Keep Homestead Museum
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View a Specific Type of Button, Click Below:
All three of the buttons shown are mosaics. Myra purchased the Mosaic Collection in the late 1960's, and it was the pride and joy of her vast collection of buttons. There are many fine examples of Roman mosaic pieces as well as Florence pieces more commonly known as "petra dura" mosaics.
The mosaics from Rome have a completely different look from those of Florence. Often the entire face of the button is made from tiny pieces of stone or glass and may be set in silver, brass, gold over brass or gold. These buttons were made as early as the 17th century and sold to the tourist trade. However, the buttons in Myra's collection are not that early: they date from the 1850's. These Roman mosaics are finely done and are also beautiful works of art. The most popular motifs of these mosaics were animals, flowers, Roman ruins, landscapes and people. The rarer and harder to find motifs are the people and animals.
Mosaics from Florence are works of art made by cutting designs from stones such as malachite and carnelian and placing these pieces into a black background stone. These pieces are often done so finely that a magnifying glass is needed to determine whether or not they have been painted or made from tiny pieces of stone. Flowers and birds were the most popular motifs used.
Button #1 is a "petra dura" mosaic using the rarer animal motif. As finely done as the building, it was made circa 1870.
Button #2 is an example of a Roman mosaic, also circa 1870. It is so finely made that it resembles a painting.
Button #3 is a fine example of a Florence mosaic. It is also a "petra dura" using the popular bird motif.
Each week as buttons are being recarded at the KHM, new discoveries are constantly being made. Just recently, going through a large collection of "Kate Greenaway" Buttons, we found about twenty Theodore Gates buttons.
As Jacquie Hatton carefully examined the buttons, she saw the signature of the maker, (actually his initials) and the shank imbedded in what appears to be a tarry substance on the back of each button. While doing research, she found some of the information needed in Sally Luscomb's Button Encyclopedia on p.77.
Checking the back of the card, Myra purchased these buttons in 1972. According to the encyclopedia, these buttons were paper, decoupaged to the back of watch crystals. There was no explanation for the black substance. Later buttons were done using glass disks.
The buttons in the KHM collection range in size from that of a half-dollar to the larger size of a silver dollar. All the buttons have a bit of glitter applied to the paper before adhering it to the glass. Also, on the back of the card, it stated that these buttons were made by Prof. Theodore Gates of Pennsylvania, but there is no reference to this title in Sally Luscomb's book.
However, in the Big Book of Buttons by Hughes and Lester, there is further reference to Theodore Gates' buttons on p.289. It seems he was from State College, PA. The backs were made of pitch, and his best-known subjects were Victorian women from Godey's Lady's Book. Is it then rare to find so many of his buttons depicting Kate Greenaway characters?
These are interesting buttons, which at first glance seemed to have little value, but upon further study warranted greater respect.
When you visit the KHM, ask to see the newly recarded Kate Greenaway Buttons made by Theodore Gates. Even if you don't have any of these in your collection, you should find them interesting.
by Jacquie Hatton, 9-18-99
"Gibson Girl" buttons are from the Art Nouveau Era (1890-1910). As with every period in history specific years overlapped and did not abruptly begin or end as some historians would have us believe. As we all know, a favorite dress, piece of jewelry, furniture, silver are not totally replaced or abandoned because another style has found its way into the marketplace. "La Belle Époque" and the "Arts and Crafts Movement" were also popular during this time period and lasted until World War I. These movements also greatly influenced the Art Nouveau Buttons. The fine quality from the Arts and Crafts Movement shows in the workmanship of these buttons -- often the buttons were hand-cast rather than simply being stamped with a design.
Some artists who influenced items produced during this time were Louis Comfort Tiffany, William Morris, Arthur Beardsley, Renee Lalique and Galle. Many worked in glass and metal. Others produced graphic art in the form of illustrations and posters. Alphonse Mucha and Charles Dana Gibson did much to influence and glamorize the portrayal of women. Liberty of London was a jewelry manufacturer whose fine pieces have survived to the present day. Carl Faberge of Russia and George Jensen of Denmark are world famous today and thrived during that time period.
The Gibson Girl Buttons copied the ever-popular Gibson Girls of the era. They were made famous by an artist from Boston, Massachusetts. He married a beautiful lady from Richmond, Virginia, and she became the first model for the now famous Gibson Girl illustrations. All the portraits have ladies with upswept hair with tendrils or curls that escaped. He painted the full figures of his models as well as just their heads. Very often the clothing was very elaborate as though dressed to attend a great event. But the shirtwaist blouse and long skirt was just as popular.
At the Keep Homestead Museum, these buttons are placed on some of the Charles Dana Gibson prints so viewers can compare the likeness.
Storybook Figural Buttons are popular with both adult and junior collectors. These figural buttons are those buttons that depict figures from children's fairy tales/ storybooks. Most of these buttons, manufactured in the late 19th and early 20th century, were made of metal, most often brass, and were sometimes of cut- out construction.
Many can be found in the museum collection, and are presently on exhibit in a special display of children's buttons. One of the most frequently found buttons of this type is the Trumpeter of Krakow from the book of the same title. Another popular button is Little Red Riding Hood, very often showing a little girl wearing a hooded cape, basket over her arm, with a wolf by her side. There is another button (Flora and the Hind) that is often confused with this button, refer to the Big Book Buttons (p.478 & p.470) to compare the two. Both are on display at the KHM as well. Rumplestiltskin is another popular storybook button, as are Rapunzel and Snow White. There are many of these figural buttons in the museum collection.
If you should decide to start looking for these buttons, know that you will find them not only depicting fairy tales, but also nursery rhymes as well as fables. Sometimes you will find them decoupaged, painted on porcelain, china, and other materials. But that is another story!
Jerusalem Pearls are 20th century hand-carved Mother of Pearl (MOP) Buttons from the Holy Land. Several cards of these have been discovered at the KHM and have been placed on display. There are several pieces of jewelry, in addition to buttons.
These buttons are known sometimes as Bethlehem Pearls or Jordan Pearls. Perhaps it would be better to call them simply Holy Land Pearls. These buttons were primarily made in the 1940's & 1950's and there are several Bethlehem, Jordan Buttons pictured in the Big Book of Buttons. In Sally Luscomb's The Collector's Encyclopedia of Buttons (p.112), they are referred to as “Jordan Pearl Buttons made in Bethlehem during the twentieth century.” The buttons range in size from 3/4 inch to over 1 1/2 inches. According to this source there are over one hundred different patterns. The art form has been in existence for many years. They are carved from imported MOP shells. The earlier ones have much finer detail.
