Collecting Pin-Back Buttons
Pin-back button collecting is most often associated with political-items collectors. And for good reason: Buttons are omnipresent in politics and have been for over a century. They are the chief collectible item in the political materials hobby. But the political pin-back is only a snippet of the whole button story. There are many button collectors who avoid politics like the plague. In the following section, I fill you in on everything you ever wanted to know about this popular collectible field.
During the 1950s, a psychologist named Dr. Frederich Wertham created quite a stir with his book, Seduction of the Innocent. Wertham believed that the rise in juvenile delinquency was directly correlated with juveniles reading comic books. Can you imagine what Dr. Wertham would think of today's world?
Types of Collections
Some collectors regularly find buttons that neatly fit into their overall collection—which may not be pin-back buttons. For example, an Elvis Presley collector might include Elvis buttons in his extensive collection of “King of Rock and Roll” items. A space exploration collector may count NASA commemorative pin-backs among a collection that includes famous astronaut autographs and other related memorabilia. A World's Fair collection embraces buttons as just one of many souvenirs from those historical happenings.
Apollo XI commemorative pin-back button
Other collectors collect pin-back buttons and pin-back buttons alone. As you can imagine, there are many possibilities open to the button collector—and many challenges, too, courtesy of the saturation of buttons in circulation. There is often a methodology in the practices of button collectors, many of whom collect within certain parameters.
The guideline here is no guideline. There are button collectors who just can't control themselves. If it's a button, they want it—and it doesn't matter if it's got a smiley face on it or a bloodied animal on it excoriating the fur industry.
Advertising buttons are a biggie! And this covers a lot of ground. Some collectors find it necessary to further break down this category and collect in subcategories such as food and drink, tobacco, alcohol, and so on. Others get even more specific than that and collect, for example, only bread and bakery buttons, or fast food restaurant pin-backs, and so on and so forth. Then, of course, there's the decision on whether to collect vintage pins or concentrate on newer items, or perhaps both.
There are always “issues of the day” or statement pins being produced. Whether it was the gold-versus-silver-currency debate of 1896, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, or the Pro-Life Movement of today, buttons were manufactured for the impassioned and continue to be for all issues great and small, right and left, and right and wrong.
Events and Geography
There is a branch of button collectors who seek out pins only from specific events or locations. There are collectors, for instance, of only World War II–related buttons, 1976 American Bicentennial buttons, and so on. Other collectors concentrate on pins unique to their area of the country or state. There are many sportsmen who collect their state's fishing or game license pins, too.
Begin-Sadat commemorative pin-back button (1977)
Disneyana is a collectible field in and of itself. In the button world, there are loads of Disney pins featuring everything from Mickey Mouse to Peter Pan.
Cartoon and TV Characters
From Hanna-Barbera to the Honeymooners, from Peanuts to Fonzie, this is a vast area of button collecting. Some collectors seek out pins from classic TV shows like Bonanza and The Munsters. Others find classic cowboys like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and the Lone Ranger to their liking.
Elvis Presley and the Beatles are the big guys on the overall music-related collecting scene—and this includes pin-backs, too. But let's not forget the easy-listening folks. Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Julius La Rosa, are just a few examples of personalities whose visages grace vintage buttons.
Movies are a staple of American life. From Shirley Temple to the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges to E.T., there are buttons aplenty to collect.
A very festive button collecting route. Santa Claus pins, particularly early twentieth-century varieties issued by department stores at Christmas time, are a surprisingly sizeable collectible button offshoot.
The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Salvation Army, and so on have been around for the better part of a century. This means that there are a lot of their buttons out there, too, and some are quite coveted and rare.
The Condition of Buttons
Like with every other collectible, it is rarity and condition that most determine a button's value. Be aware that pin-back buttons are often tagged with these conditional terms:
Mint: The button is in perfect condition, like new.
Near Mint: The button is as close to perfection as possible without being perfect; upon close inspection, it exhibits some slight wear.
Excellent (EXC): The button reveals light wear, but still maintains its strong original characteristics.
Very Fine: The button shows light wear and minor aging but still maintains an overall bright and clean appearance with no defects.
Fine: The button exhibits general wear throughout but does not have any serious defects.
Very Good (VG): The button reveals a loss of luster and coloring but does not possess any serious defects.
Good: The button displays overall wear and possibly a critical defect but still maintains its ability to be collected.
Fair: The button is visibly damaged.
Poor: The button combines extensive wear with damage.
In this broad button-grading scheme, the descriptive words used to identify a button's condition tend to be rather general. This is why it is important—particularly in the lower button grades—to demand more than a one-word description from a seller. Ask for precise details on the button's wear and defects.
If you are looking to add a pin-back button to your present collection in any of the above categories, or are looking to start a collection from scratch, check out www.hakes.com, or request a free catalogue from Hake's Americana & Collectibles, P.O. Box 1444, York, PA 17405. Hake's Americana & Collectibles has been the King of Popular Culture Collectibles since 1967. For buttons—political and nonpolitical—nobody offers more variety on a consistently updated basis than Hake's. With its perpetual auctions and sales, Hake's is a button collector's utopia. Hake's main feature, and especially welcome in these cynical times, is that all of the materials in auction or on sale are thoroughly described, illustrated, and backed up with a full guarantee—by a real person, Ted Hake himself. You've been implored time and again to deal with reliable sellers—Hake's fits the bill.
New York World's Fair pin-back button (1964–1965)
Hake's catalogues are loaded with vintage advertising buttons and other advertising premium items such as the following:
The Price Guide to Collectible Pin-Back Buttons 1896–1986 by Ted Hake and Russ King is the best book on the subject of nonpolitical buttons. The book contains updated values and sixteen pages of color photos.