Whether you are looking for a new hobby,  seeking to learn more about what button collecting is about, or don’t know what to do with a collection you’ve inherited – below you will find some of the topics core to what you will learn about as a WSBS community member.  Note, these are just a few ‘tidbits’ of what WSBS has to offer – you will learn so much more, the more involved you become as a WSBS member, with exclusive online access to our archives, clubs, resources and shows!  Poke around a bit – if you like what you see – JOIN NOW!


Buttons are far more than just utilitarian fasteners to keep clothing secured! Having started out centuries ago as decorative adornments for royalty and aristocrats, it wasn’t until the 13th century when buttonholes first appeared that it became one of the hardest working accessories of modern fashion. Collectible buttons, usually beautiful … wonderful … works of art that are a thrill to discover – even the ugly buttons and the “what-the-heck-were-they-thinking” buttons – make for a fun, affordable and accessible hobby!

And that is the point of button collecting – to enjoy these fascinating little objects that set us on our quest to unravel their stories of who wore them, why the design or type of material, or what kind of garment was it for/for what occasion or purpose? 

As you progress with button collecting as a hobby, many joys will be yours. To name but a few: (1) the pleasure (dare we say ‘therapeutic mental wellness’) of unearthing these bits of art and history, discovering the many unique materials and workmanship thereof; (2) the satisfaction you get in preparing cards or “trays” of different types; (3) the fellowship (oohs and ahhs and laughs included) and knowledge gained by connecting with other enthusiasts; (4) the actual education you absorb from studying and diving deeper into topical attributes; and (5) the rush you get hunting for, sorting through and displaying them (at home or at a show.) You will find the possible reasons to unleash your inner buttonista are endless!

Ah yes, button collecting can enrich our lives… by creating new connections…by leading us down various hobby trails (from ancestry to multi-media crafting, or exploring cultural traditions, symbolic/global influences and even politics)…or perhaps simply by reminiscing over a tin of old buttons passed from one generation to the next.


One of the better resources available about caring for buttons comes from our very own WSBS member (and button dealer) Lisa Schulz (shown here with her husband, Al.) You can find the complete printable file in our Member Access area, but here’s a summary of what’s included:

  • Before cleaning your buttons you will need to know what materials the buttons are made of (see below for Button ID/Materials) and have a knowledge of their construction and makeup, because the various materials are treated differently.
  • Lisa offers which tools and supplies she’s used successfully, and would recommend keeping on hand, from polishing cloths and brushes to rotary tools and vibrating tumblers.
  • Lisa’s guide provides cautions and tips for cleaning over 20 different types of materials, storing buttons and removing musty odors/odd smells when possible.
button collecting tools including a National Button Society Blue Book, wire brush, polishing cloth, mounting wire, caliper, hot needle, magnifying glass or loupe

BUTTON CLASSIFICATION – WSBS recommends following the National Button Society (NBS) “Blue Book” 

The “Blue Book” is the official classification system handbook provided by the National Button Society (NBS). NBS sends it to their members when they join, or it can be purchased in the NBS store. The Blue Book provides useful guidance for sorting and organizing buttons based on a standardized structure, commonly recognized throughout the button community. It is the ‘go-to’ guide when participating in button competitions, but also provides general, characterizing terminology for identifying button ages, sizes, materials, construction, decorative finishes, embellishments and historical attributes etc. 

hotel showroom showing button dealer tables


WSBS hosts an annual button show and member meeting (see Show details HERE). If you enjoy sorting, displaying, identifying and classifying particular buttons, then the Competition portion of the event makes for a challenging opportunity to see how much you’ve learned,  share your skills, and display your lovely buttons publicly!

  • Using the National Button Society’s “Blue Book,” the official button classification guideline, members prepare ‘trays’ (buttons displayed on 9” x 12” cardstock; see the GALLERY for examples) 
  • Members write ‘awards’ describing a collection of buttons, to be judged for earning the most points possible in a given category.
  • The ‘Awards List’ is published well in advance, for everyone to choose which category(s) they wish to compete in.
  • Guidelines for preparing a competition tray to enter for judging can be found in the NBS Blue Book, as well as in the annual WSBS Show Supplement.
  • The person writing a particular award provides the ‘prize money’ for the 1st through 3rd place winners. (e.g. $5-3-2 or $15-10-5 etc.) Of course, they usually write the award with the intention of trying to win 1st place, but also to see what other unique buttons are out there to be be found & possibly add to their collection.)
  • Tray slips” (registration slips) are purchased for a nominal $.50 for each award being entered.
  • Entries are brought in-person to the WSBS show, where they are anonymously cataloged, securely stored for judging, and ultimately hung on public display racks, to see which entry(s) won 1st-3rd place ribbons.
  • Unfortunately, “measles” may occur – ‘dot stickers’ are placed on buttons/trays indicating an error/disqualification. While unfortunate, it’s a lesson one experiences and learns from.
  • Ribbon winners are revealed at the annual member meeting and awarded their prize money accordingly.


