrote “Sixty years ago, small girls vied with each other to see which could add the greatest number and most beautiful buttons to a long string, known as a “charm”, “love”, or “memory” string.  The idea was to collect 999, and the owner would see her future husband.  But woe betide if inadvertently more were added, for that would be a fateful sign of spinsterhood.  There was also a game called “touch button” in which the owner of a string of buttons would designate in her own mind a certain button.  If her friend touched it the owner received the handsomest button from the friend’s string.” [2]  “The fad of making button strings started in the 1860s…[and] remained popular until 1900”. [3]

In our button literature there are many references to charm string-type buttons and to lore that surrounded creating a charm string, but few about specific charm strings….

As Sally Luscomb says of charm strings in The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons “To start…first tie a string to a large button.”  It is wonderful to speculate about the strings we own, but even better to know the real story.  The historical documentation by the Charm String Museum is a wonderful resource.  At the time the above article was published, I included a photograph of an identified young girl who is holding her prized charm string and appears to be in bed, propped up on pillows.   It is reprinted here with the permission of the owner, The Thanatos Archive, in hopes that someone knows her story.




[1] The Merriman-Webster Dictionary,  New York: Pocket Books, August 1974
[2] Crummet, Button Collecting, Chicago: Lightner Publishing Co., 1939, p. 111
[3] Luscomb, The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons, New York: Bonanza Books, 1967, p. 38

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Hidden Letter

by Renee Comeau
Reprinted from the Summer 2010 California State Button Society Button Brief

A few years ago, I bid on and won a pretty velvet-lined antique jewelry display case that had a charm string of buttons in it. The case was from the Jane Ford Adams collection and our San Diego Button Club was having a little auction of buttons. The inside of the case needed some repair, so I put it aside to repair later. A longtime member of our San Diego Button Club, Joan Helton, who seems to find just about anything in sewing notions and material that a club member needs, found an old piece of velvet to match the piece I needed to make the repair. Inspired one day to get off my duff and accomplish some long overdue tasks, I started the repair. When I removed the damaged velvet liner, I discovered some old letters hidden inside. The letters, written in 1941, were from an antique book dealer in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Foster’s Book Shop) to Jane about an old Southern Charm String that he had (and later negotiated by Jane to have him send it to her).

It seems that, in exchange for some books that Jane had sent to him, he was prepared to send her the Charm String, but his mother was having sentimental fits over the thought of him selling it or giving it away. The ‘charming’ letter, at one point in the text states “the Charm String has brought down dire threats on my head, from no other person that My Dear and respected Mother, the more I hear of this damn string of buttons. It was played with by her Mother, most respected Lady, the wife of Capt. Martin, another illustrious Ancestor that I have not lived up to and before that, my most respected Grand-Mother, Magee. My Mother is a perfect dear and truly she does not get damn wrought up, but the Charm String, it’s a bit too personal, perhaps not worth a darn, I don’t know.”

And in the other of the two letters, “I certainly won’t think of keeping your books and the Charm string has not disrupted the house-hole [yes, ‘hole’ not ‘hold’]. Mother is not any sentimental idiot either; she is and had been a collector all her life. I told you that this old house was over-flowing with antiques and a little bit of everything else. She knows not what I will bring home next. Anyway, I have persuaded her to allow me to send the Charm string to you for appraisal, that’s fair, is it not? You see, Mother’s Mother was a Magee, a sister of Pelham’s Mother, at least the darn String should have charm, as this Sister started it long before the Civil War—enough of this—the String is being mailed. We may be all wet as to the value. Neither of us know one thing about it.”


In any event, finding the two hidden letters was really a lot of fun, and the text of the letters really 
delightful to read.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Where Have All the Charm Strings Gone?

