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Mother-of-Pearl Buttons From the Banks of the Mississippi

Jun 7, 2010

by Linzee McCray

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Linzee_bio.jpg

Pearl buttons are cooler than plastic, and not just because they bring a tiny gleam to the dresses and shirts onto which they’re stitched. If you put your pearl button up to your cheek and then do the same with a plastic one, you’ll notice an actual difference in temperature.

That’s just one of the things I learned when I visited the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine, Iowa. I also discovered that pearl buttons are heavier than plastic, and that they make a different sound as they slide through your fingers.
 
As a transplanted Californian who spent her childhood obsessively collecting shells, I’d always assumed that lustrous, white mother-of-pearl buttons came from the ocean. But there was a time when 37 percent of the world’s buttons (in 1905, that was 1.5 billion buttons) came from the glossy inner surfaces of freshwater mollusk shells harvested by citizens of this small town on the Mississippi River.  

Muscatine’s downtown today is a sleepy place Button_counter.jpgwith brick buildings on a quiet main street just a block from the river. The Pearl Button Museum isn’t large: on a single floor you can see the flat-bottom boats used to harvest mussels and the machinery to cut, drill, and polish the button “blanks.” You can try your hand at sewing buttons on a card, dip your fingers in buckets of buttons, and count out a gross (144 buttons) with a specially indented wooden paddle.  

Historical photos provide insight into a town in which half the workforce (including many children) contributed to the button industry. After the mussels were collected — a process known as clamming — men and women worked in camps along the water heating and opening the mussels, removing the meat and any irregular-shaped freshwater pearls (called “slugs”) they were lucky enough to find. Hundreds of men worked in the cutting shops, cutting blanks — the basic shape of the button — from the shiny inner surface of the shells, while others operated machinery that carved designs on the blanks and drilled the holes.

Button_factory.jpg

Image courtesy of the Muscatine History and Industry Center

Women shaped fancier buttons against rotating emery wheels and removed the dark surface or “bark” on buttons by machine; sorted buttons by color, iridescence, and size; and sewed them onto cards. The dozens of factories in town ranged from the Hawkeye Button Company, that once employed 800 people and had offices in New York and St. Louis, to myriad mom-and-pop operations.

Button_cut_shell.jpgThe riverbanks and alleys of Muscatine were piled high with leftover shells. Tons were crushed to create street surfaces, fertilizer, stucco, and even gravel for the bottom of fish bowls. Kristin McHugh-Johnston, director of the Muscatine History and Industry Center, said that even today, when she’s working in her garden eight blocks from the river, she sometimes digs up a shell from which buttons were cut.

While Muscatine takes pride in its button heritage — a 28-foot tall bronze sculpture of a “clammer” hoists his clamming forks above the downtown riverfront — the museum displays acknowledge that creating these pearl lovelies was a dirty, dangerous, and low-paying business. Advances in button-making machinery ensured Muscatine’s reign as the “Pearl Button Capitol of the World” for decades, but eventually Mississippi mussels were fished to scarcity and freshwater and ocean shells were shipped to Muscatine for cutting. Plastic buttons, zippers, changes in fashion, and foreign competition led to a decline in the industry. The last Muscatine pearl button was cut in 1967, though production began to slow in the 1930s. There are just three button companies in Muscatine today, all producing plastic buttons and other plastic products.Button_etsy1.jpg

Most pearl buttons now are made in Asia from clam, mussel, agoya, and abalone shells. Designs are cut with lasers and dyed buttons often receive a polyester coating to protect their surface. Elaborate fusions of rhinestones, plastics, and pearl create elegant buttons, unimaginable in Muscatine’s pearl button heyday.

Still, when I’m at a flea market or antique shop and happen upon those simple, shiny vintage disks, I feel a thrill of pleasure: finding a Blue Bonnet or Lucky Day brand button card adorned with a drawing of a laughing baby or the placket of a manly shirt reminds me of all that I’ve learned about pearl buttons (and about my adopted state). The cool surface of the lustrous discs assures me that this is the real thing

Vintage Ocean Pearl Buttons
from gatheredcomforts

A lifelong sewer/knitter and former weaver/spinner, Linzee Kull McCray, a.k.a. lkmccray, is a writer and editor living in Iowa. She feels fortunate to meet and write about people, from scientists to stitchers, who are passionate about their work. Her freelance writing appears in Quilts and More, Stitch, Fiberarts, American Patchwork and Quilting and more. For more textile musings, visit her blog.


Thanks to Linzee for sharing this little-known piece of craft history.
Was your town once a source for unique goods? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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226 comments

  • bylynnkrestel

    bylynnkrestel said 6 years ago

    i love buttons! great article! check out my sterling silver and vintage button bracelets too!!

  • NotYoMommasHandbag

    NotYoMommasHandbag said 6 years ago

    This is fascinating! thank you! I now appreciate those old buttons so much more! smiles.

  • Ayca

    Ayca said 6 years ago

    Love love love the button :) Thanks for sharing these beauties :)

  • manvsgeorge

    manvsgeorge said 6 years ago

    Oh wow, this is fantastic! I love how the shape of the tiny mother-of-pearl purse by neolina mirrors the source of mother-of-pearl. Beautiful!

  • catchalljewelry

    catchalljewelry said 6 years ago

    thank you for explaining the history behind pearl buttons. i admit that it was something i never thought about before, but now i find it really fascinating!

  • SilverSistersStudio

    SilverSistersStudio said 6 years ago

    I had no idea they came from ACTUAL shells! Isn't it fantastic to hear the history of something - makes it all the more interesting and gives it value beyond being a pretty thing.

