It’s the Old Game of Button, Button, Who Has the Button?

Times Staff Writer

Question: I’ve been collecting buttons over the years and have hundreds, if not thousands, in my collection. They range in material from pewter to pearl to common metal. Some, I believe, are a half century old, or older. What’s the best way to organize them into a viable collection?--L.N.

Answer: Most collectors categorize button collections into material and subject matter. The latter could fall into categories of clothing, such as those once attached to military uniforms; from clothes worn by historic figures, or from time periods such as the Victorian Era.

Buttons are an interesting field for the would-be collector, because, for the most part, they are relatively inexpensive to acquire. Brass military buttons, for example, usually change hands for no more than $5-$6 each, depending on condition and age.

Brass, steel and copper buttons are much more popular among collectors than the more modern variety, which are usually made of wood, plastic or glass.


At one time, particularly in the 18th Century, it was fashionable to wear buttons as a sort of status symbol.

Serious collectors warn that those new to the field should make use of the many button reference books in circulation because of the number of fakes that have found their way into collections.


A couple of readers have expressed a desire to purchase old barbershop poles. These may be hard to find in good condition and can be costly--changing hands, in some cases, for more than $1,000 each.


So if you’re interested in locating a collectible barber pole, writes A. H. of Ventura, it might be a good idea to wander into a hair-cutting establishment that has graced a neighborhood for a number of years and ask to browse in the storeroom.

“That’s where I discovered a gorgeous one with a porcelain finish,” he said. “It’s a free-standing floor pole. After cleaning it up, I found it to be relatively unmarked. I gave the owner a few hundred dollars to take it off his hands.

“It now stands proudly in my den, and I would say it has great potential value, given the number of people who have offered to buy it for as much as four times what I paid.”