Button collecting got its start during the Great Depression when Gertrude Howell Patterson and her passion for collecting buttons were featured on a radio show called "Hobby Lobby" in October, 1937. The show provided a free trip to New York City for anyone with an unusual or particularly interesting hobby. Button collecting obviously resonated with the listeners. Maybe because it was a hobby that just about anybody could afford during those lean times and their button collection could be started with finds at home in their own saved button jars and tins.
That same year, Hobbies Magazine hosted a hobby show at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. Button collectors showed their collections at the show and the magazine featured button collecting in one of its issues. The burgeoning interest helped lead to the formation of the National Button Society in 1938. In 1939, the National Button Society hosted its own show in Chicago. By the 1940s, Hobbies Magazine began to feature articles and ads for the button collector. Ms. Patterson wrote for the magazine.
The National Button Society’s emphasis has always been on the preservation and study of clothing buttons.
The National Button Society now has more than 2,400 members on four continents. Currently 39 of the 50 states have state and local button clubs.
With the help of national exposure in magazines like Family Circle and Life in the early and mid 40s, collecting buttons soon became the number one hobby during the time among women and No. 3 overall (after coins and stamps). Although times were still hard and money scarce, buttons were not so hard to come by.
The National Button Society was the leader in shaping button collecting. They defined buttons made before 1918 as old and those made after 1918 as modern.
(Above text is from my “The History of Buttons—Why We Collect the Little Masterpieces of Art” program, which I will present at the National Button Society Convention on Thursday, August 23, 2018, from 9-10 a.m. The program is great for avid button collectors as well as "newbies."