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 Keep Homestead Museum 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, Connecticut, 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 1950s. 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 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 Keep Homestead Museum 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 Massachusetts State Button Society meetings while we sere still meeting in Auburn, Massachusetts to purchase carding supplies.

But, back to the story: Some weeks after the meeting, Robert Schwanda and his wife stopped by the Keep one Tuesday morning when all the volunteers were working. He had brought various shells that were used to create his mother of pearl buttons. They were a gift to the Monson Button Club who put them on loan to the Keep and are presently displayed in the Rock and Shell Room along with samples of those mother of pearl 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 Keep Homestead Museum and at the Monson Button Club. Be sure to visit the exhibit in the Rock and Shell Room. Do not miss the “Biggest Button” at the museum, also displayed there.

Written by Jacquie Hatton
Updated 2004

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