HomeLifestyleLoose Ends 4/5: Princeton resident cherishes her button collecting

Loose Ends 4/5: Princeton resident cherishes her button collecting

By Pam J. Hersh

As an experienced and well-known Princeton-based journalist, Barbara Fox is aware of the puns that could be associated with her avocation – button collecting.

She “buttons” rather than zips through her daily activities, and some might describe her hobby as the buttons of all jokes. Her passion, however, is no joke.

Since she has retired from her job as senior editor for “U.S. 1,” Barbara has embraced button collecting with an enthusiasm that merits being written about – by me, a longtime friend who had no idea about this buttoned-up side of her.

“Once I discovered the joys of button collecting, it is all I wanted to do,” said the self-described “button evangelist.”

When I found out about Barbara’s love of buttons, I thought it was just an idiosyncratic Barbara thing. I quickly learned that her thing is a really hot thing for thousands of collectors all over the country. Barbara informed me about the extensive button hobbyist infrastructure, including the National Button Society, the New Jersey State Button Society (NJSBS), the Central Jersey Buttoniers, and National Button Week (March 1723).

“I relish using my experience as a writer and public speaker to help others — both current and future collectors – enjoy buttons…. Every button has a story and my background in journalism gives me great training to tell that story.…. Not just of utilitarian value, many vintage buttons are unique miniature works of art….made by hand. The older buttons were made of bone, shell, antler, plaster, glass, hoof and many other substances….Picture buttons are my favorite…And they picture everything from windmills to witches.”

Merging her profession with her hobby, Barbara is the editor of the NJSBS Bulletin and vice-president, nominated for president of the NJSBS, with the election set for May 11th at the NJSBS spring show in Titusville.

This button evangelist never sought to be a button collector – button collecting seemed to have sought her when her grandmother died in 2007.

“Among my childhood memories are … polishing the picture buttons of my grandmother, Myrtle Harris Yerkes, who began collecting in the ‘40s in Philadelphia. When the buttons came to me (her sister had first dibs on the buttons but decided to turn them over to Barbara), I didn’t know what to do with them. Past President of the National Button Society Annie Frazier, members of the local button club Central Jersey Buttoniers, and members of the New Jersey State Button Society … set me on the right track. I actually had to take button lessons to learn the many aspects of button collecting, including the mounting…. I began entering competitions because doing so helps me get to know my buttons.”

Getting married soon after she got out of college (Duke University, class of ’61) and having three children, she found herself caring about zippers and shoe laces far more than buttons. But when her husband died after their 56 years of marriage, her button collection that had been part of her life for a decade took on an even more significant role.

“I have a button room upstairs and when I go into that room and work with my buttons it’s like another world, it gives me great peace and solace,” said Barbara, who has lived in Princeton since 1981. “When I work with my grandmother’s buttons, watching how and why she mounted them a particular way, I feel close to her. I feel blessed – not just to have these buttons – but also to have friends that can help me learn about them.”

Among her eight grandchildren, she is grooming one in particular to become the next generation button collector. That’s assuming, of course, that the granddaughter has no burning desire to be a Phillumenist or the collector of matchboxes and matchbox-related items.

The New Jersey State Button Society was founded in 1941. At that time, a nationwide interest in button collecting was surging. Many iconic authors of classic books on button collecting (past and present) have been members of the New Jersey State Button Society. We continue to study, collect, and enjoy garment buttons from the present and centuries past. We have a Spring and Fall Show every May and September, held at the Union Fire Co. building, 1396 River Road, Titusville NJ 08560.https://newjerseystatebuttonsociety.com/

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