  • WinchesterLambourne

    WinchesterLambourne said 6 years ago

    One of the most beautiful articles I've read! Thank you.

  • RhondasTreasures

    RhondasTreasures said 6 years ago

    Nature's Eye Candy :)

  • RhondasTreasures

    RhondasTreasures said 6 years ago

    Nature's Eye Candy :)

  • moonscreations

    moonscreations said 6 years ago

    What a fantastic article! I think I have a new project in the works for my collection of vintage buttons. Thank you for the inspiration!

  • futurowoman

    futurowoman said 6 years ago

    How fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing this marvelous history!

  • simplyworn

    simplyworn said 6 years ago

    wow...great story and oh how i love butttons!

  • DavidsonStudio

    DavidsonStudio said 6 years ago

    I certainly love the products of nature rather than the plastic of today. I'm an Iowan and love your article!

  • WhimsyHouse

    WhimsyHouse said 6 years ago

    Nature is gorgeous :) Thanks for sharing!

  • miznovember

    miznovember said 6 years ago

    How neat. What a great article. I remember fishing out the mother-of-pearl buttons in my moms pile of extras just because they were so pretty.

  • KBKExtras

    KBKExtras said 6 years ago

    Great article!! I'm so thrilled to see one of jwlrywrkroom's necklaces -- I'm a long time fan of hers & a button artist myself *smiles*

  • YaYJewelry

    YaYJewelry said 6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your work!!!! Lovely! Former Des Moinian

  • poplovedesigns

    poplovedesigns said 6 years ago

    Great article, there's certainly something to be said for old-school items like real mother-of-pearl buttons, especially in the plastic-age. I especially love that gross-counting spatula... I could use something like that for all my beads and bits! <3 Andrea

  • circlecreekhome

    circlecreekhome said 6 years ago

    Wonderful article, I just love mother of pearl buttons...can't get enough of them!

  • InmostLight

    InmostLight said 6 years ago

    How inspiring! Thank you:)!

  • BingoBox

    BingoBox said 6 years ago

    I knew I loved the mother of pearl buttons most of all and that they were special ... and I never thought beyond that. Great article - thanks for enlightening me!

  • muttons

    muttons said 6 years ago

    what a quirky little peice of hitory! I love anything buttons :-) thanks for telling us about something so special!

  • KathyGDesigns

    KathyGDesigns said 6 years ago

    Thank you for the well written article.

  • forthetiny

    forthetiny said 6 years ago

    HI! Both of my parent are from Muscatine. My grandfather had a one man button buisness when my mother was small. My mother would sew 5 buttons to a card for a penny. I grew up with the machine and piles of shells in our basement. I thought everyone did :) We eat at The Button Factory often. There are Piles of buttons on the tables with a great view of the Mississippi. Lynn Morrow

  • allthepreciousthings

    allthepreciousthings said 6 years ago

    Fascinating article!

  • bethany18

    bethany18 said 6 years ago

    I love buttons so I really enjoyed reading this article!

  • stonz

    stonz said 6 years ago

    Fascinating! I have always had a thing for these wonderful buttons...

  • jangerame

    jangerame said 6 years ago

    everyone loves my button necklaces... i wear it all the time!

  • LuRuUniques

    LuRuUniques said 6 years ago

    Old buttons are fun. I have way way too many of them...Thanks for the interest article.

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts said 6 years ago

    Great article!

  • silkfabric

    silkfabric said 6 years ago

    Yay buttons! I love buttons.

  • billetsdoux

    billetsdoux said 6 years ago

    Thank you for a wonderful article. Now more people will know how these lovely buttons came into being. I love buttons and use them in practically everything I make. Check out my button necklaces and earrings! I love wearing mine.

  • VintageEmbellishment

    VintageEmbellishment said 6 years ago

    I save all my pearlies to use in projects...someday! Love this article :)

  • PearlGem

    PearlGem said 6 years ago

    Awesome. I've always loved pearl buttons. And have quite a collection myself. Interesting article.

  • tippleandsnack

    tippleandsnack said 6 years ago

    I never knew how buttons were made. Thank you!

  • pineappleaisle

    pineappleaisle said 6 years ago

    Interesting history and didn't know that they are cooler. I always liked mother-of-pearl, especially in furniture, but I have a necklace too...

  • maggiemaevintage

    maggiemaevintage said 6 years ago

    love old vintage button...and all the crafty ways people re-use them!

  • undermyfeet

    undermyfeet said 6 years ago

    Very informative article.

  • TheMerchantMariner

    TheMerchantMariner said 6 years ago

    What a lovely article. Thanks!

  • akcArt

    akcArt said 6 years ago

    LOVE Mother of Pearl, so elegant! Thank you for sharing!

  • VintageBlue

    VintageBlue said 6 years ago

    I love this article! In the last couple of months I've come upon three giant cookie tins filled with vintage buttons. Many of the buttons are mother of pearl. I'm so glad to know a bit of their history now!

  • welchva

    welchva said 6 years ago

    Beautiful-will make me look twice at vintage MOP buttons.

  • VintageScriptPress

    VintageScriptPress said 6 years ago

    Very cool buttons

  • dkjewels

    dkjewels said 6 years ago

    love this!

  • HoundstoothDesign

    HoundstoothDesign said 6 years ago

    Thank you for such an informative article! There is just something about a button.

  • TidyBaubles

    TidyBaubles said 6 years ago

    What a great article! So nice to read this history, and to know that what you might be holding casually in your hand is a way of life gone forever, but not forgotten..thanks for this..