There seem to be many of these buttons available in the marketplace, but very little information is known about them. However, on the button display cards themselves there are additional information about these hand-carved buttons from the Holy Land. Many of the designs focus on religious themes particularly the cross. All kinds of crosses. Crosses that have been combined with other items as well as crosses all by themselves.
We also know that this type of hand carving has been in existence for some time. The earliest carvings tend to have much finer detail, thus helping us to date some of these finely carved buttons. The MOP shells are imported to Jerusalem, as they are not indigenous to the area. Most of these buttons have a glowing sheen. Rare buttons are found with the MOP combined with abalone -- these are especially beautiful.
There is an article at the KHM about an internationally known artist, Ben Stahl. He has won many awards for his artwork including the coveted Saltus Gold Medal of the National Academy of Design. He researched the designs for his artwork by going to Jerusalem and walking the very streets where Jesus carried the cross, to help him capture the drama and color of the Holy Land. His aim was to bring alive the momentous hours in the history of mankind for people of all faiths, all creeds, and from every walk of life.
Although these buttons have been referred to primarily as Jerusalem Pearls, perhaps now that more of their history is known, it would be better to refer to them as “Holy Land Pearls”. Whatever their name, they are beautifully hand-carved and a tribute to buttons made in the twentieth century.
Jacquie Hatton 2-5-2000 Revised: 5-13-2001
In celebration of the Chinese Year of the Dragon, the KHM mounted a special display of Dragon Buttons from Myra's extensive button collection. They were incorporated within a larger exhibit of Oriental Buttons in the main Button Room at the KHM.
The Chinese Year of the Dragon began with the traditional New Year's Celebration on February 5th of our calendar year. This is the year 4698 on the Chinese calendar. The Chinese New Year changes each year to correspond to the lunar calendar.
Much celebration takes place: special foods, decorating the homes with red paper and setting off firecrackers are part of the traditions. The Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year Season. The "Year of the Dragon" continues until the next Chinese New Year, 4699.
There is an old legend, from Han times, that said that a monster whose name was "Nian" visited a little village and scared everyone. Just by luck the villagers discovered that the monster himself had a couple of fears. He was afraid of the color red and even more afraid of scary loud noises. So the villagers scared the monster away by waving red banners and rattling noisemakers. The monster ran away and was never heard from again. And that is why the Chinese, at midnight, always use red ribbons and set off firecrackers to ward off any evil spirits lingering from the old year and celebrate their new year.
The dragon buttons on display in Myra's Button Room were manufactured at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. They are made of various materials such as brass, silver, wood, mother of pearl and sometimes they are made from a combination of materials. There are also some outstanding enameled dragon buttons. According to folklore, Chinese dragons have five toes, Korean dragons have four toes, and Japanese dragons have three toes. Of course, throughout history there have been stories describing heroes hunting for dragons in other countries as well as those mentioned.
Jacquie Hatton, 2000
The buttons at the KHM that contain copies of original pen and ink drawings executed by a Monson Art Teacher/ Button Collector, W. Louise Larsson are know as the Belle Époque Buttons. She chose to display button manufactured during the Belle Époque Era with her pen and ink drawings. The original drawings have sustained some damage over the years. However, her buttons are still in fine condition, and have been placed on exhibit along with copies of her pen and ink drawings generated by the use of technology. The Belle Époque time period covers the last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century. Very often the designs resemble the Art Nouveau Era that is included in that time. There was also interest in Egyptian design inspired by the discovery of King Tut's Tomb in the 1920's.
You will be able to see an Art Nouveau Swan button, an Egyptian Sphinx button, the Salamander button and others from the Belle Époque Era. The buttons have been moved to make room for other displays, but ask to view them if you are interested in seeing these creatively mounted buttons.
Jacquie Hatton, 2000
In the recently mounted Oriental Exhibit at the KHM, there are several buttons on their original button cards. Looking through the various button resource books we have at the museum I was able to identify them as Arita Buttons. Myra had originally mounted each of these small cards on a 9x12 card and framed them for display purposes. Examining the back of the card, there was a note stating that these buttons had been sent from Okinawa in 1958.
In tracking down the origin of these buttons, it was learned that although Arita buttons were made in the 1930's, they were not commonly exported until the 1960's. I went onto the Internet, looking for Arita, Japan on the island of Kyushu, and found this information: It seems that the porcelain that was used to make the Arita porcelain was discovered by a Korean Potter, Risampei, who discovered superior white porcelain stone in the Izumi Mountain of Arita in the year 1616. Very often the beautiful porcelain ware that was exported became known by the name of the port from which it was shipped out, i.e. Imari ware. This creates another dilemma -- according to the Big Book of Buttons, p.544, the Arita porcelain gods from Japan were sold by the Toshikane Art Porcelain, Tokyo. Although they pictured only the gods on this page, this clears up why the button cards say Toshikane on them.
According to Peggy Osborne's book, Button Button, p.145 these buttons were made by many different small family enterprises. There are well over 100 makers of Arita porcelain today, not all buttons! The buttons on the KHM cards have a matte glaze and depict various subjects. There are double masks, griffins/dragons, flowers, and birds. On the large card above, there are more Arita buttons depicting various gods. They have a high gloss glaze finish. The other buttons on this card depicting gods are Satsuma buttons with the typical crackled glaze. These buttons were also sent from Okinawa in 1958, according to the information on the card. Many of these Arita buttons are pictured in Sally Luscomb's Encyclopedia, on p. 9.
There are also some gods and masks in their original wooden boxes in the exhibit. They appear to be made of Arita porcelain, what do you think? When you visit the KHM, let us know your opinion about these boxed sets. Or you can e-mail Jacquie Hatton with your opinion on the KHM Web-site.
Jacquie Hatton, President, MSBS
When the Oriental Exhibit at the KHM was on display, there are ninety-eight Satsuma Buttons. They ranged in size from about 3/8 inch to over 2 inches in diameter. Most were round in shape, but there was at least one that was not.
We know from the Button-of-theMonth on Arita Buttons that several Satsuma Buttons depicting Gods were sent from Okinawa in 1958. They were finely decorated, some more ornately than others, and I would surmise that they were made in the first half of the 20th century.
