Right on the Button: La Jolla collector delights in offbeat hobby

What: California Button Society’s 2014 Antique, Vintage and Collectible Button Show

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 17 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 18

Where: Town and Country Hotel, 500 Hotel Circle North in Mission Valley

Admission: Free, $5 suggested donation

Website:cabutton.org

By Pat Sherman

These are some of Renée Comeau’s favorite buttons from her collection, many which are considered are works of art.

"You can laugh later when you get to the car,” Renée Comeau joked, while confiding to the La Jolla Light at her La Jolla home that she is in her second term as president of the California State Button Society — part of a national network of rather serious collectors of both utilitarian and artistic buttons spanning the globe and centuries — including many with serious monetary value.

“Probably a quarter to a third of our members are men,” Comeau said. “Some collect military buttons, wood buttons, police uniform buttons or sailing ship buttons.

“This button right here is all carved very minutely in wax,” she said, displaying her most treasured antique apparel fastener (circa the 18th century). “Can you imagine this lasting 300 years?”

During the 18th century and first half of the 19th century, buttons were primarily worn by men, including members of the royal courts of London and Paris, who commissioned the day’s top artists to create them, Comeau said.

Those buttons might feature, enclosed in glass, a rare beetle or the feather of a bird someone shot while hunting (specimen buttons), or miniature scenes painstakingly painted on ivory.

Buttons-Cloisonne Enamel Copper Man smoking pipe

This cloisonné enamel on copper button depicts a man smoking a pipe.

“Even though some of these are very feminine looking, they were worn by men,” Comeau maintained. “Men in Europe would spend thousands of dollars (in today’s currency) on a single set of buttons in the 1700s. Women didn’t really wear buttons as fasteners until the mid-1850s.”

Though early European men’s buttons are some of the most beautiful, Comeau said among her favorites are simple, American Colonial buttons of chaste copper and pewter, made during a time when people were rejecting the trappings of European aristocrats.

Button Bonanza

Comeau will take part in the California Button Society’s 2014 Antique, Vintage and Collectible Button Show, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 17 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 18 at the Town and Country Hotel, 500 Hotel Circle North in Mission Valley.

The show will feature hundreds of thousands of buttons from the 18th century to more contemporary ones made of celluloid, enamel, Victorian glass and other materials.

This red bakelite star button also serves as a compass

This red bakelite star button also serves as a compass.

The show will also feature a workshop on how to make button jewelry without damaging a rare or delicate button, and presentations on identifying buttons from the Arts and Crafts design period and on sporting buttons.

It is the first time in 55 years that a show under the umbrella of the National Button Society has been held in San Diego, said Comeau, who, when not collecting buttons, said she is busy pushing her husband Terry’s buttons with her obsession.

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