  • jillatay

    jillatay said 6 years ago

    Love mother of pearl. Nice article.

  • tomatored

    tomatored said 6 years ago

    Love old buttons! Thank you!

  • daniellesdesign10

    daniellesdesign10 said 6 years ago

    I love buttons...I use muscle shells in my necklaces also.

  • EverydayEverythings

    EverydayEverythings said 6 years ago

    interesting article. thanks for the info!

  • elizabethcosby

    elizabethcosby said 6 years ago

    really great article, i love mother-of-pearl buttons! I carve shells myself and seeing the old picture of the factory and machinery they use is great. I use a lot of my grandfathers and great-grandfathers old tools and I'm sure some are pretty similiar to those in the picture :)

  • TheVintageRecycler

    TheVintageRecycler said 6 years ago

    By far ocean pearls are my favorite buttons!!! Thank-you for bringing attention to these lovely things that are one of a kind...no matter how many you have! amy

  • StarJewelry

    StarJewelry said 6 years ago

    i just used a vintage shell button as the perfect clasp for a bracelet, i love them - http://www.etsy.com/listing/48259988/miami-surf-teal-beadwoven-cuff-bracelet

  • aereonyx

    aereonyx said 6 years ago

    I never knew any of this... Now I'm so glad that I kept the tin of various buttons my Grandmother on my Dad's side collected! They're kept in a medium sized cookie tin, painted black with hand painted buttons on it- so definitely no mistaking it! And at least half the buttons are mother of pearl/pearl! I also have various decorative ones too.... And I'm not going to use them to make anything. I simply like opening the tin, running my fingers through them, sometimes dumping them out and looking through them at some of the more ornate ones, which are plastic, rhinestones, etc... Thank you for this wonderful article!

  • SimpleJoysPaperie

    SimpleJoysPaperie said 6 years ago

    I absolutely LOVE mop buttons and have a large glass apothecary jar of them. I also use some of them to embellish my handmade items. Thanks for the article about them! :)

  • BannerCelebrations

    BannerCelebrations said 6 years ago

    I love adorning my banners and collages with the MOP buttons I've found when thrifting. Thank you, Linzee, for sharing the interesting history of the ones made in Muscatine. Love the old photos!

  • TopazTurtle

    TopazTurtle said 6 years ago

    Love the buttons! I've recently discovered some great buttons for use as jewellery too.

  • GemmaBeads

    GemmaBeads said 6 years ago

    I ADORE Mother-Of-Pearl and Shell buttons!! I hoard them! Occasionally I'll spare a few for a design but they are my favorite of all the buttons I collect, ahead of glass and metals.

  • paperprayers

    paperprayers said 6 years ago

    cool! as an Iowan who grew up in Fort Madison, Iowa, also on the Mississippi, and who now lives in Iowa City, I appreciate this interesting article! I remember coming across shells full of holes just like the one pictured - but don't remember if it was exploring the banks of the mississippi, or some other way.

  • Vanittas

    Vanittas said 6 years ago

    I love buttons ( i guess I'm not the only one). Amazing article lkmccray! Thank you!

  • NeatNat

    NeatNat said 6 years ago

    Ohhh!!! I love Mother of Pearl buttons...they give such a gorgeous touch to simple pieces of clothing...Well I guess I love buttons cos my parents have worked making clothes for many years!!

  • lkmccray

    lkmccray said 6 years ago

    Glad so many people enjoyed this post. I didn't know so many people were as obsessed as I am with mother-of-pearl buttons. And I'm jealous of all of you who have tins and jars of them!

  • VintageMarketPlace

    VintageMarketPlace said 6 years ago

    amazing, I will totally look at my button collection with even more love now that I know some of the history. Thanks for such a great post.

  • editionbw

    editionbw said 6 years ago

    this story was perfect... Love this & want to visit.

  • Entwife

    Entwife said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful article! Thanks for a sweet and nostalgic essay. Now we'll all be looking for these pretty buttons!

  • soule

    soule said 6 years ago

    I never knew any of this! Glad to learn something new today!

  • threepeats

    threepeats said 6 years ago

    I love buttons!

  • quesarahsarah

    quesarahsarah said 6 years ago

    i love buttons! i wrote a teensy blog over here http://ilikeoldstuff.blogspot.com/2009/11/button-crazy.html about a button collector/dealer (who once traded beads for a Cadillac!)

  • JennysTreasuresForU

    JennysTreasuresForU said 6 years ago

    Cool,I love mother of pearl buttons!

  • kelleystreetvintage

    kelleystreetvintage said 6 years ago

    Another pearl button lover person here that just really enjoyed all the new information you posted, thanks!

  • GemsandDollsSupplies

    GemsandDollsSupplies said 6 years ago

    This is so cool! I have been there!!

  • notionbyleandra

    notionbyleandra said 6 years ago

    My favorite kind of buttons are the vintage mother of pearl buttons. I loved this article and it made me appreciate those sweet lovelies even more!!

  • jodifrench

    jodifrench said 6 years ago

    I am a button addict, I am drawn to them like a moth to a light bulb. Thanks for this informative post, I enjoyed it.

  • letterperfectdesigns

    letterperfectdesigns said 6 years ago

    Thank you Linzee for the great article and pictures! Like everyone else, I love working with MOP buttons too. You just can't beat that beautiful shimmer! I had heard about Muscatine and would love to visit the town and museum someday!

  • KarensLoom

    KarensLoom said 6 years ago

    Really enjoyed the read!!! beautiful buttons... i will definitely buy some to use with my knitwear.... thanks for showing me ....

