Organizing the 3,350 buttons in the Ruth E. Howe Button Collection isn't a chore but a voyage of discovery for volunteers.
"Look at these buttons. They're works of art," June Kosier of East Greenbush said, her hands spreading across the cards of historic buttons.
Some of the buttons date to the 18th century, including one made for George Washington's presidential inauguration.
Kosier, president of the Half Moon Button Club of the Capital District, and Kathy Arbogast, president of the Mohawk Valley Button Club, were at the Rensselaer County Historical Society at 57 Second St. last week, invested in the preservation of the button collection.
"A lot of collectors are very specific about what they collect. They have button clubs, button conventions and button sales," Arbogast of Niskayuna said.
The historical society received Howe's collection in 1983 after she died. The nurse was one of four unmarried sisters who grew up in Hoosick Falls and lived in Troy. Hoosick Falls, Albany and Amsterdam all had button companies.
The Half Moon Button Club has spent the last three years organizing the Howe collection. They expect it will take another four years for the part-time volunteer effort to complete the task.
"It's an important part of Rensselaer County history. We asked them to come in and do an evaluation of the collection," Kathy Sheehan, the Troy city and Rensselaer County historian and RCHS registrar, said.
Assessing the 3,350 buttons on their 111 display cards takes time. Part of the task is placing a value on them. The George Washington button has an estimated value of $2,500 to $5,000
"Let's save these guys," Arbogast said.
"It's history in miniature," Kosier said.
Arbogast said early buttons were so valuable that highwaymen who robbed gentlemen in 18th-century England would cut the buttons off their clothing.
"I love their history. I love their beauty," Arbogast, 65, said. She also is president of the New England Regional Button Association, which includes New York and New England.
"Most people have a button tin," Kosier, 67, a retired nurse, said.
Howe began her collection after she retired from nursing due to illness. She concentrated her collecting on those produced in her hometown of Hoosick, then expanded.
Kosier collects Uncle Sam buttons, reflecting her Troy roots. She said she's found just 12 due to their rarity since she began collecting in the 1990s. She incorporates them in her needlework.
Arbogast, a former AT&T systems analyst, started collecting ceramic buttons about 2003.
The Halfmoon Button Club has exhibits running through Tuesday at the public libraries in Bethlehem and Colonie. A new exhibit opens March 1 at the East Greenbush library.
The button club also updates its Facebook page regularly at //www.Facebook.com/halfmoon buttonclub.
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