History Corner--Where Have All the Charm Strings Gone?
by Terri Horton, CSBS Historian

As I looked through the California State Button Society (CSBS) scrapbooks last year, I noticed many wonderful newspaper articles and photographs about button collectors “back in the day”.  At first I wasn’t very interested in reading some of the “newer” scrapbooks such as those from the 1970’s and 1980’s because they are contemporary to my own life.  However, I soon realized that many contain stories about collectors who were born in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s and were the little girls who made charm strings and later grew up to be the pioneers of button collecting! 

Charm String, Heart String, Charm Necklace or simply Button Chain or Button String...I’d like to share some of the interesting scrapbook threads I unraveled from these books, and I hope that someday these clues might lead to “the rest of the story” about this special form of button collecting.

A 1943 Los Angeles Times article features a photo of Lillian Krigbaum wearing a charm string of 1000 buttons. The article tells us that “mothers used to start the strings for their daughters” and that, as we already know, these often became the start of a collection that grew well past the traditional 999.  Let’s see where some of these collections are identified in more detail.

A San Gabriel Valley area newspaper story from December 13, 1953 shows Mrs. Harry E. Walker, 80 years old, of San Dimas.  She is holding a “button string” estimated to be 100 years old.  Mrs. Walker told the reporter that some of her collection of over 5,000 buttons were from a charm string she had when she was a child. She was a member of the Helen B. Moody Button club of Santa Monica, Los Angeles Button club, California State Button Society and the National Button Society, and began collecting in 1942.  Another photo features Mr. and Mrs. Walker, married 61 years, holding the charm string.  The caption indicates that together they had over 10,000 buttons!  Also in the 1950’s scrapbook is an original photo given to the CSBS commemorating an August 19, 1956 Los Angeles Examiner article (see attached).  Mrs. Harry Walker is pictured among thousands of buttons and when you look closely you can see that one of her lamps is a adorned with a charm string!  Mrs. Walker was probably born in the 1870’s, and must have been a wonderful resource about button history.  It would be wonderful to know where the charm string is now…Are there stories recorded anywhere else?  Who is the new caretaker of the buttons? 

Mr. and Mrs. Walker

A wonderful uncredited clipping in the same book tells about former Corona mayor C. R. Miller who owned what is described as “the probable world record button charm string, which is over 50 feet long.”   The story goes on to tell about Mira Loma resident Mrs. Rosamond Watkins, seventy-nine, who gave the mayor a two foot long charm string that she made when she was 6-7 years old.  She said that “in those days…the girls used to sit on the “horse blocks” in front of their homes and trade buttons.  At that time, almost all of the little girls her age pursued the hobby”.   A photo shows the mayor and Mrs. Watkins with her charm string.  In the same scrap book, a January 18, 1953 article, perhaps from the LA Times, shows a photo of Mrs. Harry Ledig of Alta Loma and her “button chain”.  There is no further information about Mrs. Ledig, so we are also left to wonder about the history of her string.

Also in the 1950’s scrap book we learn that the National Button Show was held in Long Beach in 1953.  A photo included with that memorabilia is of a young woman named Vicki Heinzerling.  She is holding up a “heartstring of buttons found at Ft. Ticonderoga in 1870.  It recalls a maidenly 18th century practice of stringing up to 999 buttons for the hope chest.  Button No. 1000 being added with the matrimonial conquest of a colonist.”  This is the first mention I have seen of the term “heartstring” or the claim that this was a practice as old as the 18th century!  It is likely that there is some journalistic error in the caption, as all other references I know of link the start of this popular pastime of charm strings to the Victorian Era.


In a 1980 article about the Goleta Valley Button Club I learned that 74 year old Chris Munter had recently acquired a “prize possession”, “a button string, dating back to the days when everyone took the worth of a button for granted”.  Ms. Munter bought the string from a friend who found it in her attic.  Chris restrung it but “pulled the most exquisite buttons for her competition displays”.  Another article, from an unknown source in 1973, tells us that Bernyce Mahey from the Jacksonville area said her first “good find” was a string of over 200 buttons.  She later acquired a string of 400 buttons, but lamented that she took them both apart and that the value would have been greater if they were left intact. 