  • CreamCityCrafts

    CreamCityCrafts said 6 years ago

    This is a great article, thanks so much for sharing!

  • FavreBijoux

    FavreBijoux said 6 years ago

    Thank you so much for this very interesting article. I have a large collection of old buttons of this type; I never knew they were made in the US.

  • WeeBindery

    WeeBindery said 6 years ago

    I love buttons! I have collections of buttons in my studio! This is a fantastic article! Thank you! :-D

  • ameliejo

    ameliejo said 6 years ago

    I use Mother of Pearl buttons on almost all of my garments. Thanks for sharing this!

  • LADzigns

    LADzigns said 6 years ago

    Very interesting, Thank You

  • Seavbeach

    Seavbeach said 6 years ago

    I have tons of Mother of Pearl buttons and have used them in jewelry designs... Who knew?! Thx for this article.

  • LineOfSight

    LineOfSight said 6 years ago

    Pearl buttons are always a treasure. Your article was great.Thanks for the info.

  • recycledwares

    recycledwares said 6 years ago

    thanks for sharing the information. i've always heard MOP buttons also referred to as shell buttons. I usually use all three tags (MOP, shell, Mother of Pearl) when listing mine.

  • leewen

    leewen said 6 years ago

    I love buttons especially vintage mother of pearls. Great collection. Thanks for the article.

  • sophiemomo

    sophiemomo said 6 years ago

    I love using vintage buttons when I make my pillows. They are so very special and add something special! Thanks for your article.

  • MRSBAUBLES

    MRSBAUBLES said 6 years ago

    I love vintage buttons - I use them often in my beadwork for clasps. I have a few vintage mother of pearl buttons that I just can't bare to part with. I really enjoyed this article. Thanks!

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 6 years ago

    I've collected antique pearl buttons just about my entire life but never knew their history. Now when I admire my cards of Bluebird buttons or rummage through my button boxes, I'll be that much more appreciative. Thank you!

  • GlitterAndGlass

    GlitterAndGlass said 6 years ago

    Thank you for the lesson on buttons. It's really something I never gave any though to, but am glad I learned something new about them.

  • ArtisticIntentions

    ArtisticIntentions said 6 years ago

    Fascinating!! Thank you for sharing!! Beautiful buttons!!!

  • BornWrongCentury

    BornWrongCentury said 6 years ago

    THANK YOU!! I am one of the fortunate people to have known two women who worked at that wonderful button company. My two aunts were working there during World War II. Your wonderful article reminded me of those great stories of how the broken buttons were used to cover the roads instead of gravel. My loving Aunt Helen whoshared so much with me just recently passed away, she would of loved meeting you and telling you the stories herself. What a great tribute to her and all theothers who kept us buttoned up! Thanks again

  • woolybaby

    woolybaby said 6 years ago

    I love using pearl buttons on my slippers, often even putting them upside for the beautiful mottled colors on the back. Neat article- thanks.

  • vdh162

    vdh162 said 6 years ago

    collecting buttons is one of the best little hobbies to have. all those little treasures. what could be better than to find an old button? thank you for reminding us of our history.

  • janeeroberti

    janeeroberti said 6 years ago

    Delightful--thank you! I have a fine collection of vintage buttons, and first learned about our Midwest Button Capitol history a few years ago, when buying bulk shell buttons for my clothing business. Later, when kayaking in the rivers and streams around Chicago, my Boy Scout Den Mother Friend pointed out the big clam shells along the shores, and told me how rich our streams were with these big freshwater clams. But I kinda knew that already!

  • artofjane

    artofjane said 6 years ago

    This is such a cool article! I love love love old buttons and learning some history is so interesting.

  • MysticLily

    MysticLily said 6 years ago

    OMG! I never thought I was at all interested in mother of pearl buttons until reading your article. I was actually totally pulled in and fell in love with the history presented. I'm in Mpls - I feel like I need a little road trip to Muscatine, Iowa this summer! Great writing, great subject, great history. Thank you!

  • MicheleMichelSilver

    MicheleMichelSilver said 6 years ago

    Great article! Thank you so much for this amazing information. I love that you noticed the difference in temperature.

  • jessitaylor

    jessitaylor said 6 years ago

    thanks for such an interesting read!! i do love me some pearl buttons.....

  • buttonalia

    buttonalia said 6 years ago

    What a fabulous, interesting article reminding us of days gone by - where would we be without the humble button?

  • GoodGriefGlass

    GoodGriefGlass said 6 years ago

    Who knew?! Cool.

  • TimelessTrinkets

    TimelessTrinkets said 6 years ago

    Great article. I love the history of buttons. Thank you for this information.

  • nudeedudee

    nudeedudee said 6 years ago

    I totally use pearl buttons whenever possible in my vintage style garments, they are so lustrous and wonderful, each one is different and special. I had no idea that there was a museum! Thank you for sharing this! In fact, I gotta make a belt with a MOP slide very soon here for a 30s dress.

  • hubinshow

    hubinshow said 6 years ago

    i love buttons! great article! :O)

  • lovahandmade

    lovahandmade said 6 years ago

    What a fun and interesting article! I admit I have a ton of these buttons but hardly ever use them, I think I'll look at them a little differently after reading this! Thanks so much!

  • trulyvera

    trulyvera said 6 years ago

    Great ideas!

  • beatknits

    beatknits said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful article. I treasury my mother-of-pearl buttons even more.

  • edithandlulu

    edithandlulu said 6 years ago

    Excellent article! So glad to see one about buttons!