All the Satsumas have the usual gold painted frame, with more of the same gold enhancing the design on the face of each button. The crackle glaze is evident on all the buttons as well. Some of the rims have the more ornate decoration attributed to the earlier Satsuma Buttons of the 19th century. One has the cobalt blue with the Greek Key surrounding the design of the button; others have the cobalt blue enhanced with gold decorations on the circumference. A few of the buttons have been set into a gold colored metal and have a loop shank. All Satsumas have a porcelain self shank unless set in metal. Some of these buttons may be marked, but it is felt that these marks are not dependable because many were forged.
Ascertained from recent research: Satsuma Ware is a Japanese pottery/or semi porcelain named after the province of Satsuma where it was first made in the 15th century. But it was not until the 16th century that the distinctive crackle glaze was developed. And it is this same finish that helps us to identify the Satsuma Buttons today. According to Sally Luscomb's Encyclopedia it is doubtful that any Satsuma Buttons were made until the last half of the 19th century.
The older Satsuma Buttons have ornately painted designs with very fine details. Gold outlining is never absent on these older buttons. Often there are very fine gold dots in the background on the face of the button. The finer the detail on the Satsumas, the more highly prized by collectors! When you look at these buttons at the KHM, try to decide which ones would be the best to collect.
by: Jacquie Hatton, July 2000
Used for Research:
In the kitchen display of implements and tools, there are presently three frames of buttons indigenous to approximately the same time period as many of the items on exhibit. One of these frames contains the very interesting and rare Norwalk Pottery Buttons. It is known that there were at least two pottery works in Norwalk, CT producing buttons c. 1825-1853. Many of these buttons resemble the well-known Bennington Pottery of Vermont.
The colors of those in the KHM collection range from the earthen tones of brown, tan, cream, mustard as well as to the popular reddish brown. There is at least one true red, also. However, there are salesmen's sample cards that have been found that include the colors of pale greens, lavenders, and blues. So far those colors have not surfaced at the KHM. Norwalk buttons range in size from 1/4 inch to 11/2 inch. Some look like typical plain pottery with a central pin on the front forming the shank on the back. Other buttons have metal rims, and appear more dainty. Many of the buttons appear to be more crudely made and were most likely used on work clothes or outside garments of that time period. For this reason, it is amazing that the buttons have survived this rough wear. After all, pottery is a breakable material. The smaller, daintier buttons were probably used on women's and children's clothing.
These are certainly not the most beautiful buttons in the collection at the KHM, but fine examples of American made pottery buttons of the early 19th century. Although some old store stock has been found, these buttons are among the rare, and very definitely part of our American Heritage. If only these buttons could walk us through their history!
The Largest Button in the Museum. I would like to relate a "Button Story" about a very special button that was donated to the museum. This is the actual account of how the KHM managed to have such a very large button on display. A few years ago, Robert Schwanda was a guest speaker at the Monson Button Club monthly meeting. Yes, this is really one of the Schwanda's of the Schwanda Button Factory fame! His factory was located in Staffordville, CT, a town that borders the town of Monson.
Some years before his visit, the club had taken a field trip to the Stafford Springs Historical Society that houses much of the Schwanda memorabilia from the factory. The factory had closed in the late 1950's. A former factory worker was on-hand to explain some of the paraphernalia and pictures. This visit piqued the members' interest in the mother of pearl buttons that were produced in this nearby factory. Some of the members even visited the site of the former factory and walked on "Button Lane", crunch, crunch, crunch!
So we were very fortunate to have Robert Schwanda as a guest speaker at our club meeting, and he brought many pictures and explained the process of making his Mother-of-Pearl (MOP) buttons. He brought examples of the types of buttons that were produced in his factory as well. He also shared samples of his buttons with the members, a very generous man. His lovely wife and daughter accompanied him. They were given a tour of the KHM and they all became particularly interested in how to card and display buttons. Both his wife and daughter returned to another meeting and learned how to card some of their extensive collection. The three also visited one of our MSBS meetings while we sere still meeting in Auburn, MA, to purchase carding supplies.
But, back to the story: Some weeks after the meeting, Robert Schwanda and his wife stopped by the KHM one Tuesday morning when all the volunteers were working. He had brought various shells that were used to create his MOP buttons. They were a gift to the Monson Button Club who put them on loan to the KHM and are presently displayed in the Rock and Shell Room along with samples of his MOP Buttons. He also very graciously identified all the shells and their place of origin so that it is a very informative exhibit. Mr. Schwanda had a very fine sense of humor and the thought of mounting buttons for display was very new to him. On the day he brought the shells, he also brought me a challenge. He brought the largest button I had ever seen, made by his company for promotional purposes. He declared that if I could mount it, the club could have it! Well, I replied that there wasn't a button around that I could not mount for display. And so I mounted the button on a card, and it is displayed along with the rest of the items that he brought that day. It is made of pearlized plastic, measures 5 1/2 inches in diameter, and is about 5/8 inches thick. I guesstimate its weight to be about one pound. I used an upholstery needle and a heavy cord to sew this button to a regulation size button card. The holes were made by the use of an awl.
It is with sadness that I must report that Mr. Robert Schwand has passed away. But he has left a fine legacy of family, friends, buttons, and very fond memories at the KHM and the Monson Button Club. Be sure to visit the exhibit in the Rock and Shell Room. Do not miss the "Biggest Button" at the KHM, also displayed there.
Written by: Jacquie Hatton
Nestled away in the right-hand corner of the exhibit entitled "Buttons of Historical Significance" is the KHM Charm String. It is draped around the old casket type trunk that it came in. It has 999 buttons and came originally from a home in Vermont.
"Charm Strings or Memory Strings" became a popular pastime around the middle of the 19th century and went out of vogue around 1900. A group of young women would get together and swap buttons and stories about the buttons that they were adding to their charm strings. It was a fashionable way to spend an afternoon. There are at least two different versions of what the consequences were of making these charm strings. And there were rules governing how buttons were obtained. Buttons could be given or swapped but could not be purchased by the owner. One of the lores surrounding the charm strings stated that the girls were to collect 999 buttons, and if they obtained the 1000th one they would remain a spinster for life. Another version stated that if a girl had 999 buttons on her string, the 1000th given to her would come from her true love and become her future husband. Whichever story you wish to believe, many of these charm strings were never finished. The partial charm strings were wrapped away in tissue paper and forgotten. They are often found among the momentos of bygone days. These small remnants are precious to button collectors, when found, and show us the many fine buttons produced in the 19th century. Often the girls sewed on small glass buttons with swirlbacks, but others did not limit themselves to size and put on a large variety of different sized buttons. This is the case of the charm string at the KHM.
