Published: December 14, 2010
Buttons, buttons and even more buttons †in fact, a few thousand of them †were spread across the tables in Hap Moore’s auction preview area during early November. Readied for auction and broken down into 260 lots, the diverse collection was termed by the auctioneer as nothing less than “amazing.”
One of several specialty sales Moore conducts annually, the auctioneer commented that the response to the November 6, auction was also amazing. Button collectors from around New England, New York and Pennsylvania made their way to the auction house in an attempt to fasten bids with amounts generous enough to secure them.
Buttons, and buttonlike objects, have an interesting history and the earliest items to which the name “button” have been attached date back to 2800 BC. The earliest buttons, however, were more ornamental than utilitarian †merely circular objects sewn onto clothing. Button aficionados recognize the invention of the button hole as the real date that buttons actually became “buttons” as we know them today. That invention is credited to the Germanic people, first developed in the Thirteenth Century. Quickly becoming trendy thereafter, the button provided the impetus for the couture craze and the development of form-fitting clothing.
Buttons of every sort were part of the collection offered. There were early organic-form buttons configured from found objects such as sea shells, nuts and precious stones. There were Bakelite, celluloid and plastic models, fanciful Victorian jeweled examples, enameled buttons, glass buttons and, naturally, a plethora of metal buttons ranging from brass to tole.
Moore said the buttons had been amassed by well-known collector Edith Weber of Beverly, Mass., during the 1930s and 1940s. The auctioneer commented that the collection had been stored in Victorian trunks in the attic of the home, undisturbed for the past 50 years.
With a surprisingly large crowd in attendance, Moore took to the auction block and began hammering down buttons to the appreciative crowd. “We had about 80 bidders in the room,” stated the auctioneer, “and they stayed from the very first lot right to the end.”
The first lot to be offered was a large tray of buttons that included a variety of shapes and sizes made from shells and designs that included pearl, abalone, smoked oyster, see-throughs and pin shanks that sold for $92.
The first of the lots to really take off was a small tray of military buttons that included Navy examples from 1851, New Hampshire and Massachusetts militia issues, as well as Australian and German military buttons. Several in the crowd chased the lot, with it eventually selling at $488.
A lot containing more than 250 glass and brass buttons, including Victorian enamels, celluloid and Art Nouveau examples, also did well, bringing $483. A card filled with small and medium china examples, including calicos, pie plates and ringers, brought $184.
A card with more than 200 tinted metals and florals sold at $253, while a lot of 170-plus similar buttons realized $195.
The top lot of the auction came from the poke tins with a lot of 11 tins obviously containing some goodies. Offered right at the end of the auction, the lot was actively bid, selling at $833. (For those that do not speak button, a poke tin is a collection of miscellaneous buttons housed in a covered tin box).
Bringing $241 was a box lot of jars and cards, and a button charm string board featuring examples in a variety of materials sold at $276.
A set of six Hammond and Turner sporting buttons from the early Nineteenth Century did well, bringing $304, while a set of seven heavy brass buttons, circa 1885, with a Paris back and marked TW&W Brevete, closed at $241.
Three buttons with lithographed decoration of a woman’s head attracted attention from the crowd as they sold for $241, as did three cut-glass green tips that brought $287.
Another lot to do well contained six enamels, including five champleve flowers, that sold for $253.
Moore commented that the quick-paced auction grossed almost $18,500.
Prices include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.hapmoore.com or 207-363-6373.
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