  • KimsCraftyApple

    KimsCraftyApple said 6 years ago

    what a fun story!

  • notsewnew

    notsewnew said 6 years ago

    Sweet! I knew there was a reason I cherished my mother of pearl buttons.

  • OrangeistheSun

    OrangeistheSun said 6 years ago

    I use vintage buttons in my pieces, so this was extra fun to read. thanks!

  • VelveteenHabbit

    VelveteenHabbit said 6 years ago

    I've read that there are possibly millions of treasures in the Mississippi from when old freighters sunk---filled with the finest linens china pearls and silver could be an adventure!!!!

  • FloweryDeer

    FloweryDeer said 6 years ago

    Lovely buttons~

  • vintagelizzy

    vintagelizzy said 6 years ago

    what an interesting and gorgeous feature! :)

  • AnniesStudio

    AnniesStudio said 6 years ago

    Lovelies. I really enjoyed the article. I too use vintage buttons in my work so it was fun info. Thanks.

  • WillOaksStudio

    WillOaksStudio said 6 years ago

    Wonderful and informative story! I used to live in Iowa but knew nothing about this part of history--thank you! I love to wear MOP buttons and to use other shapes in my work but yes, it's all coming from Asia now.

  • Lynnaddison

    Lynnaddison said 6 years ago

    Linzee.. I am so happy to see your article about pearl buttons and the museum in Iowa. I grew up along the Mississippi and did not know of the museum until a decade ago. As an avid collector I am always thrilled to have people learn more about these wonderful buttons. And thanks for using one of my listings of the grey and brown pearls.. I am honored to have them show up with your story.

  • marathon1981

    marathon1981 said 6 years ago

    So wonderful to know the history of these beauties! I love the sensation of searching through a new stash of buttons and being able to feel the natural quality of the MOP beside all the plastic!

  • 3LambsGraphics

    3LambsGraphics said 6 years ago

    Wonderful history - thank you so much!

  • erinzam

    erinzam said 6 years ago

    Fascinating! Thanks for this article.

  • stubborndog

    stubborndog said 6 years ago

    I'm so glad to see this! I'm from the Quad Cities and learned about Muscatine's button history for the first time last year. It's all very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  • Serrelynda

    Serrelynda said 6 years ago

    absolutely fascinating. I covet and hoard the M.O.P buttons I find in my stash.

  • southernmagnolias

    southernmagnolias said 6 years ago

    Great Article! I try to use nothing but mother of pearl buttons on my heirloom items.

  • RomasMasion

    RomasMasion said 6 years ago

    Mother of Pearl buttons are so beautiful. Love the history behind them.Thank you

  • simobre1967

    simobre1967 said 6 years ago

    Beautiful article! I have a collection of vintage mother of pearl buttons. I love that cold material. I'll sell them in my shop a few at a time. Thnak you. Simona

  • dkgeneralstore

    dkgeneralstore said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful article! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • dkgeneralstore

    dkgeneralstore said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful article! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • rakubuttons

    rakubuttons said 6 years ago

    Ain't nothing like the real thing, and lots of etsy shoppers already know that. Great article!

  • JennyandV

    JennyandV said 6 years ago

    Linzee, this completely made my day! I am an absolute lover of mother of pearl buttons, especially vintage mother of pearl buttons. There's something so soothing and lovely-to-touch about them. We try to use a lot of them on our dresses in our shop. Even though it's sometimes hard to let go of them from my button collection. Each one is so different and special.

  • 32NorthSupplies

    32NorthSupplies said 6 years ago

    I've always had a soft spot for mother of pearl. Wen I was learning to sew my mom always told me MOP added refinement to even the simplest pieces. Great article! I just love the shell with the holes.

  • PettiBear

    PettiBear said 6 years ago

    I LOVE pearl buttons!!!!!! Great article!

  • AlliesAdornments

    AlliesAdornments said 6 years ago

    Great article!

  • 2treasurehunt

    2treasurehunt said 6 years ago

    Wonderful Article. Pearl buttons are so beautiful.

  • bertiescloset

    bertiescloset said 6 years ago

    thanks so much for the article. time to start counting buttons to sleep.

  • memake

    memake said 6 years ago

    Thank you for such a great article. I am another button lover (and hoarder) and mother of pearl buttons are my very favourites. Being a Londoner, they are also synonymous with the Pearly Kings and Queens http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearly_Kings_and_Queens

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    beautiful buttons, I never knew they were made like this. I've always loved the sheen of pearl buttons even if they are quite expensive.

  • miriadmoni

    miriadmoni said 6 years ago

    A button museum... wow, that sounds awsome! Beautiful finds!

  • mootsie

    mootsie said 6 years ago

    Lovely Article...glad to see so many obsessed with buttons!.....they are truly a simple pleasure.

  • pinkphile

    pinkphile said 6 years ago

    wow Beautiful buttons!! =)

  • nowonder

    nowonder said 6 years ago

    This is is fantastic! So beautiful!!

  • joajewellery

    joajewellery said 6 years ago

    As I use Mother of Pearl buttons and beads a lot in my work I really enjoyed this article. Thanks you so much! The old photo's are great!

  • knitfitt

    knitfitt said 6 years ago

    MOP buttons are my favorites and I have collected them for years. You might be interested in joining the National Button Society which has active chapters all over the U.S. and a conference with so many vendors you will have a meltdown of love.

