Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Grandmothers and Their Buttons

What is it about the past that entices us to LOVE vintage or antique artifacts?  Is it the quality of craftsmanship, the use of beautiful materials not so easily accessible or available today, an art form that defines the culture of days gone by, or a link to historical events that continue to fascinate us? 
When you think about some of our very own grandmothers or grandfathers actually growing up in the late 1800’s, even getting married before the turn of that century, it doesn’t seem so long ago.  My grandmother raised me, and she was born in 1882, married in 1899.  She was 72 when she opened her arms to my brother and me as little children in the 1950’s and we moved in with her. 
Today we see the pictures of our ancestors and their clothing so “old,” dresses so long, homes so small, ladies wearing aprons and gentlemen wearing overalls and hats or caps, all in a day’s work.  They had no computers, not even a typewriter.  They had no refrigerators or electric or gas stoves.  Certainly no microwaves or hair dryers.  Grandma and I used to shovel coal out of the “coal room” in the basement with a big wide shovel, scooping it into the furnace the next room over.  When our coal room was empty, she would order more, and the coal truck would drive over and dump a lot more coal out of the truck, down a conveyor belt, through a small window at the top of the coal room window. 
Like most grandmas, mine had a sewing machine drawer full of buttons.  I remember sitting on the dining room floor at about age 7 and lining the buttons up on the brown print carpet that was designed in one-foot-wide squares.  My buttons touched each other all across the square lines all over the dining room.  When anyone had to walk from the kitchen to the living room, or vice versa, they had to tip-toe so as to not mess up my button work of art.  Today, I still treasure Grandma’s very buttons, the plain celluloids, lucites, enamels, realistics, plastics, Bakelites, brass, etc.  Except now I know what they are.  And they carry with them the popular styles and materials of the day.
Who would have guessed that when I would be a grandma, not only would I treasure the rare 16x20 portraits of Grandma and Grandpa Swihart on our guest room wall, plus one taken of Grandma holding her doll at age 8, taken in 1890, but I would also still treasure her buttons and several other antiques that had belonged to her.  My love of buttons from an early age led to sporadic collecting as a young wife and mother, and then cascaded into my life at full speed ahead after my children were grown and away at college.  It was only then that I learned of button clubs, button dealers, state and national button societies, and the many wonderful resources available for button collectors!  Oh, and the greatest benefit of all was the many new friends who had the same passionate interest in buttons that I had!
A great love for the artistic and historical significance of buttons grew over the years as I began to collect buttons of jaw-dropping beauty.  They bring with them the way people visualized beauty and felt the joy of creating that beauty, using only the best materials.


Today I’m celebrating the joy of life and love of family and friends with good health and God as an integral part of our lives, and complementing that joy and love one step further by sharing this gorgeous button, hand painted on ivory, signed (on her right shoulder), set in silver, late 1700’s or early 1800’s.  As you take in the sheer beauty of this magnificent button, think about those days right around the French Revolution and other cultural and political events.  Imagine the artist.  Who was he or she?  Did he have a family?  Where did he live?  How many children did he have, if any?  Was he well?  How long did he live?  What other great works of art did he create?  Did he have a sense of humor?  Was he outgoing or a quiet person?  What were his loves in life?  Or his challenges?  Whoever he was, did he know he was creating a piece of art that would go down in history and bring great joy to many people for centuries to come?  What a legacy!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July, 2012!



It’s a great day for Americans to celebrate Independence Day, formally established in the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776!

Fourth of July Centennial Celebration:  Today I’d like to share an historical antique button, created from tortoise shell, with inlaid silver, dated 1876, featuring the Art Gallery in Philadelphia where the people celebrated the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  At this huge international fair, there were over 30,000 business exhibits, and this lapel stud was a souvenir button.  Tortoise shell comes from the scaly shell of the hawksbill sea tortoise.  It is chiefly composed of the protein keratin (like horn).  Inlays of silver, pearl, or other materials were often pressed into the surface while the tortoise shell was heated to a semi “plastic” state.  Tortoise shell polishes to a soft, rich sheen.  The backs of some tortoise buttons show scrape marks where the scales were cleaned.  When tested with a hot needle, it produces an acrid, fishy, or seaweed-like smell.  The finest work in these materials was done a century or more ago.  [All importation and commerce in elephant ivory, whale ivory, and tortoise shell is now banned in the United States in an effort to protect these animals from the ruthless exploitation which has nearly exterminated them.]  (Ref.:  The Big Book of Buttons by Hughes and Lester, Volume 1, Copyright 2010.)

