Art of the Button: Museum of Tel Aviv

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art has put tens of thousands of buttons from private collections together for an exhibit called Gilding the Lily: Buttons and Other Ornaments.


Its curator notes that button collecting is an act of passion, for some, almost an obsession. “Placing the miniature, Lilliputian button as the “hero” of an exhibition is a somewhat subversive act, meant to direct a special type of attention to it,” writes Dr. Doron J. Lurie.  (A great resource for collectors at Button Country, here.)

10 Things to Know About Buttons

  1. The earliest known button was from Pakistan’s Indus Valley, made of a curved shell and about 5,000 years old.
  2. For centuries, buttons almost never appeared in straight rows, but were used singly as sartorial flourishes.
  3. Buttons were not originally used to fasten clothes (which was done with pins or lacing) but as decoration.
  4. The first button-makers guild formed in France in 1250, a time when buttons were still just for adornment.
  5. Buttons with buttonholes to keep clothing closed first appeared in late 13th century Germany.
  6. In the 17th century, a “button war” erupted in France between makers of new, cheap buttons in fabric or wound string, and manufacturers of traditional buttons made of bone, wood or metal.
  7. Buttons were once banned from churches due to concern about their excessive use for beautification.
  8. A Prussian King once ordered buttons onto the jacket sleeves of servants to stop them wiping noses on their arms.
  9. During the World Wars, the British and U.S. military used button lockets, which opened to store compasses.
  10. There is a formal classification system for buttons by age, use, materials and pictorial subjects.

Tel Aviv Museum Gilding the Lily exhibition information, here.

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