While most people don’t give the buttons on our clothes a second thought, Carol Meszaros views them as tiny works of art.
The Hopewell native and her sister Sonia Force are co-founders of the Central Jersey Buttoniers, an organization for button collectors and admirers. The Center Jersey chapter is part of the New Jersey State Button Society, which is celebrating its 75-year anniversary this month in Titusville.
The May 7 event will feature tables of button dealers’ displays for collectors to discover and learn about different buttons. Sara Mulford, president of the New Jersey State Button Society, said there will also be a presentation about the state society’s 75-year history.
The state society meets at the Union Fire Company on Route 29, a location that Mulford said was chosen because of its easy access to both northern and southern state button collectors. However, Meszaros has been collecting buttons in Titusville long before other the admirers came from all over the state.
“My sister had belonged to a button club years before I joined, and when I went to her house I always wanted to go through her buttons with her,” Meszaros said. “She knew a little more than I did about them, and we both enjoyed each other’s companionship looking at her buttons.”
Meszaros was always a crafter—sewing, knitting and crocheting—and she often incorporated buttons into her designs. Her mother Edith taught all five of her daughters how to make their own clothes. When Meszaros was just 8 years old, she was sewing her own wool mittens. By the time she was an adult, she was making her own dresses.
As she began to create and design more clothes, she began to notice that not all buttons are the same.
“They are miniature works of art for the most part,” she said.
The buttons Meszaros has collected through the years are all vastly different. Some are made of traditional materials, such as plastic or metal, while others are made from more unique materials, including ceramic, bone or Walrus tusk. The patterns of the buttons are even more vast. Many of them have miniature paintings or photographs on them and some buttons are even designed in the shape of an animal or other item.
The buttons also tell tales of history. Some buttons have historical images on them—one of Meszaros’ shows George Washington crossing the Delaware—but the button itself is often a part of history as well. New Jersey used to be famous for making rubber buttons from 1850 to about the 1920s, and many buttons reflect what was happening in fashion during the time it was made.
While Meszaros and her sister learned a lot about buttons from their days spent crafting and sewing, they wanted to learn more. Whenever they would get together, they’d spend some time going through the buttons they had.
They went to a New Jersey State Button Society meeting when it was held in Flemington, and afterward put out a signup sheet to start a Central Jersey chapter. Six people signed up to join, and the Central Jersey Buttoniers was born.
“It was a great thing to do because we had that learning and companionship all these years,” Meszaros said. “It’s really better to do with somebody, especially somebody who knows more than do you.”
Twice a year, the Central Jersey Buttoniers—which currently has about 15 members—has a dealer come to one of their meetings. Members can ask the dealer questions about buttons they found or want to acquire to learn more about their own collection. The dealers are helpful as there is much more to buttons than first meets the eye.
“First of all you have to divide your buttons into materials and then you divide them into categories because you want to now what are they made of,” Meszaros said. “You gather a knowledge of that after a while. You look at what you like for about a year and then you say this appeals to me, this doesn’t.”
If buttons are works of art, then button crafters and collectors are the artists, displaying their work and competing at the national level. The National Button Society hosts competitions for collectors to create display boards. However, each board has to adhere to strict rules and an overall theme to be awarded the most points. If a collector puts one button too many on their board, they will be disqualified.
Meszaros entered roughly 10 contestants, and took home a prize for her board of animals in New Jersey in the 1700s.
While competing is fun, it’s the camaraderie between members that is perhaps the most enjoyable about the New Jersey State Button Society.
“That’s one thing I have found about button collectors in general, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to a club, a state level or the national level,” Mulford said. “Everyone is friendly and enthusiastic to just share the love of this hobby.”
Meszaros said button collecting is a blend of art and history coming together, which makes it the perfect activity to do with others.
“It’s fascinating, being with other collectors,” she said. “There’s just no end to what you can learn from people.”
Meszaros, who is a retired paralegal, also collects postcards and stories of local history. She’s currently collecting stories from residents in the Washington Crossing and Titusville areas to write a book on the history of that area as told by its residents.
Remembering the past is important to Meszaros and other button collectors in the Central Jersey and state societies.
“The thing with buttons—especially the old old ones—they’re really minature works of art, and I have mine hung on my walls,” Mulford said. “Some are newer, some are older. People come in and go ‘I feel like I’m in a little museum’. Of course, I could talk for hours. People don’t realize the history of buttons.”
The New Jersey State Button Society will celebrate its 75-year anniversary on Saturday, May 7 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Union Fire Company, 1396 River Rd (Route 29) in Titusville. For more information about the society visit newjerseystatebuttonsociety.org.