The provenance that came with the charm string states that a J.H. Williams brought it from Bakersfield, VT. It is dated 1899. And also, inside the trunk/casket lid, you can notice the counting figures. I suppose that was a way of counting the buttons, either originally or by the owner who was selling it. When it is stretched out and measured, its length is 17 feet 3 inches. It was also reinforced by heavy duty fishline at some time in the past as the original string had become fragile on the last 8 inches. As you examine the pictures of the charm string, please note that the person working on the string did not hesitate to include buttons from an earlier century. I saw two Colonials from the 18th century as well as big and small tombac buttons. It is truly exciting to examine the charm string at first hand, I found three Jacksonians, many small chinas, two large Calicoes, Kate Greenaway, Picture Buttons, Irridized Black Glass, Silver and Gold Lustres, Rubber, MOP Inlay, and Uniform Buttons. This does not begin to cover all the different kinds of buttons on the KHM Charm String. As you examine the pictures, see what other buttons you can identify. It would also be interesting to discover which version of the charm string folk lore pertained to this charm string, but I suppose that story is lost forever. I still maintain that if only these buttons could talk, what a wonderful story they would tell!
Jacquie Hatton, 2001
Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons, pg.38
Got the Button? (Old and New Angles to Button Collecting)
p. 26-27, 86-87
A Very Special Thanks to all members from the Button Bytes Chat Room who very kindly responded to my question about the sizes and kinds of buttons put on a Charm String, and for sharing pictures to illustrate the buttons.
Card of Cameo & Etched Buttons
Card of Shell Buttons
Card of Mother-of Pearl in Realistic Shapes
Shell Stamped with Button Patterns & Examples of Button Blanks
Last year, Shell Buttons were featured at the KHM. There are antique, vintage, and modern buttons made from shells from various parts of the world. Since there were so many of these shell buttons in Myra's collection, they were rotated on a regular basis to give viewers the opportunity to see as many different types as possible during the year.
Of special note in the Jerusalem Pearls are two buttons that have abalone inlaid on the face of each button. The shells used to produce these very beautiful buttons are imported to the Holy Land for the artists to carve. Many of these buttons were exported to the United States in the 1950's, and were very popular with button collectors. They are still being carved today in the Holy Land. The earlier buttons are usually more intricate in design and are very desirable when found by collectors.
Featured, also, are some of the 19th century Mother of Pearl Buttons from Myra's collection. They are displayed with other paraphernalia from the waters of the world. There are several examples of Button Studs, Shell Jewelry, and a Snuff Box with inlaid MOP. Centrally located is a shell with button patterns already cut and ready to be stamped out. There are examples of these blanks to show what they looked like before the buttons were carved into useable buttons. At one time this was all done by hand, but eventually machines were invented to take care of this fussy aspect of making these MOP Buttons.
Buttons made from shells began early in the 19th century in England and eventually progressed to the United States after the end of the Civil War. This industry was slow to catch on, but by the turn of the century in 1900 many of these buttons were being produced in the United States. There were literally hundreds of small button factories located along the banks of the Mississippi River. These buttons were made from shells harvested from the river itself. A Mississippi River Shell is on display in this exhibit at the KHM and has a very lovely pearlescence to its interior.
There are several cards of Vintage Shell Buttons. The beautiful dyed and etched buttons as well as the watch wheel buttons and lovely large carved buttons are a tribute to the industry and shows us why they were so popular. There are, of course, examples of more modern MOP buttons as well. There is one card just devoted to Abalone shaped into fish. There is another card of Realistic MOP buttons made by a nearby button factory. In Monson we are fortunate to have had a button factory right next door to us in Staffordville, CT. You can still visit the old site of the now closed factory and walk on Button Lane. You may even be fortunate to walk on top of used up shells. If you wish to examine some of the button making items from this factory, visit the Stafford Springs Historical Society. Included in their exhibit are pictures taken inside of the button factory. When most non-collectors think of pearl buttons, they immediately call to mind the buttons that were on their ancestors' shirts. Today, buttons made from plastic have replaced these MOP buttons. As you examine some of the pictures posted with this article, I think you will agree that Mother of Pearl Buttons can indeed be very decorative as well as utilitarian.
A Button Sampler
Small Black Glass Buttons
Victorian & Lacy Glass Buttons
Heraldry Devices on Buttons
We celebrated the April 2003 opening of the KHM with a Button Sampler Exhibit featuring examples of Myra's many different types of buttons. In the Main Cabinet of the Button Room there were Enamels, Golden Age, Silver, Aritas, Satsumas, Moonglows, Fabric, Vegetable Ivory, Eskimo Art, Horn, Bethlehem Pearls, a Charmstring, Ruby Glass, Black Glass, Cinnabar, Brooks, Celluloids, Ivoroids, Bakelites, and others on display.
In the "Victorian Corner", there are Gay Ninety Buttons, Kaleidoscopes, Victorian Glass, Glass Lustres as well as Popper Buttons. You will be able to see Peacock Eye Buttons and others from this Victorian time period.
In the "Gentlemen's Corner" there are the ever popular Political Buttons, Military Buttons, and the Copper Gilt "Colonial" Buttons. The "Colonials" are among the oldest buttons in the museum. Added this year to this corner are some Stud Buttons, Bridle Buttons, as well as another card of "Colonials" featuring more of the front closure buttons as well as the sleeve size buttons. There are also buttons of Historical significance to Monson and Massachusetts along with Studio Buttons celebrating the Bicentennial of 1976.
In the Figural Cabinet are featured Storybook Buttons, Cupids, Theater and Opera Buttons to name only a few. There are also popular button reference books so visitors may take note of some of the newer books available to the button enthusiast.
Last, but never least are the Mosaic Buttons on permanent display in the Main Button Room. They are housed in special cabinets designed and built especially for these beautiful little works of art. They cover approximately one hundred years of production, 1850-1950. They were recarded by members of the Monson Button Club using exactly the same card patterns that Myra used. There is a pleasant surprise on one of the cards of Mosaics. For whatever reason, Myra put some Gin Bari Enamel Buttons on one of the Mosaic Cards. When the buttons were redone the integrity of the card was left as found. See if you can find them when you visit the KHM.