  • paulofnavarone

    paulofnavarone said 6 years ago

    mmm. thanks Linzee. i didnt know thats what mother of pearl was. i found this all fascinating. i guess i just never questioned what it was. it seems weird that each of the buttons on my shirt represents part of a mollusks former house. ha. i need to engineer a situation where i can educate others on what a mother of pearl button actually is and look like a right smarty-pants.

  • HandmadeHandsome

    HandmadeHandsome said 6 years ago

    What an interesting post. Thank you for sharing.

  • carlossantiago

    carlossantiago said 6 years ago

    i love this buttons. I have so many in my studio. will make a pillow soon with them. great article!!!! thank you!!! best, PARK

  • joyceweaver

    joyceweaver said 6 years ago

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing with us and all your hard work!

  • ScenicRoots

    ScenicRoots said 6 years ago

    What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • jwlrywrkroom

    jwlrywrkroom said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful article! As you can see, I'm in LOVE with Mother of Pearl buttons and their ethereal shimmer. They're feminine, alluring and simply dreamy to look at, while their feel is as wonderful and silky! How nice to see one of mine among the collection :)

  • christinesbeadworks

    christinesbeadworks said 6 years ago

    Fun article, thanks so much. I love buttons and now I have a greater appreciation for MOP. Even the leftover piece from which the buttons were cut is beautiful.

  • fabriquefantastique

    fabriquefantastique said 6 years ago

    When I am back home (at the cottage) I will send you a pic of one of my favorite suits with MoP buttons....lots of complete strangers remark on them. Love this kind of informational article.

  • Chuletindesigns

    Chuletindesigns said 6 years ago

    I love Mother of pearl buttons! I recently made a dress using them!

  • NoKitschProject

    NoKitschProject said 6 years ago

    Writing skills shine through. Finally a tasty, charming story. One feels like going to a museum in a hunt for similar but something tells me the beauty is in the eye of the beholder:) Best of luck for the Author!

  • gramsheart

    gramsheart said 6 years ago

    I love buttons, too. I live near, where they made the buttons, in a small town, named Montrose, Iowa. I didn't realize the history of them. I enjoyed your article, so close to my home in Iowa. Thank you..

  • thestapeliacompany

    thestapeliacompany said 6 years ago

    Ah. I love mother of pearl and buttons are especially nice. Nice article. :)

  • locksofpizazz

    locksofpizazz said 6 years ago

    What a cool 'look see' into the button makers lives from [not so] long ago.

  • jonscreations

    jonscreations said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful article!! I love sewing and have sewed all my life...even as a little girl (I use to cut up old sheets and hand sew clothes for my barbie dolls). I have a collection of tons of buttons, many of them pearl buttons. Thank you for sharing their history!

  • PetitPoulailler

    PetitPoulailler said 6 years ago

    *ANY* excuse for talking about buttons is always great! Wonderful story xo ~ thank you!

  • Cricketbuttons

    Cricketbuttons said 6 years ago

    Loved your article! Here at my shop, I always have some shimmery pearls for you. Love to have you stop by and visit sometime! http://www.etsy.com/listing/48807727/traveling-moons Thank you for sharing this history of these marvelous objects we call buttons!

  • Earthystyle

    Earthystyle said 6 years ago

    these buttons are beautiful.

  • ikabags

    ikabags said 6 years ago

    I am reaLly fall in love all buttonS :)) What a wonderful article!!

  • stockintrade

    stockintrade said 6 years ago

    extremely interesting and well written thanks! stock in trade

  • polkadotmagpie

    polkadotmagpie said 6 years ago

    Beautiful historical piece. I love M.O.P. I recently received a cookie tin of M.O.P. scrap to upcycle. When working with it I must wear a mask, and I cut it on a diamond ring saw.

  • Arva

    Arva said 6 years ago

    Great article , thank you very much for sharing !

  • davisdesignsau

    davisdesignsau said 6 years ago

    Lovely to read the history behind some of mankinds best inventions!! Gee we are a clever lot!

  • ecouturejewels

    ecouturejewels said 6 years ago

    I never knew this! Thanks for the fascinating read!

  • ForeverGlassFlowers

    ForeverGlassFlowers said 6 years ago

    Very Cool! My mom has a large tin of old buttons she's had for years and years. This article makes me want to crack that tin open and see what's inside. Thanks for sharing.

  • NotoriousKnits

    NotoriousKnits said 6 years ago

    Wahoo for Mother or Pearl! I live near the Mississippi myself and use shell buttons in my knitwear. Thanks for the lovely story. Elise

  • ZenAndCoffee

    ZenAndCoffee said 6 years ago

    Fantastic article! I use to collect buttons as a young girl. I never knew some of this! Its so interesting to find out! Thank you!

  • BlackStar

    BlackStar said 6 years ago

    What a wonderful article! It will make me cherish my MOP buttons even more. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  • DevineDesignStudios

    DevineDesignStudios said 6 years ago

    Interesting edu on the history of shell buttons, and I agree they are much prettier than plastic!

  • LadyBejewel

    LadyBejewel said 6 years ago

    Wonderful article! I am a lover of all things vintage and mother of pearl buttons are one of my favorite things. I love the beautiful variations of colors and the refreshing coolness to the touch. A perfect accent on a summer linen dress. Your article put a story to an often overlooked treasure!

  • mediumcontrol

    mediumcontrol said 6 years ago

    thanks for sharing, that was very interesting and something i had never thought too much about.

  • quenchmetalworks

    quenchmetalworks said 6 years ago

    An excellent article! I love the history of button production in the US. And to think that they used freshwater mussels! Who knew?

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 6 years ago

    Wonderful story! I have a new admiration for the pearl buttons!

