Bethel Park Library Button Club a unique niche

Published May 15, 2013 at 4:34 pm (Updated May 15, 2013 at 4:34 pm)

When most people think of a button, the first thing that comes to mind may not be the beauty, shape or whether it’s plastic or wood. The majority of people probably think of a button as a way to secure clothing, but a group of people in the South Hills thinks differently. The Bethel Park Library Button Club, a small group of about 10 people, meets monthly to talk about, learn and sometimes buy, sell or trade buttons.

These aren’t your ordinary shirt buttons – many are elaborate, vintage and meant more for display than to wear. The club was started in February 2010 by retired Bethel Park Library librarian Mary Mullen and came out of a very popular Lunch and Learn program led by Polly Power of Scott Twp.

“It was one of the best attended,” Power said of the Lunch and Learn program.

The club meets monthly at the library and is led by Power, who has been collecting buttons for about 10 years. She is also a member of the Keystone Button Club of Western Pennsylvania.

Reference librarian Linda Zeybel said she “never realized the variety of buttons” until she started helping out with the club. “They’re like stamps,” or any other collectable, Zeybel said.

Zeybel said while she doesn’t collect buttons, “I’m finding them more interesting,” adding that she is fascinated by them because they come in so many materials.

The library has a button donation box at the circulation desk for anyone to drop off buttons they would like to donate to the club. The club holds an auction with its members for the buttons, and the club then donates the money to the library.

Buttons can be made of metal, glass, plastic, wood, aluminum, fabric and just about every material imaginable. They also come in every shape, color and size.

Power said her interest in buttons started many years ago after reading a library book on the subject.

“It’s totally informal,” Power said of the button club’s meetings. “We talk about whatever people want to talk about.” Some of the topics have included history of buttons, making jewelry with buttons, making your own buttons and competing in button competitions.

Power said one of her favorite things about the club is when someone new brings in an old box of buttons, saying they are like treasures. “We really encourage visitors,” Power said. She said some folks may visit the club just to have an “expert” look at their buttons.

Power said she hasn’t counted how many buttons she has in her collection, but she’s constantly looking for new ones. “They’re irresistible!” Power said with a laugh. “We can’t contain ourselves.”

She said locally she goes to garage sales, antique shops and flea markets to scour for buttons, but the best places to find buttons are at button shows, which are held in the Pittsburgh area or nearby in Ohio a few times a year. At button shows, vendors often have what button collectors refer to as a “poke box” where collectors can “poke” around and find a lot of different types of buttons for not a lot of money. Power stressed that button collecting is a relatively inexpensive hobby, and often, buttons can be found for as little as a few dollars, or even less.

Power said button collecting started to become popular during the 1930s because it was an inexpensive hobby. “It began as a very affordable hobby, and for the most part has stayed very affordable,” Power said. “The fun is finding affordable ones you love.” She added that the most expensive buttons are Civil War-era buttons, because they are in high-demand.

Power keeps a display of buttons in her home, which she often changes. As for her favorite button, “It changes every day.”

The Bethel Park Library Button Club meets at 11 a.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month in the municipal conference room adjacent to the Bethel Park Library. Anyone with an interest in buttons, or those wanting to learn more about that old box of buttons in their closet, is welcome to attend and there is no fee for the club. Folks can also call the library at 412-835-2207.

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