In the second Button Room there continue to be educational button exhibits so that the visitor can try to track down different types of buttons by getting a close-up view with labels. New to the room are some glass construction buttons with labels. Some of the nomenclature has changed over the years. Can you find some of the differences as you view the button cards?
In the Reception Room there are two new exhibits, one is devoted to Gemstone Buttons and the other to the Kate Greenaway Buttons. These were both favorites of Myra. She collected many books written by Kate Greenaway as well many more Kate Greenaway Buttons, many of which are still in storage. The Gemstone Buttons are coordinated with the Rock and Mineral Exhibit in the Rock and Shell Room and in the cabinet opposite the buttons.
On the second floor of the KHM there are more examples from Myra's extensive collection. There are cards on display in the 1930's bedroom and in the schoolroom as well as in the upper hall. Each year since the KHM opened, one type of button has been featured. This year, rather than feature just one type of button, volunteers looked into the storage closets for as many different types of buttons as they could find. Their goal was to present buttons that had never been on display before.
Most of them needed recarding and work went forward all winter long to accomplish this goal. However, as you review the different cards on display you will notice that several types of buttons are notably missing. This will be rectified in the future, but what must be put back into storage to accomplish this goal? In the Refreshment Area of the KHM the "Children's Display" of buttons has been maintained. When students visit the museum in the fall of the year, they learn about Storybook Buttons and how to follow clues to identify the actual buttons. There are Fairy Tale Buttons, Nursery Rhyme Buttons and Fable Buttons as well as Policemen's Uniform Buttons, Transportation Buttons, and Character Buttons exhibited. When these same students return to the KHM with their families they proudly share this information with them.
Do enjoy the Button Pictures that are being posted for your viewing pleasure and note that this is just a "Sampling of Myra's Button Collection."
Jacquie Hatton 2003
Swirlback Buttons, often found on Charmstrings
Teaching & Work Card Showing Examples of Different Types of Buttons
Another Work Card
Lacy Glass, Cobalt Blue Glass, Other Victorian Glass Buttons
Small Lacy Glass Buttons
Small Victorian Glass Buttons
Variety of Glass Buttons
Gay Nineties Buttons
A Potpourri of Glass Buttons
The 19th Century should certainly be known as the “Era of Buttons.” Some of the most beautiful buttons ever produced were during those one hundred years. Last year's featured buttons at the Keep Homestead Museum were Glass Buttons. Some from this 19th century and others from the past 20th century will be mounted in the large button cabinet in Myra’s Button Room. It is evident that glass buttons held a special place in Myra’s collection as there are a vast number of these buttons from which to choose.
One type of button that was ever popular in the 19th century was the small swirl back button that very often was mounted on the charmstrings of the last half of that century. The story of the KHM Charmstring is in the Button Archives on the KHM website. However, more information has come to light since that was written. While doing some other research, another article about charmstrings surfaced. It seems that in some parts of this country it was the custom to begin a “Marriage String” when a girl baby was born into a family. Then, on the girl’s 10th birthday, she was given a “Tea” and everyone who attended brought her buttons for her string. If she received duplicates she could swap for others that she did not have. This brought about the custom of girls meeting on a Sunday afternoon and having button-swapping sessions for their “Marriage Strings.” This custom began around 1850 and continued until around 1900. With new inventions in the 20th century this pastime activity died out. However, many of these strings have survived into the 21st century. Often partially finished strings may be found wrapped in tissue paper and stored in old family trunks.
In 1941 Lillian Smith Albert wrote in her book A Button Collector’s Second Journal, about a charmstring that she had purchased from the original owner, Miss Emily Robbins Childs. Miss Childs’ charmstring was on display at the Cooper Union Museum in NYC when Mrs. Albert first saw it. Upon talking to the curator and then to the owner, she learned the following: the owner’s father had been a merchant in NYC and a salesman with whom he dealt, an importer, gave Miss Emily the buttons from some of his sample cards. Consequently most of the buttons were in “proof” condition. Mrs. Albert was able to purchase the charmstring and stated that she was planning to use it as a “Reference Library” to date buttons. More importantly she discussed a type of button found on the string. There were 30 perfect kaleidoscope buttons on it as well as 17 shank plates whose tops had been lost. Consequently Mrs. Albert decided to restring the buttons and remove all kaleidoscope buttons from the string because of their fragility. And she advised all button collectors to do the same with their charmstrings. Other important information that surfaced was that kaleidoscopes were named by D.F. Johnson, and those buttons on the string dated back to 1876. Other pertinent information in the article described the kaleidoscope buttons as having a large metal shank plate completely covering the whole button base on which a loop had been soldered. Over this shank plate had been placed color pigment or a metal foil design. To this was cemented a glass top alone. The most common tops were plain convex, others were faceted and sometimes a design was molded to the concave top. The choice tops were the intaglio designs either cut or molded into the base of the glass and usually in one color. This seemed to give the button more depth and roundness to the design as opposed to the customary design, which was just a paper design or metal foil. Various pattens of flowers, heads and geometric cuts into the glass gave the appearance of enclosed medallions. She ended this piece by stating that whether or not you called these buttons kaleidoscopes, 2-piece paperweights or plaids they should be treated carefully as most of the glue had dried out and the buttons were liable to come apart unless treated carefully. There is one card of kaleidoscope buttons on display in the KHM, and they were recarded. I am so glad I did not know of their fragility before undertaking that difficult task. Mr. Albert stated that all the buttons on the string were of the “Jewel Type.” There was a picture of the “Childs’ Charmstring” on the title page of her book.
In the new display you will see many buttons that have not been out of storage for some time. Others are examples of what I call teaching cards, in that you will see buttons that have been originally labeled by Myra to show prime examples of different types of buttons. In recent years some of these titles have changed, but the KHM has left them as found. This will show that history is not always cast in stone and does get revised at times, especially as new information surfaces.
The small jewel buttons with metal rims are called “weskit” buttons. The metal rims surround the glass centers that were frequently produced at the Sandwich Glass works of Massachusetts. They are also called Golden Age Buttons, if they have the correct backmarks. They date from the 1840’s time period, and they certainly enhanced the front of the men’s clothing.