To complement this beautiful button, I’m also featuring a treasured child’s dress and apron, made in 1876.  I hope you enjoy the pictures of this dress and apron, including a photo of the hand written note documenting its origin.  The note says, “My baby shirt and apron my grandmother Mary Dickerson gave in 1876 Centenial Year. Stella Gotto.”  The peach colored cotton dress has long sleeves, buttons in the back, gathers both above and below the waist, and has lovely lined ruffles at the bottom of the skirt.  The bib apron pins onto the bodice, ties at the waist in the back, and has a lovely printed black filigree border and tiny peach colored diamond shapes.



This is the hand written note that came through 136 years since the dress and apron were made.

Notice below in this plate of children's fashions in 1876 from the University of Washington Libraries.
There are also ruffles at the bottom of the girls' dresses, just as in my 1876 dress above.
This is another example of a child's dress fashionable in 1876.  It also has gathers above and below the waistband, and ruffles at the bottom of the skirt, just like mine with the apron.
 

The Declaration of Independence is the founding document of American history.  It is a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire.  This followed more than a year of fighting the Revolutionary War.  So Independence Day of the United States of America is celebrated on July 4, the day Congress approved the wording of the Declaration.

Follow this link to read the actual document and reflect upon what our forefathers considered to be human rights they were willing to fight for.

The introduction opens by stating the purpose of the document--to declare the causes that compel the colonists to separate themselves from the British Crown.  The second paragraph contains the philosophy upon which the declaration is based, stating that "all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," that men institute governments in order to secure these rights, and that when government attempts to remove these rights, the governed have the right to rebel.

Governments are created to secure certain unalienable rights, rights that are granted, not by government or man, but by God. This is called an appeal to Natural Law. It is apparent the founding fathers felt that God should play an important part in the government of man; they do not, however, go into detail on the nature of that God. This, as repeated nearly a decade later in the Bill of Rights, is up to the individual and a right which, also, cannot be taken away by government.

Abraham Lincoln argued that the Declaration of Independence is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.

Writing of the Declaration of Independence
 Feel free to make comments, corrections, and additions.  Email me at diannemarie8@gmail.com if you would like to communicate off the blog.  I'm already working on my next blog article, and the plan is to write about various types of lace and give examples.  Lace is one of the elements of many of my beautiful vintage and antique aprons; and I'm creating display boards with actual samples, names of the laces, and brief descriptions, so I can learn and also pass along the joy to others at my apron presentations.  Soon I plan to write about patch pockets and other subjects related to aprons and buttons.  Also check out www.pinterest.com/diannemarie8/ for more fun.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pretty Aprons for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day! 







The day is almost over, but in my heart of hearts, I wanted to share with you heart-felt images of heart like vintage aprons!  Have fun looking, and I'll be back soon with more fun postings.  Meanwhile, check out my Pinterest web site just established two days ago on my birthday.  Valentines to All My Dear Family and Friends!  -  Dianne

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Abraham Lincoln Portrayed in Vintage Buttons

Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 - April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.  He successfully led the U.S.A. through a great constitutional, military, and moral crisis - the American Civil War - preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and promoting economic and financial modernization.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abe_Lincoln)

Although we celebrate both President Lincoln's and President Washington's birthdays together on February 20, today I would like to honor Abe Lincoln, a man with whom I share his birth date.  Here are a few Abe Lincoln collectible vintage buttons to remind us of his rugged, masculine, appearance, and his character of integrity.