  • BayMoonDesign

    BayMoonDesign said 6 years ago

    Very interesting! I live in Delaware where there use to be several button plants. I have always loved buttons and I incorporate them into my jewelry also.

  • Gram5000

    Gram5000 said 6 years ago

    Thanks for the article. I love buttons. We go to EstateSales just abo every weekend. I went to one and they had a storage tub half way full and I could not resist. I got a good deal to me...there were alot of pearl buttons. Again Thanks for sharing, Kim Edwards

  • PilliPillihandmade

    PilliPillihandmade said 6 years ago

    If my button box could speak... she would probably tell you plastic buttons are sorely neglected in the Pilli Pilli Laboratories! I just love the mother of pearl ones... nothing like it for a classy finish! * So, Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!!! *HEARTS!* K.

  • stellakim

    stellakim said 6 years ago

    Super article! ;)!! Thank you!

  • alittlemomento

    alittlemomento said 6 years ago

    WONDERFUL INFO!

  • LoveToLoveYou

    LoveToLoveYou said 6 years ago

    I loved your story. I've been to Muscatine and picked up jars of gorgeous buttons from a vintage store there. Thanks for the history lesson!

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry said 6 years ago

    Very interesting article! I've loved shell buttons ever since I was a little girl, digging through my grandma's button box.

  • queenginya

    queenginya said 6 years ago

    thank you so much for featuring my mother of pearl necklace! I love using them in my work and have many more in stock. Thanks for the history lesson!

  • filofashion

    filofashion said 6 years ago

    Very Beautiful !!!

  • EGVintage

    EGVintage said 6 years ago

    What a beautiful article. My mother's earliest memory is of sitting and playing in the button box while her mother had to run an errand. I love the feeling of fishing through a box of buttons! I can spent hours sifting through them.

  • linensandthings

    linensandthings said 6 years ago

    Loved this article on pearl buttons! Thank you so much!

  • dessertfirstdesigns

    dessertfirstdesigns said 6 years ago

    So interesting. I have a huge collection of antique buttons which I obsessively collected in the 90's. And of course I have loads of fancy, carved and decorated pearl buttons. If anyone is interested, must unload these one of these days.

  • HibouCards

    HibouCards said 6 years ago

    for a button freak like me this is such a great article! thank you so much for sharing as I learned something today!

  • SurrenderDorothy

    SurrenderDorothy said 6 years ago

    This is a terrific article! I grew up in the Sixties in Westbrook Maine; a paper mill town. At the time, S D Warren Paper Company was a huge supplier of currency paper for the US Treasury Department. Currency paper for printing money is not actually made of wood pulp like regular paper is, but rather it's a stronger kind of paper made of recycled cotton and the source for it was rags; mostly cotton. At the turn of the century and far beyond the Depression nobody ever threw anything made of fabric away, rags were carted off by the "Rag Man" to be recycled. At the paper mill, the discards were sorted and all of the buttons and hooks and eyes were removed and hauled off by the horse cart load to the local riverbanks and dumped there as rubbish. As an adventurous kid I found three of these button dumps in my hometown and spent hundred of hours digging them up, sorting, washing and hoarding them. Many I still have today. Sadly, the poor found MOP buttons never fared well being dumped outside and left in the elements; they were almost always left with a chalky dull finish. Ditto for the wooden ones and Bakelite ones. The Brass buttons tarnished to total greenness, soaked in Naval Jelly came out lovely and bright as did the cut steel buttons. My favorites were the glass buttons, mostly because weather didn't effect them at all. I adore antique buttons to this day and still feel a secret thrill whenever I plunge my hand into a tin of old buttons and turn up a treasure! Thanks for the memories! Veronica

  • mtnfranklecreations

    mtnfranklecreations said 6 years ago

    Wonderful article! I love,love,love the character of old buttons I wonder what stories other vintage buttons could tell?

  • SugarKids

    SugarKids said 6 years ago

    Very interesting. I think I had heard about these buttons from the midwest. Great story!

  • dorkorama99

    dorkorama99 said 6 years ago

    This is the story of my home town, if you substitute fish for mussels, and buttons, truly sad, but it's wonderful to keep that story and their hard work alive! and after I read this I dug through my stash of old MOP buttons, and started crafting with the rustic little beauties, and appreciating them in a brand new way!

  • windfall

    windfall said 6 years ago

    I just recently fell in love with Mother of pearl Buttons & found a stash kept by my Grandmother that are just beautiful. Love your article! Here is what I have done with one of the beauties: http://www.etsy.com/listing/47985141/button-ring

  • metroretrovintage

    metroretrovintage said 6 years ago

    What a fascinating article and history! I've often appreciated mother-of-pearl and abalone shell buttons - plus they are often a sign of quality, when found on a vintage garment. Muscatine sounds like a idyllic place and would love to visit!

  • CreaShines

    CreaShines said 6 years ago

    Such a fascinating story! Thanks so much for wrinkling my little brain :D

  • VelvetBitchOriginals

    VelvetBitchOriginals said 6 years ago

    Great article...I am a vintage button hoarder and love my pearl buttons...

  • craftpile

    craftpile said 6 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing....very enjoyable read!

  • shabbyroses

    shabbyroses said 6 years ago

    Thanks for the info ,I am proud to be the owner of boxes of vintage buttons ,now I will be sure to give my collection another look to see if I am the owner of some of beautiful pearl buttons! Thank you so very much for that great story!

