Buttoned Up

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: So strange that I had never done a button post before and here is a second one in as many weeks! However, I have been keeping an eye on the antique cat button market for quite a while. There are some marvelous ones in brass that go for big money – maybe I will break down and buy one of those eventually. However, in the meanwhile, I scored this splendid little fellow just days before Kim surprised me with the Billiken button. (If you missed my Billiken Button post, it can be found here.)

While certainly not as flashy as the Billiken button (which somewhat defies the imagination when it comes to wearing) an item of clothing that sported a line of these cat buttons was one to be reckoned with too. I love the pearly quality – plastic ruled back in the early days of its use. (I examine celluloid in an early post, Fear of Celluloid, which features a cat that looks like an ivory carving) I wonder if they came in different colors – I can easily imagine green, blue and a really great yellow. I would be the queen of everything sporting that!

While eBay is always fascinating for the broadest possible view, an almost religious experience of buttons can be found in Manhattan at a tiny and wonderful store called Tender Buttons. On 62nd Street east of Lexington, just a few blocks up from Bloomingdales, sits this store which is both button museum and emporium. Back in 1988 Susan Orlean wrote a brief essay on the store and then owner for the New Yorker – Diana Epstein, who died ten years later. Ms. Epstein, a button collector and seller, had been a patron and fan of the store when she heard the original owner died and purchased it. It is still going strong so another button lover must have appeared and stepped in. I visited it with a fairly pedestrian need to replace buttons on an antique top. They were able to supply some lovely mother of pearl period buttons and, while the price was steep, I feel it was worth the price of admission to be able to dig through their stock a bit. (And yes, for those of you who are faithful readers, the store was a mere couple of blocks away from the toy hospital post mentioned previously here!)

Billiken Button

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Billiken button

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Seems that with the gift of this Billiken button from my husband I am, as I always knew, a lucky girl indeed! The wonderous Mr. Deitch surprised me with this acquisition a couple of weeks ago while he was burrowing deep into Billiken lore on a Facebook post. For those of you who missed that, it appears to have been inspired by a Billiken image on a cigar box – Kim was having a good time with cigar box pics a few weeks ago. Seems that research turned up the origin of the Billiken as a pretty good story – the creator Florence Pretz, art teacher and illustrator, brought it into existence it after seeing it in a dream. She christened him (it?) Billiken based on a poem, Mr. Moon: Song of the Little People, the appropriate passage below:

O Mr. Moon,
We’re all here!
Honey-bug, Thistledrift,
White-imp, Weird,
Wryface, Billiken,
Quidunc, Queered;
We’re all here, 
And the cost is clear!
Moon, Mr. Moon,
When you comin’ down?

 

Ms. Pretz did obtain a patent on Billiken, but where she made her mistake would appear to be in selling it to what became the Billiken Company of Chicago, which ultimately managed to merchandise him into a crazy cash cow nothing short of an international mania – his likeness was borne by toys, figurines, tobacco products, at least one football team, several early 20th century minor league baseball teams, and of course and evidently, clothing buttons. Strangely asian and eskimo cultures seem to be especially susceptible to his charms.

The other especially compelling fact about Billikens are that they are said to be the god of things as they ought to be. That’s a pretty interesting idea and I can see how it could be a double-edged sword as I consider it. Nevertheless, it is said to be good luck to purchase one – and even better luck to be given one. (Thank you Kim! I can use all the luck I can get.)

I hardly have to remark on the pearlized wonderfulness of this item. It fairly glows. It is actually beyond even my imagination to consider what an item of clothing might have looked like with a fewof these sewn on. Wowza!