Above, a pair of 19th C. brass studs with Lincoln’s portrait.  (All the buttons in this article are Courtesy of Armchair Auctions, specializing in vintage button auctions.  Click on their link above to see their current auction and then on Featured Lots or How to Participate.)  Presidential campaign buttons were very popular from 1840 to 1916.  They may have been made from brass, horn, vegetable ivory, tintypes, and more.  The ones most sought after are not necessarily just those of the successful candidates, but those buttons made for the second and third parties, dark horses, the losers, the running mates, and in buttons with pictures, mottoes, and names.  Other lapel stud buttons were also made of porcelain, other metals, and composition.  Many of them were thrown away by election night.  There are none known from before Andrew Jackson's campaign who was our seventh President from 1829-1837.  (Ref.:  The Collector's Encyclopedia of Buttons by Sally C. Luscomb, p. 34.)
Above, a set of four large buttons by the late H.G.Wessel that made up his Lincoln set.  Under glass with copper borders.  (Courtesy of Armchair Auctions.)  "Wessel Buttons.  In the 1950's and 1960's, in Pennsylvania and Indiana, Harry Wessel made enameled, stainless steel buttons with designs enclosed by glass faces.  In each button was placed a picture, or tiny objects, to make the design.  In some, seaweed or small shells were arranged similarly to the manner of eighteenth-century habitat buttons.  Real flowers were enclosed in some; bright foil glistened in others.  Some Wessel buttons had pictures of such historic subjects as Abraham Lincoln and his family; others showed famous sculpture or Philadelphia scenes.  His buttons were usually     1 1/4" in size." (Ref.:  The Collector's Encyclopedia of Buttons by Sally C. Luscomb, p. 221.)
A medium studio watch crystal by the late T.J. Gates with a portrait of Lincoln.  (Courtesy of Armchair Auctions.)  "Watch Crystal Buttons.  A term used for a type of button with a very thin glass face--thin as a watch crystal and usually slightly convex.  The glass disk has reverse-painted designs, which were painted in black and gold.  Most of the designs consisted of stripes, circles, or flowers.  A few rare buttons had bird designs.  The backs of these buttons were flat metal disks with loop shanks; on the inside of the back, a cream-color cement-like material was placed, and on it, small pieces of pearl shell. These pieces show through the glass front, making an attractive background for the black and gold design.  The front and back are held together with a black substance called 'pitch.' ... A very few watch crystal buttons are sew-thrus; they have one hole in the glass and across the back, and instead of a shank there is a metal bar.  The threads for fastening go to and from the front on each side of the bar.  These buttons range in size from 3/4" to over 1".  "Theodore J. Gates was a button maker in Pennsylvania in the 1960's.  The first Gates buttons were made with parts of Watch Crystal buttons.  Later, Mr. Gates obtained thin glass disks and made the complete buttons.  They resemble Watch Crystal buttons in construction, but the designs are decoupage-style, being cutout paper pictures, under glass.  In most cases, Mr. Gates put his initials and the date on the back of his buttons."  (Ref.:  The Collector's Encyclopedia of Buttons by Sally C. Luscomb, pp. 77 and 219.)

We owe many thanks our our late President Lincoln and can only pray for future leaders of our country to be men and women of God who can and will lead our country with the faith, integrity, fortitude, and foresight of our forefathers.  Blessings to you and your family.



Monday, January 16, 2012

Aprons and Buttons - Martin Luther King, Jr., Day


It was July, 1967.  I was 20 years old, single, and was living through the Detroit riots of 1967.  Buildings were burning, and snipers were shooting people through windows and moving cars.  I couldn’t get out of my apartment after dark or even stand in front of the windows for fear of being shot.  As I tried to sleep, I remember announcements on the radio how many deaths had occurred hour by hour . . .   No one could drive on the streets at night in that neighborhood.  It wasn’t safe; it was a war zone.  At the conclusion of five days of rioting, 43 people lay dead, 1,189 injured, and over 7,000 people had been arrested.

The origins of urban unrest in Detroit were said to be rooted in a multitude of political, economic, and social factors including police abuse, lack of affordable housing, urban renewal projects, economic inequality, black militancy, and rapid demographic change.

For more than 200 years before the Civil War, 95% of blacks in the United States were slaves.  But after the war, and the release of slaves, African Americans stepped into a world of “black code” laws contrived to severely limit the rights of blacks and segregated them from whites, especially in the South.
       
They were separated at schools, theaters, taverns, and other public places.  So, Congress quickly responded to these laws in 1866 and seized the initiative in remaking the south.  Republicans wanted to ensure that with the remaking the south, freed blacks were made viable members of society.  But the strong southern legislatures finally gave in; in 1868 they repealed most of the laws that discriminated against blacks.

By the 1900’s the southern legislators carried segregation to the extremes.  Here are some of the years and states where it started:

  • 1914: Louisiana required separate entrances for blacks and whites.
  • 1915: Oklahoma segregated telephone booths.
  • 1920: Mississippi made it a crime to advocate or publish “arguments or suggestions in favor of social equalities or of interracial marriage between whites and Negro’s”.
  • Arkansas had segregation at racetracks.
  • Texas prohibited integrated boxing matches.
  •  Kentucky required separate schools, and also that no textbook that was issued to a black would ever be reissued or redistributed; they also prohibited interracial marriage.
  •  Georgia bared black ministers from performing a marriage between white couples.

http://www.kawvalley.k12.ks.us/brown_v_board/segregation.htm - Corbis.com
When the U.S. entered WW II the south was a fully segregated society.  Everything from schools, restaurants, hotels, train cars, waiting rooms, elevators, public bathrooms, colleges, hospitals, cemeteries, swimming pools, drinking fountains, prisons, and even churches were for whites or blacks but never for both.