  • kathiroussel

    kathiroussel said 6 years ago

    wonderful insight into the history of these seemingly simple but beautiful buttons. i have some mother of pearl buttons stashed and can now look at them in a whole new light! great feature-- thanks!

  • julessabjewelry

    julessabjewelry said 6 years ago

    Absolutely adore the shell button necklace. Linzee - thank you for sharing these wonderful finds.

  • ErikawithaK

    ErikawithaK said 6 years ago

    Thank you so much for writing this! One of my favorite things about sewing is the history and stories behind it. It makes me feel more connected to know the story behind all of it.

  • Trencadis

    Trencadis said 6 years ago

    Fantastic and interesting article! The buttons of shell are traditional and longwearing. I think that they are as MINI ART PIECES, because of their beauty and making. I love the shell buttons! Thanks for thinking about me and sharing this interesting history!!! :-D

  • polkadotsandblooms

    polkadotsandblooms said 6 years ago

    I love this post as much as I love mop buttons. My love for these buttons started when I was a little girl and I saw my mum's and nan's clothes with mop buttons. When I opened my shop I had to have a mop button in my logo. And it seems that I have passed this love onto my two daughters, they love playing with my vintage collection of mop buttons for hourse on end :-)

  • iomiss

    iomiss said 6 years ago

    I love mother-of-pearl buttons!! Great article

  • whimsy52

    whimsy52 said 6 years ago

    Thank you for your article on vintage pearl buttons! I loved reading it. I have been to Mississippi four times and have a real love for that state! I wondered why a casino down there was called Pearl River casino! Now I know why they named it as such! I love vintage buttons and I would love to purchase some vintage Mississippi Pearl buttons!! I will look into this and thank you for the informative article. I sure appreciated reading about this!

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 6 years ago

    Wow! What a great story! Thanks for sharing this great history of a lovely lil jewel!

  • NatalyaToporova

    NatalyaToporova said 6 years ago

    enjoyed the story great buttons!!

  • laurelbean

    laurelbean said 6 years ago

    This article is amazing! Thanks so much! I love mother of pearl buttons...

  • kbowling

    kbowling said 6 years ago

    i love buttons!

  • carolbroadleypottery

    carolbroadleypottery said 6 years ago

    When I was young I used to love and sort the big jar of buttons my Mom had...reading this article brought back that memory!! :) Now I make my own buttons out of clay.

  • bonkersaboutbuttons

    bonkersaboutbuttons said 6 years ago

    a fantastic article - thank you for sharing. I have reposted the link on my facebook group

  • LizzieLuna

    LizzieLuna said 6 years ago

    Beautiful!!! I love the buttons

  • faeriecupcake

    faeriecupcake said 6 years ago

    These are beautiful!!! loved the article too:D

  • saphira

    saphira said 6 years ago

    What an enjoyable article! I would love to travel there and see it all for myself one day. Vintage and antique mother of pearl buttons are so gorgeous, they are a wonderful medium for creativity. Thank you for sharing your trip!

  • aistheta

    aistheta said 6 years ago

    Thanks for the history. I have seen some really great things done with buttons. From using them to distinguish an article of clothing to great jewelery.

  • JustColor

    JustColor said 6 years ago

    I love buttons. All kinds and use them frequently in my work, wither in jewelry or knitted items. Buttons are fun and I collect all kinds. Thanks you for this informative article. Very interesting.

  • ethne

    ethne said 6 years ago

    Vintage buttons feed my soul - very interesting - thank you

  • barbaritaverde

    barbaritaverde said 6 years ago

    When I was a child I would spend hours playing with the buttons from my grandmothers button jar. Lovely article. Your pieces are beautiful and truely honor the past.

  • midnightboudoir

    midnightboudoir said 6 years ago

    I think everyone at one point or another loved passing their fingers through a big pile of buttons- well I did anyhow. It's very interesting to know the history of Muscatine- and now I will be on the lookout for vintage buttons. Thanks for making me appreciate them more! Sincerely, Glenda

  • ezliving

    ezliving said 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing!

  • ReendiculousGourds57

    ReendiculousGourds57 said 5 years ago

    Just read the article and I love all the history. I also am an avid sewer/crafter and I have many old buttons hanging around in boxes in my sewing room. This article has inspried me to go through all the button boxes and look for the really old ones and also any MOP. I also have some new creative ideas flowing just from reading this article. Thanks for sharing!

  • sosewnice

    sosewnice said 5 years ago

    so glad to have found this article, i sew and have to say mother of pearl buttons have always been a favorite.cant beat REAL things.

  • Plantdreaming

    Plantdreaming said 5 years ago

    A MOP button museum, I want to go!

  • LoveButtons

    LoveButtons said 5 years ago

    What an interesting article - the vintage pearl buttons are so attractive :)

  • PrairieChildDesign

    PrairieChildDesign said 5 years ago

    I love this article... My parents ran a mussel shell camp in Alabama...Mussel divers would dive the Tennessee River and bring up mussels of all kinds... The shells would get processed the same way as listed in the article... After a while the shells would get shipped out and end up in Japan. These shells from the Tennessee River were considered the best in the world at the time... They were used as blanks...little round beads were carved from these shells and inserted into live shells there in Japan, put back into the water and eventually a cultured pearl was created... Chances are these types of mussels in Alabama was the same type of shells that came from the Mississippi River all those years ago... Thanks for the insight and history of those hard working people of the the South. .

  • lkzg

    lkzg said 4 years ago

    Proud to call Muscatine my hometown and love my pearl button collection! Our museum is wonderful. My driveway at home was all crushed pearl shells and my kids were fascinated.

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