Other references tell us about Helen B. Moody of Santa Monica.  She was a member of the Los Angeles button club whose “hobby started when, as a Nebraska school teacher, her pupils rewarded her with “charm strings” of buttons.  She said, “I started to collect in earnest in 1912 when Dr. Moody and I built our Santa Monica home.”  Wouldn’t we all love to have a friend with a treasure like that in their attic?!   In a clipping from 11/11/66 we learn of Mrs. Ray Adams who “possesses a charm string of buttons, one of which is from a Confederate uniform of Civil War days”.  Finally, a more “recent” newspaper article from August 1991 says that “Members of the Sacramento Button Club really buttoned on to newcomer Kay Meier after she showed them the 7-foot-long button “charm strings” her husband brought home from an auction. Meier’s charm strings are about 100 years old”. 

The scrapbooks include some out-of-state newspaper articles that also have references to charm strings.  The Denver Post in 1956 (?) mentions Mrs. A. C. Swainson, who “started her collection about 10 years ago, using her grandmother’s charm necklace as the basis”.  And The Denver Post, 4/17/69 tells about Mrs. Louis B. Hough who “inherited a charm string from her sister.”  I wonder how many of us have plans for passing down our own special buttons.   Do those in our families know the history and importance of our collections or will our strings and boxes and frames of buttons be scattered and left unidentified and undervalued?


So, perhaps there are names here that are familiar to you.  Maybe you were a member of the Sacramento club in the 1990’s and have seen Kay’s charm string!  After all, the 1990’s weren’t THAT long ago!  Some of the CSBS button “history” is still actually fresh in our member’s minds.  However, do any of you know where the charm strings of the past are?  The 1940’s stories are now seventy years old!  I would like to challenge each of you to share photos and stories of the charm strings that you own.  We have enjoyed several recent stories in the Brief, but I am sure there are more out there.  This might even be a fun local club project.  Let’s publicly document this special piece of collecting history.   If you or your club would like to share a “charming” story, please submit it to the Button Brief editor.  We are looking forward to your help in untangling more button string stories.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Charmstring Stereoview

A Charming Imagination

When searching for stories about charm strings, I came across this intriguing stereoscopic view of a string of 3,500 buttons.  This picture, published by W. McLeish of Syracuse, New York, represents “a collection… gathered by Miss Emma J. Brown, of Truxton, N.Y.” during a two and a half year period.  The description states that Emma was an orphan and invalid, had been sick for four years and unable to walk for two years.  I thought it would be fun to try to find out more about Emma J. Brown.  Could she be the young girl pictured in bed with strings of buttons draped around her that was featured in a previous Button Brief article?
I decided to use the Ancestry.com family tree research program to try to find Emma.  Stereoviews and charm strings were both popular from 1850 to 1900, so I searched in that time frame.  I also looked for a single young woman who was orphaned and lived in the New York area.   I thought that this would be enough information to find Emma, but this became a task that was more speculative than factual.  When looking at the census should I look for an Emma J.  Brown living in the household of someone of another last name such as an aunt or grandparent, or had she been a servant in someone’s home before becoming ill.  Maybe she was listed as a boarder, or perhaps she was actually living in an orphanage or a hospital.  If she had been a servant then that would not be the girl in our previous photo.  If she was orphaned maybe someone sponsored her button charm string as a way to pay for her medical care.  Obviously I became lost among a sea of Emmas and was unable to identify the owner of this charm string, but it certainly was fun to imagine her story.

This button history search dead-ended, but we can help keep the history of our personal collections alive through documentation of their provenance.  Whether you acquire one special button or a group of them I encourage you to keep the personal string of stories intact.  Button collecting is certainly fun, but it is also a means of preserving pieces of history.  These details may not seem as important as simply enjoying each beautiful button, but when brought together they can add to our hobby by building a robust historical archive.  Don’t leave the story of your favorite buttons to the imagination…write it down now!

This article is reproduced from the California State Button Society Button Brief .