In 1955 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was organized after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man.  King’s efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.  There he expanded American values to include the vision of a color blind society and established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.  In 1964, he became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS.jpg

Then the epitome of racism shocked the world.  It was April 4, 1968.  By then I was 22 years old, married, and fixing my hair when I heard on the radio that Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis.  You know how it is when you hear the news about an important event of history in the making, and you can see yourself at that time and feel the emotions of hearing that event as if for the first time.

He was posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr., Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.

So what does Martin Luther King, Jr., have to do with vintage aprons or buttons?  Our own History.
Now, as a collector and presenter of antique and vintage aprons and buttons, what are our thoughts about the stereotyped black mammies and their watermelon-eating children as embroidered or printed on these aprons?  Although some people are offended by them, it’s important to remember our history.  “People who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it,” said George Santayana.  Even Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, and Bill Cosby have huge collections of Black Americana.  Collecting is not condoning.  It’s remembering.  Personally, I would never advocate repulsive bogus reproductions of these vintage artifacts of time gone by, but I also am one to say I would knowingly be politically incorrect, if I am standing up for the Truth of History and all that is Sacred.   And although these reminders can be very painful, they can also be an inspiring testimony to the strength of the African American spirit in the face of discrimination and inequality.

I have not been able to find out (yet) who actually made and wore these vintage aprons, but I will continue to research the question.  If any of you have grandmothers who might know, PLEASE let me know.  Here are some amazing vintage aprons from my eclectic collection from an era [mostly] gone by, as well as a graciously loaned photo of a Martin Luther King, Jr., button from Sally Alsbury in Arkansas.





 


Again, from Sally Alsbury from Arkansas, here is an image of one of her Martin Luther King, Jr., modern commemorative buttons, apparently far and few between.... Thank you Sally!

 

A Delightful Children's Book:  Ma Dear's Aprons by Patricia C. McKissack, Illustrations by Floyd Cooper (An Anne Schwartz Book, Aladdin Paperbacks edition January 2000, Copyright 1997.




 To all my friends and family and followers out there in blog land, thank you for reading my articles about the art and history of aprons and buttons!  Make a Great Day!  Blessings, Dianne


References:

http://www.kawvalley.k12.ks.us/brown_v_board/  (Brown Vs. Bd. of Education)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._Day

http://timeanddate.com/holidays/us/martin-luther-king-day

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/feb/23/black-americana-display-blount-library-creating-di/   -   "Black Americana on display at Blount library creating dialogue" by Lydia X. McCoy


http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/king_martin_luther.shtml

http://maryeaudet.hubpages.com/hub/Collecting-Black-Americana   -   "How to Collect Black Americana" by Marye Audet

http://www.go-star.com/antiquing/black_americana.htm

Thursday, January 5, 2012

World War I Historical Apron – Dated Just Weeks After the Signing of the Armistice Peace Agreement


This beautiful apron reflects a story as part of strategic World War I history.  It is embroidered with the date 1-1-19, as well as “U.S.S. Ossipee” and “Ponta Delgada Acores.”  It also has two embroidered flags, one the United States flag, and the other the flag of Portugal, an ally of the U.S.A. in World War I.


The embroidered date of 1-1-19 was just 6 ½ weeks after the end of World War I.  Germany had signed an armistice with the Allies on November 11, 1918.  

 
Ponta Delgada is a location in Portugal, and the U.S.S. Ossipee is a ship originally designed as a cruising cutter, capable of extremely long voyages for vessels of their size. 


However, on April 6, 1917, she was transferred to the U.S. Department of Navy.  She was painted the regular war color, and continued working with the Patrol Forces until orders were received to prepare for duty overseas in the war zone.  On September 3, 1917, she joined her first convoy as a “Danger Zone Escort.”  This duty generally lasted several days. On outbound convoys, the Danger Zone Escort would escort the convoy to a meeting with the "Ocean Escort" at sea.  Later she also took on the duties of an “Ocean Escort,” securing convoys all the way to their International destinations.

http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/179884.htm
 While this cutter was within the war zone, she had convoyed 596 vessels. In 23 of these, she served as the ocean escort. The Ossipee observed submarines, or evidences of their presence.  As a war escort ship, she helped convoys which were often attacked, with the loss of some merchant ships which were sunk.  Ossipee, herself, was attacked once, barely escaping destruction as the torpedo missed her by 15 to 20 feet.
So who might have made this historically significant, beautiful apron that is now 92 years old?  Since the location is in Portugal, could it have been made by the wife of an ally Portuguese sailor?  The U.S.S. Ossipee later served in World War II and was eventually retired from war service.  Who would the family have been who rode the waves and fought the fights to defend their country from the ravages of war?  Probably one fine lady who prayed every day for her husband, taking care of the children, working at home in the kitchen, wearing an apron, sewing another, dating it 1-1-19.  Or maybe a proud mother whose son had gone off to war, and she celebrated his return home with this lovely, meaningful, apron.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Aprons a Hundred Years Ago

