How to date vintage buttons

Written by christina riopelle
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Button collecting is an accessible hobby as collections do not require extensive space to store. Since the price of buttons varies a great deal, collections can start with little initial investment. The preservation of vintage button collections involves inspection, repair and protection so that the collection may be enjoyed for years to come.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Microfiber polishing cloth
  • Gray eraser
  • Replacement stones
  • Acid-free cardboard
  • Jeweller's wire
  • Scissors
  • Corn cob holder
  • Pen
  • Plastic sleeves

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  1. 1

    Inspect buttons for soil or debris. Vintage and antique buttons are diverse. They consist of natural and synthetic materials, including plastic, bone, wood, shell, semi-precious stones and metal. If the material is unknown, use caution. A soft, clean microfiber cloth clears debris and is safe to use on all surfaces except buttons with delicate painted finishes. Use a grey eraser to clean rusted metal shanks.

  2. 2

    Replace or repair missing stones. Some buttons contain prong set rhinestones or crystals. Reattaching loose stones or replacing broken or missing stones is acceptable as long as alterations are documented.

  3. 3

    Sort buttons by material. Many buttons can be stored with those of identical composition. Tarnished metal buttons must be stored solo to avoid the spread of corrosion. Celluloid buttons must be stored alone to protect the brittle plastic from cracks. If transparent yellow celluloid plastic is damaged and deteriorating, it can emit gases and contaminate other buttons.

  1. 1

    Cut pieces of acid-free cardboard into rectangles and squares to create backing cards. By carding buttons, they can be easily viewed without soiling or damaging them. Choose a uniform size for all of the cards. A whole set of buttons can be placed on a large card, or each can have an individual card.

  2. 2

    Perforate the cardboard. Place a hole for where each button will be placed. The tip of a pair of scissors makes a single hole, while the end of a corn cob holder makes double holes for sew-through buttons. Poke the shank of the button through the hole. If the button is a sew-through style with holes instead of a shank, thread a wire through two of the holes of the button and through the cardboard. Wrap the ends together on the reverse side.

  3. 3

    Tag the buttons. Neatly write a description on the cardboard. Acid-free pens are available from photography supply or art stores. Include the date, material and other pertinent information.

  4. 4

    Slip cards into plastic sleeves. Plastic will protect buttons against scratches and abrasions. Do not seal the plastic so that moisture does not accumulate.

Tips and warnings

  • Information may be written on adhesive labels and placed on the plastic sleeves. However, the information will be separated from the button if the sleeve is removed.
  • Upgrade the collection by replacing buttons in poor condition when identical examples in superior condition are found and purchased.
  • Do not store buttons loose in a box. Delicate buttons may crack or break from abrasion. If carding is not immediately possible, place fabric between layers of buttons to avoid damage.

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