Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button? WE DO!

Throughout history, people have worn buttons to convey their views, allegiances, and attitudes. Visible and clear, buttons allow people to express their identification with political ideas, religious sentiments, social causes, favorite sports teams, musical groups, and more—all without saying a word.Image

The Central Library’s Local History and Genealogy Division, on the second floor of the Rundel Memorial Building, has on display a fun new exhibit that explores the use of buttons as a means of self-expression. Showcasing a collection of historical buttons, pins, and badges from the Office of the City Historian, the exhibit represents an assortment of local businesses, campaigns, and causes.

Within our cases you’ll find buttons promoting everything from political candidates to chewing gum. We have items from the early twentieth century urging voters to support the prohibition of alcohol and woman suffrage and pieces from Civil War veterans groups like the Boys in Blue and the Grand Army of the Republic.

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One button features Old Seven the Baffler, a mysterious-looking character created by the Sterling Gum Company to market their patented “7-point gum.” Old Seven the Baffler

If forced to choose, I’d have to say that my favorite item in the exhibit is a gold bug pin from the 1896 presidential race between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan. Worn by Republicans who supported McKinley, the gold bug represented the view that the nation’s currency should be based on its supply of gold, as opposed to Democratic “silverites,” who backed Bryan and advocated for a money supply based on both silver and gold. Gold Bug

Popular collectors’ items, buttons have become a significant part of our popular culture. They have even inspired a well-known children’s game, from which this exhibit takes its name. Called “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” the game involves passing around a clothing button and taking turns guessing who had it last. Getting into the spirit, we have started our own button game, I Do buttonin which we’re passing our exhibit button around the community. Whoever gets it wears it for a day and then blogs about his experience. Keep an eye out for our traveling button and visit our special exhibit blog, www.rochesterbuttonblog.com, to find out who had the button and what they did with it!

More than a means of self-expression, buttons tell the stories of our past. From political debates and social causes to corporate developments and aesthetic styles, each button in our collection reflects the spirit of its age.

The button exhibit will be up until September 30, 2013. Stop by the Division between now and then and discover the stories our buttons have to tell!

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian


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