My friend, Sheryl, came into possession of her late grandmother's diary, dated 1911-1914.  Her grandmother, Helena Muffly (Swartz), was 15 years old when she began her diary.  Sheryl posts her grandma's entries one day at a time, exactly 100 years after Helena Muffly wrote them.  Sheryl also posted a photo of the farm where her grandmother was raised in Central Pennsylvania near McEwensville.  I especially loved 16-year-old Helena Muffly's December 1, 1911, writing:

"The dying year around us a glory sheds
December with her pleasures breaks upon the scene,
Around our hearts a happy gladness lies
Christmas is coming with her laurels of green."
"Didn't have school today.  Had a notion to go a visiting, but then didn't, as I had some particular work which I wanted done.  Well, as Thanksgiving is over, I am looking forward to Christmas, hoping some pleasant surprises await me.  Vice versa of January 31."

The first day of each month Helena wrote a poem in her diary.  It is not known whether she composed the poetry, or if she copied the beautiful words from a book.  Either way, what a lovely way to begin the month.

Comments made 100 years later, December 1, 2011, by her granddaughter, Sheryl:
"I wonder if Grandma was planning to make any gifts for family or friends. If she wanted to make aprons, she could have ordered patterns from Ladies Home Journal.
According to a December, 1911, article called the “The Pretty Christmas Apron:”  Sheryl included the following beautiful images of aprons, as published by the December 1911 issue of Ladies Home Journal:

"Odds and ends of the piece-bag and remnants from the bargain counter may be utilized to make these pretty aprons."

(Permission was granted to write this blog article about Helena Muffly and use the lovely apron photos by Sheryl Lazarus.  They are from her site, A Hundred Years Ago (Click on highlighted web site to visit Sheryl.)  She would be happy to hear from you!  Sheryl brings every day's entry to life by testing her grandmother's recipes, taking new photos of old locations, sharing stories, etc.  She relives each day as if her grandma were still here with her, and what a joy it must be to feel the heart, emotions, and thoughts of a wonderful grandmother who lived not that long before her.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vintage Red and Green Buttons and Christmas Aprons Instill the Holiday Spirit

With just five more days until Christmas, my "Spring Room" dress forms have been blessed with a few Christmas Aprons for the holiday.  Red and green vintage buttons are displayed with these lovely aprons, complementing one another in both their art and history.  For your (and my) enjoyment, here is a start at displaying some of my Christmas aprons and colorful vintage buttons.

 Does this vintage Christmas apron ring a bell with you?  With red felt bells and real metal ringers at the bottom, this organdy apron is typically 1950's.

 This is an 18th century enamel, paste, and silver button.  Red, bold, and beautiful! 

Lovely linen mid-century apron embellished with cross stitched holly berries and a lacy lower border.  This apron complements my 1930's feed sack dress, still somewhat unfinished, but stunningly beautiful.

Fascinating piece of history, this amazing antique red and green enameled button represents Napoleon Bonaparte, 8/15/1769 - May 5, 1821 - a French military and political leader during the latter part of the French Revolution. 

These red and white or green and white gingham apron may have been worn during the Christmas season in the 1930's to 1950's.  They are embellished with white Teneriffe Lace, which is needlewoven lace made from a spokes-of-wheel shape.  In the 30's and 40's this lace was also known as Polka spiderweb Lace.This lace appears to originate in the Canary Islands (Spain), specifically on the island of Teneriffe. Pins are inserted in a block of wood and the spokes of the wheel are wound around. Then a needle is woven in between the spokes forming the wheel or "sun."

And here is a stunning "Gay 90's" button, or "Victorian Jewel," which were jeweled coat or cloak buttons.  Ornate borders and the prominent central "stones," which are glass, are characteristic of this type, because they evoke the extravagance and excess associated with fin-de-siecle society (a specific time period, in this case the late 1800's, in Europe and France, marked with anticipation of the closing of a century or specific period of time in cultural change).  Most of these buttons were made in France, although a number have been found with German makers' marks.  (Ref: Buttons by Epstein and Safro, and Wikipedia)


Last, but not least, for today, is this lovely little girl's vintage apron, made with white organdy and trimmed with red organdy ruffles, waistband, and white embroidered pocket embellishment.  Notice the whimsical nature of many apron textiles?  Again, this apron may have been worn by one of us grandmas when we were little girls, for special occasions, such as the celebration of the original Birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas.  Blessings to you and your family.