Other very beautiful and popular types of glass buttons were the Gay Ninety buttons. These buttons were usually large buttons with ornately designed metal rims and faces with glass pieces inserted into the pattern to resemble gemstones. Sometimes, of course, they were real gems. But more frequently they were of the type on exhibit here at the KHM. Paste glass and cut steel were used to embellish the button and make it shine brightly under candle lit or gas lit chandeliers of the theater or opera houses. These buttons were used to beautify the cloaks and capes at that time. The National Button Society has recently renamed these Gay Ninety buttons as their manufacture did not always fall within the Gay Ninety timeline and were actually manufactured from c. 1880-1930. They are presently called “large jeweled” buttons and oftentimes the Art Nouveau, the Art Deco and the Egyptian Revival Periods influenced the designs on the buttons.
Other examples of glass from this era are the Popper buttons, incorporating pieces of foil into the face of the buttons. There are also examples of black lustered glass, including silver, gold and iridescence on the button’s front. Fine examples of Victorian glass in the bright turquoise color, or the custard/tan colors with the gold outlines on the raised surfaces are included. There are also some fine examples of both large and small lacy glass buttons on display. Many collectors like to concentrate their efforts on just this type of glass and look for prime examples that have not lost their back paint.
Leaving the 19th century and entering the post 1918 time period, we have examples of glass produced in Germany, U.S. Zone, on display as well as glass made in the United States and Czechoslovakia. Moonglows have become a very popular type of glass to collect. And the face on these glass buttons has a thin layer of clear or colored glass that can be seen as it is held sideways to the light at eye level. These buttons come in many shapes, colors and sizes and were commonly make in the 1950’s time period and embellished with gold and silver and paste accents.
Lester and Hughes in The Big Book of Buttons call paperweight buttons the “aristocrats of glass buttons” as they represent the epitome of the glassmaker’s skill and knowledge. There were, of course, paperweights made before 1918, but those in this case are primarily Studio Paperweights created by glass artists of the 20th century. There are some beautiful examples at the KHM whether old or of a newer time period. There are examples of studio paperweight artists such as Kaziun, Rarig, Erickson, Weinman, Gooderham and others. The sulphides on display are not a common type of paperweight, but they are very popular with collectors. Other types of paperweights that are popular with today’s collector are known as the “millefiori” paperweights and are created by the use of different colored glass rods fused together to form the various designs that are achieved by the glass artist. The construction of a paperweight button usually consists of three parts: the colored glass base (1) has the “set up” or design (2) placed on top of that base and then a glass type dome (3) encases the other two pieces. Sometimes there are very elaborate designs between the base and the dome. Some are very simply done.
There are other modern types of glass buttons of this same time period, many are in realistic shapes and were used on children’s clothing. Whatever type of glass that interests you, I am sure you will find at least one example of it at the KHM. There is such a variety of glass buttons that it is impossible to mention all of the types, but you will see them on exhibit and do not hesitate to ask questions as you view the buttons.
Jacquie Hatton, March, 2004
Big Book of Buttons by Elizabeth Hughes & Marion Lester, 1991
A Century of Plastic Buttons
A Collage of Plastic Buttons Vintage to Modern
In 1869 John Wesley Hyatt discovered celluloid and changed the world. He did not realize the importance that his discovery would make on the world of button manufacture. At first, the buttons were created to imitate elephant ivory and the early buttons are very often confused with those of real ivory. It became a very popular material and its use was extensive. Hair accessories in the form of combs, brushes, hair receivers, and other feminine items were used extensively. The popularity carried over into the jewelry as well as buttons of that time period. This year the buttons that are being highlighted at the KHM are buttons made from plastic. There are several trays of early celluloid buttons with many different construction techniques, including the early imitation ivory. These buttons are often called ivorine or ivoroid buttons. Bedroom accessories are commonly called French Ivory, but are of celluloid construction.
Around the turn of the century, casein, another type of plastic came along. It was made from milk curds and treated with chemicals to give it its properties. Casein was used extensively in the manufacture of buttons at that time. In some places it is still used in the manufacture of buttons today. During the 1950’s and 1960’s plain casein buttons were used by the two Brooks artists (husband and wife team) to paint their colorful buttons in England. Queen Elizabeth accepted two different sets of Brooks buttons for Prince Charles and Princess Ann’s clothing when they were children. Charles’ buttons had colorful toys painted on them and Ann’s buttons had dainty flowers painted on them. Many of these buttons found their way across the Atlantic and continue to be very popular with collectors of today.
Between 1907 and 1909 Dr. Leo Hendrick Baekeland, a Belgian chemist living in America at the time, invented another synthetic plastic. The product became known as Bakelite, named after the inventor himself. It was advertised as almost an indestructible material, When hot needle tested, it very seldom leaves a mark. The colors were mostly dark, blacks, greens, brown-reds, and browns. Later, a similar product called Catalin came along with a wide range of very vibrant colors. It became extremely popular because of these beautiful colors and was used in the manufacture of buttons and jewelry. These buttons are highly collectible and sought after by collectors today. They are pricey and so popular that reproductions are being made and sometimes sold as original. Care should be taken when buying these items. You must really know the integrity of the seller.
Today, of course, there are many different kinds of plastics that have been developed and used in the manufacture of buttons. Many of these buttons have been used on children’s clothing and are sometimes in the shape of toys and other interesting items. The pearlized plastic buttons of today have taken the place of the real mother of pearl buttons originally used on men’s shirts and women’s blouses. The extensive use of plastic has found its way into the Couturier market and some very unusual buttons can still be collected today. Today, wherever a person looks, plastic is in evidence in a multitude of ways. Plastic surrounds us. Some feel it has made life a lot easier. In the medical field alone, plastic is used in a variety of helpful ways. Just think of the plastic gloves that are in use in hospitals, not to mention the hundreds of other uses. Some feel there is too much plastic, especially when a struggle is needed just to get your new computer cartridges out of its plastic packaging. However, plastic is here to stay and plastic has revolutionized the button industry. So, enjoy the “Century of Plastic Buttons” now on display in the button cabinet in the Main Button Room at the Keep Homestead Museum.
Jacquie Hatton, '05
In 2006 the focus of the Main Button Cabinet in the Button Room is the enamel buttons in Myra’s collection. Enameled Buttons are created by using powdered glass of different colors, adhering them to a metal of choice, creating various designs and firing them in a kiln. There are four types of enameled buttons. The four techniques used to create the various designs are champlevé, cloisonné, plique-a-jour, and basse-taille enameling.