You will find/use a plethora of extremely useful reference sources (i.e. in printed or people form!) when collecting buttons, for identifying the age and materials of your buttons. WSBS Member (and WI based button dealer), Lisa Schulz offers an excellent guide on this topic to get started with.

We have been given the senses of seeing, touching, feeling, smelling, and hearing. Each of these senses can be used when trying to determine the materials that buttons are made from.

  • Many times one can tell by looking at a button what material it is, but there are times when seeing is not enough.
  • We can touch a glass button to our face or tongue and tell the material just by the coolness.
  • We can tap some buttons against our teeth and hear the hard, high-pitched ring or a soft, flat sound.
  • Some people can rub a button in their hands and produce enough heat to tell what smell is being produced and thus identify the button.
  • There are times when none of these tests work. In some cases one might do a ‘hot needle’ test and rely on the sense of smell and sight. However, the hot needle test will not work on all materials….

…Experience is the best teacher. You will find that the more testing you do, the less you will need to do. You will soon learn to identify many buttons just from you past experience, and reserve hot needle testing for those very difficult buttons.

  • Some have suggested that rather than using the hot needle test one can produce the same smell by dipping the button into very hot water. This is NOT recommended. There are some buttons that will be destroyed by dipping them into hot water. A two-piece button may get water between the layers and destroy the button. The hot water can melt some buttons or destroy the shape of some buttons.
  • Other methods that have been used for testing Synthetic Polymers are: Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, 409, Simichrome Polish, Windex, etc. These methods may work on some types of Synthetic Polymers. However, all of these products contain chemicals, which can cause
    damage to the button. This damage may be immediate or it may appear over a long period of time. I do not recommend the use of these products.

There are a variety of methods that have been suggested for various kinds of buttons. Lisa’s full guide, available on the Member Only Access page, attempts to describe some of these methods and suggests tools that will be helpful in identifying over 35 materials.

REHOMING A BUTTON COLLECTION ON: A Guide to Options and Resources

Whether you are downsizing an estate, or have lost a loved one, it’s often difficult sorting through belongings of sentimental, or feasible cash, value. When faced with a unique collection like buttons, you might feel unsure how to handle passing the collection on with respect and appreciation. This guide will explore various options and resources to help you navigate dispersing a button collection thoughtfully and effectively.

How to Begin: Assessing the collections size and value is typically the first question people have.  Finding someone with a trained eye and knowledge through WSBS is a great place to start.

We, of course, suggest you DO NOT THROW ANY BUTTONS OUT until you’ve contacted us (or one of our local Clubs) to get an initial look at the collection. Note, researching similar buttons online to get a general idea can help, but identifying materials, age/rarity, condition, and how they are displayed or stored, is not always clear cut without seeing the buttons firsthand. Typically, thorough assessments are done in-person, but may be initiated through correspondence with WSBS – contact us at: Info@wsbs.org.

One of the first questions we’ll ask is whether you are 1) looking for an “appraisal,” 2) wanting to donate all or part of the collection, or 3) help selling it? Knowing this will matter as to how WSBS, a private collector, or even a dealer, can be of assistance on your behalf – so we can better point you in the right direction one way or the other.

Button collection valuations and dispersal agreements will also vary depending on the timing and work required to handle your situation. (e.g. are you needing to pass it on quickly, and/or move it out of storage, or do you have time to research and help prepare the collection for sale? Are you looking for an immediate turn around or would you be willing to accept help with ‘as available’ terms?)

If possible, don’t rush: Take your time to explore options and make informed decisions. Remember, there’s no single “right” way to disperse a collection. Choose the method that best honors the original owner’s interests or memory, while respecting family wishes and ensuring the buttons are preserved for future generations, by finding a suitable new home.

Contact the WI State Button Society at: Info@wsbs.org. One of our Board members will be happy to assist you!