Monday, March 28, 2016

Oklahoma Charmstring

Marsha Cassada has kindly decided to share her charmstring

"It is a small one, only 75 buttons. I found it in Mangum, Oklahoma a few years ago. I have never seen one in this part of the country before; Mangum is part of Old Greer County and belonged to the state of Texas before Oklahoma Territory was opened.  I believe it belonged to an early settler.  I took all the buttons off and cleaned them; a few of the metal ones were not salvageable.  The string was in good shape, so I put all the buttons back on the string in the same order.  Among items on the string were a little tin chair, and a Madonna and Child charm.  In my military button book, I looked up the uniform buttons and they all dated from WW I or earlier.  There is a penny with the middle taken out; I was hoping there was enough left to tell the year, but there was not.  My favorites are the Kate Greenaway and the lucky swastika.  There is also a nice hair button.  I removed the little chair from the string and display it in my dollhouse."


Military buttons and good luck swastika

Little metal chair

Shell heart

Madonna and Child charm

Hair Button

Monday, February 29, 2016

Napier Charmstring

Laura Bullock has kindly decided to share her charmstring. It has a little over 200 buttons and was started by Flora Elva Congdon Napier, who was born in Vermont on July 7, 1875.




Hunt button

Black glass spider with carnival luster

Black glass dog's head

Grand Army of the Republic (Civil War veteran's association)

Small metal picture of bird

Painted metal

Black glass house with carnival luster

Liberty head coin -type
Large brass picture

Black glass bird

Small metal bird picture

Painted brass

Stamped Victorian brass

Black glass with shell inlay


Thursday, June 11, 2015

St. Bernard Lithograph

Buffum Collection, Inventory Number 87



A string of approximately 315 antique and vintage buttons tied in a loop purchased May 15, 2015 Wichita, KS. The buttons are mostly small to diminutive in size but there are some medium and a couple large size buttons on the string as well. The touch button is a brass woman’s head followed by a green and cream celluloid set in brass, a Deknatel black glass castle button, a clambroth glass set in brass button, then white glass, black glass,  vegetable ivory ball, brass with black glass center, composition ball with silver inlay design, brass with celluloid insets, 2-3 different caramel Victorian glass buttons, small brass buttons with painted designs and cut steels, paperweights, carved MOP, original blue tint on brass, milk glass Jenny Lind waistcoat, faceted luster ball, precision inlay star-shaped mirror set in black glass, fabric set in brass, imitation fabric black glass spindle, Poppers in all shapes and colors, foil in glass, pink glass oval with white cameo head, waistcoats, charmstring glass, yellow and blue glass, dimi brass with paste, abalone, metal with black stripes, black glass with gold design, metal with abalone, multicolored molded glass, 7-8 small enamels, brass with four pastes inset, clear glass, lavender glass, MOP set in brass, painted brass, medium woven fabric in a stamped brass border, turquoise Victorian glass, reverse painted, brass ball, small brass picture button of chariot with self shank, Czech/Bohemian glass, metal with glass inset diamond shaped, spindle possibly Venetian glass?, Radiant, dewdrop, small paperweight with rose, prong set pastes in metal– 7 stones, glass cat eye with thin wire shank, tiny teddy bear eye with thin wire shank, dimi brass shaped, matte black glass, various tiny glass beads and metal charms including an anchor, yellow slag glass, molded glass in brass drum, 1904 metal teddy bear button with blue background, black glass with silver luster crescent moon, black cone with tip glass tip, enamel with roses with red pastes border, steel ball, white Victorian glass, glass set in brass,, black glass with enamel, white metal knot, brass with MOP inset, blue enamel spindle, brass with gold stone disk, black glass with blue luster, ruby glass with design, Aristocrat, milk glass dome, enameled hexagn with turquoise bead border, kaleidoscope with black and white design, brass coin button, small metals, small brass wth glass, large painted brass, lithograph of St Bernard dog head in gold drum.