Each week as buttons are being recarded at the Keep Homestead Museum, 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 The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons 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 Keep Homestead Museum collection range in size from that of a half-dollar to the larger 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 Professor 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’s buttons on p. 289. It seems he was from State College, Pennsylvania. 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 museum, 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.