This month my chapter, Thimbleberry in Connecticut, took another field trip to visit another museum! This time we traveled a little further from home to meet up at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut. The museum covers the history for the city and local area known as The Valley. This area was very industrial, built around the Housatonic River. Waterbury is known as the Brass City and had factories turning out everything from pins to parts for nuclear power stations. There were also tyre manufacturers and who knew Mr. Goodyear sat a desk made from rubber, but looking like black and gilt wood?
Our reason for making the trip was to view the button collection. The collection is housed in a room of its own, with buttons displayed on the walls and in specially made wooden drawers that can be opened by visitors to reveal the hidden treasurers! One hidden treasure not on display at present are four buttons from a coat worn by George Washington, set on a velvet cushion with a box made especially to keep them in. These buttons come with a provenance and were a gift to the museum. A docent was kind enough to go and get these buttons for us to see first hand.
The Mattatuck Museum has 3,000 buttons on permanent display in a special Button Gallery. Buttons of all materials are included in the collection, including some very special engraved buttons from the coat of George Washington! The Button Museum was set up more than 60 years ago by Warren F. Kaynor for the Waterbury Button Company. The collection of some 20,000 buttons contained pieces from not just Waterbury or Connecticut companies but the world. It was given to the Mattatuck Museum in 1999 by the Waterbury Companies (previously the Waterbury Button Company) who have been manufacturing buttons in Waterbury since 1812.
Buttons have played a big part in the history of the city of Waterbury in Connecticut for more than 200 years. The manufacture of buttons, first by hand and then by machine, has been a mainstay of the region's economy since the late 18th century. This is a result of the city having experts in the manufacture of elaborate metal products. Large military contracts and the fashion industry made buttons making an important industry in the area for many companies.
Buttons are like a small piece of artwork. They are made from many varied materials and can be highly decorated either by machine imprinting or hand painting. They reflect history with images of the times on their surfaces and type of use they are designed for. Materials used to make buttons include wood, plastic, jade, bone, shell, metals of all kinds, glass. Each material requires its own skill in manufacturing the perfect button.
Today OGS Technologies in Cheshire, Connecticut is home to The Waterbury Button Company.