Champlevé is made from a metal with indentations placed on the metal and the powdered glass is then placed into each of these cavities and fired at a high temperature in a kiln. There may be repeated firings to achieve the desired design. Often the back is also fired in order that the face metal will not shrink/crack because of the differences on the front and back of the piece.
Cloisonné enamel is achieved by adhering wires (cloisons) to the metal to form the design on the face of the piece. Each of the wired areas are filled with colored glass powder and then fired. As in most enameling where high temperatures are used the back as well as the front may by fired, usually with a plain color. Please note the large blue vases on display with the buttons, they are cloisonné enameling.
Basse-Taille enameling was very popular before the turn of the 20th century in Russia. It was the technique used by Carl Faberge, designer of the famous Faberge eggs created for Czar Nicholas and his Czarina. The technique uses a stamped metal in a very intricate design with transparent colored glass powder fired over this design. There are many examples on cuff buttons in the KHM cabinet. These cuff buttons were very popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s and part of most men’s jewelry. They were created using copper, brass, white metal as well as the more exotic metals.
Plique-a-Jour is the last of the four main techniques of enameling and is rarely used in the making of buttons. The reason for this is that it is more likely to break than the other three methods. Powdered glass is fired in a metal type frame. The effect is that of a stained glass window in miniature. We have found only one example here at the KHM. Please note that it is on the card of Special Buttons, the glass is turquoise blue. There is also another known button in a private collection, but the color of the glass is sapphire blue.
Gin Bari Enameling is another type that we have on display at the KHM. Myra had them on a card of her mosaic buttons and it was recarded exactly as she had them. You will have to look at the mosaic buttons to find them. Ask for assistance if you cannot see them. They were popular in Japan. To achieve the glow under the enamel a thin foil was adhered to the metal and then the powdered glass was applied and fired. There are six beautiful examples in Myra’s collection.
Painted Enamel Buttons were very popular in France, Limoges being one the first to embrace this type of enameling. It consists of powdered glass and a liquid being painted on the surface of the piece. It was allowed to dry and then fired in a kiln. It went through many firings to achieve the beautiful buttons that we see here on display. There are several sub-techniques that fall under this type of enameling as well, but that is another story!
Jacquie Hatton, 2006
(These photos have been electronically
manipulated for better viewing.
Mosaic Buttons on Display at the KHM
Other Inlay Buttons on Display
One of the largest collections of Inlay Buttons is on permanent display at the Keep Homestead Museum. I refer, of course, to Myra's Mosaic Button Collection. There are two types of mosaic buttons on display, the Roman Mosaics made in Rome, Italy and the Florentine Mosaics made in Florence, Italy. The Roman mosaics are made from tiny pieces of stone or glass called tesserae that are set into a tar-like substance to form the design on the face of the button. There are some very beautiful scenes depicting Vatican Square, the Roman Coliseum and other various landscapes as well as flowers, birds, dogs, insects and people. There are buttons with a diameter of about 2 inches and then there are the very tiny micro-mosaic buttons. Be sure to use a magnifying glass when examining these buttons so you do not miss any of the detail on the buttons.
Special floor cabinets were designed and built to house this mosaic collection and although many of the buttons change on a rotating basis the mosaics remain on permanent display. The second type of mosaic buttons on exhibit is the Florentine mosaics made in Florence, Italy. They are also known as pietra dura buttons and are a form of precision inlay buttons. The interior of the button has been carved/cut out to house the face design of the button. Tiny pieces of stone or glass are precisely set into the middle of the button face. When completed, it is polished and smoothed to create a level button top.
Mosaics have been made by artisans for centuries; mosaic floors have been uncovered in ancient Roman ruins. However, the buttons in Myra's collection cover only approximately 100 years, c. 1850-1950. Myra purchased the entire collection in the 1960's and it became the pride of her collection. Originally these buttons were made in Rome and Florence to be sold to the tourists who were taking a World Tour. To tell the age of the mosaic buttons examine the button face. Generally, the finer the detail on the button face, the older the button. The chunky/less smooth button surface indicates the newer buttons in the collection. They have not been polished and smoothed to a level face. Many of these chunky buttons were set into base metal and were sold in 5 and 10 cent stores in the late 1940's after World War II. You will notice that there are also some black glass tiles in the mosaic cabinets. If you look very closely you will see that the interior of the tiles have tiny pieces of glass incorporated into their designs. In the 1960's when the collection was purchased they were classified as tile inlay buttons. Recently that classification has changed and they are simply classified as having a tile-like construction in the black glass section. However, in the Smith & Fuoss book "Return Engagement of Black Glass Buttons" on p.26, "we have broken some of these buttons to see how they were made, the inlay is very shallow, many of them white, etc." I suppose that is why the change has been made. At least two of those in the KHM collection have inserts of blue and white. We will not remove these tiles from the exhibit at this time, but will leave them as they were originally carded. Having checked several of the Classification Books, it is only in the last couple of years that these changes have been made. Whether these pieces of glass were impressed or precisely inserted remains a mystery because of their age. Perhaps using the present nomenclature "Tile type" covers it
Other inlay buttons on display for this year's April Opening are buttons which contain inlays or veneers in horn, celluloid, bone, MOP, wood, tortoise shell, vegetable ivory, composition, papier-mâché, and black glass. Please note the various examples and the labels attached to identify the different type of inlays and veneers. Please note that the veneers are thin slices of various substances, such as abalone that have been adhered to papier-mâché in a layering process such as veneering, or japanning and smoothed to create the button design. Wood buttons in the form of marquetry or parquetry are also sometimes done in this thin layering process to create the various face designs on the buttons. Very often put together in geometric shapes like in a jigsaw puzzle. Many of the inlay buttons were produced by introducing flecks/pieces of MOP or copper, gold, etc. and were impressed into the main body of the button while it was still warm and pliable. This is called Impression Inlay. The Precision Inlay buttons such as the Florentine mosaics are created by bits and pieces of stone/glass being inlaid into a precise pre-cut design on the face of the button. When completed the face of the button is polished level and smooth. There are also some Overlay buttons and glass on glass buttons are included in this display as they show another method of adhering items on the face of the button. A good example of this is the Tingue button, where foil is adhered to the base of the button and then another piece of faceted glass is attached over the foil. Whatever the method of inlay or overlay that was used to produce these unique and beautiful works of art we are truly grateful to the artists that produced them.
Jacquie Hatton, 2007
- Once again I am truly indebted for the information that I have gathered from
As I have researched this particular button subject, I have come across several designations for these types of buttons. However, in Sally Luscomb’s book, The Encyclopedia of Buttons, she states that all buttons with pictures on their face should be called picture buttons. Those that refer to some subject matter from a fable, story, opera, or theater should also be known as Storybook Buttons. Visualize, if you will, any picture in your mind (excluding geometric shapes, designs, or other symbols) and you have a picture button. Picture buttons come in all kinds of shapes, as well as in many different materials. In Myra’s button collection an attempt will be made to include as many different types of Picture Buttons in as many different materials as are available in the collection.
Metal Picture Buttons were first made in the 19th century, mostly in the 1880’s-1900. If you have one of these buttons and many were produced, you may not be able to identify its exact age. Many have been re-issued as well as reproduced because of their extreme popularity. Everyone wanted a copy of these buttons for their collections. The Big Book of Buttons by Hughes & Lester is extremely helpful in being able to name these picture buttons. However, there are many out there that will remain nameless until such time as they are identified. Many metals were used in addition to these popular brass buttons. Silver was used to mold some truly beautiful picture buttons and very often the mark used identifies the time of its manufacture and country of origin. The popular gilt buttons of the 1840’s are NOT considered Picture Buttons although some of the face designs contain pictures. They must be referred to as “Golden Age” buttons if made in the USA.
Porcelain buttons have had pictures of flowers, animals, and people for many years. Liverpool Transfers are just one example; usually classical heads are the subject matter. Interestingly enough is the fact that they are probably called Liverpool Transfers because the technique used to transfer the picture was first developed in Liverpool. It is believed the buttons were manufactured elsewhere, but retain that name.
Jacquie Hatton, 2008
Black Glass Buttons
(these images have been electronically enhanced for better viewing)
Centuries ago glass was known to man! This seems to be incredible, but true! Glass beads were found in King Tut’s Tomb when it was discovered in the 1920’s. When Queen Victoria ’s beloved Albert died suddenly she adopted black mourning clothes for the rest of her life. She also adorned herself with black jet jewelry made from Whitby jet, which was mined in Whitby, England. Because of the popularity of this black jewelry and buttons and because the demand exceeded the supply, black glass was substituted to fill this demand.
There are literally thousands of patterns and designs used in the manufacture of black glass buttons. There are plain black glass buttons, silver and gold lustres, blue, pink, green and copper lustres, faceted, and engraved, as well. Iridescent black glass was invented before “Carnival” glass & yet many uninformed persons request “Carnival” glass buttons! There are glass wafers, screenbacks, Tingues, watch crystals, paperweights, moonglows and Poppers. There are a multitude of shapes and sizes all made from black glass. One could spend an entire lifetime just collecting black glass buttons -- Antique, Vintage and Modern.
At the KHM there are cards of black glass buttons, bags of them and boxes of them, many still waiting to be carded and inventoried. It is obvious to those who have been working on the buttons at the museum that Myra had a keen interest in collecting these buttons. She had accumulated so many of them! In the latest exhibit, cards of black glass buttons have been selected to show the visitor that there is a vast array of many different types of black glass buttons. Perhaps visitors will find a particular kind that appeals to them!
Be sure to note the rose colored 1890’s dress on display with 39 faceted black glass buttons. There would have been 40 buttons but for the owner shortening the dress, thus eliminating the need for that 40th button. Upstairs in the 1890’s bedroom there is another dress on display. You will notice that there are small black glass buttons on the front of the dress. They are all approximately the same size, but they have different designs on their fronts. We can suppose that at one time a button was lost and replaced by another of the same size.
As you examine the buttons in the new display please notice the display of Mosaic Buttons in the floor cabinets. They are one of the rare kinds of black glass buttons at the KHM.
Jacquie Hatton, 2009
What do you do with a pile of buttons?
Well, if you were Myra, you would think of some creative way to display them! If you were getting them ready for entering Competition you would use a 9 X 12 inch acid free mat board. You may cut your own or purchase one at a Button Show. You would follow the instructions as described in the National Button Society "Blue Book" for the Award you had chosen to do.
On the other hand if you were readying the buttons for display, you might choose to place them in glass jars, screw on the top & tie an attractive ribbon around the neck of the jar and display them in various places around your house. They are your buttons and you have finally got rid of that old pile of buttons!
Let me caution you. Buttons must breathe to survive over the years. Placing plastic buttons with metal buttons will "kill" the buttons eventually. The outgas from the plastic, erodes the metal buttons & disintegrates the plastic buttons. so what should you do with your buttons? You may place them on acid free cards, any size, and attractively arrange the buttons on them, frame them and hang them on your walls. They have then become wall art. Need ideas? Look around you, at wallpaper, magazines, books, your own photos or art work. Copy them onto acid free copy paper & glue onto the cards with acid free glue sticks. Then arrange your buttons by punching holes into the mat board using an awl and you may sew the buttons to the cards or you may use plastic coated wire to attach them. Do not use anything that will attract moisture as that may cause your buttons/shanks to rust. This will also cause your buttons to be destroyed over time.
Another way to display your buttons is by making button jewelry and wearing the necklaces, bracelets, rings or pins. Never remove the button shanks as you destroy the value of your buttons if you do. For button jewelry or ideas, visit the KHM gift shop. There are many pieces of button jewelry on sale in the shop.
Many people collect buttons as their hobby. We have had representatives from Martha Stewart's "Living Magazine" visit the KHM. Our museum is listed on her website. We have had other button collectors from around the world visit us.
Enjoy the new exhibit which emphasizes the many different ways that Myra used to creatively display her buttons as "wall art". Sometimes she used themes such as birds, fans, and much more. Other times she incorporated wallpaper for background display. Other times she used original art work such as paintings or pen and ink drawings that friends of hers created. Myra was a charter member of the Monson Button Club and all the members shared their creativity with each other. But there is now so much artwork in the marketplace that you do not have to be an artist to put your buttons on display. Many of the scrapbook products are easily adapted for use with your pile of buttons. If you have any questions ask the docents in the Button Room, they will be happy to assist you. And remember now you can do something with that old pile of buttons you have and use them to enhance yourself, or your home!
Jacquie Hatton, 2010©
Three Examples of Creative Mounting
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