Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Perfectly Charming

By Josie Giancola from the Button Box mysteries by Kylie Logan

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I have a confession to make. I think charm strings are simply . . . well, charming!
What’s a charm string? Ah, settle back and get ready to hear the story of these delightful antiques.
Creating charm strings was a fad in the late 1800s and early 1900s. That’s when young girls collected buttons and put them on long strings. There were rules to the game:
1. No two buttons should be the same
2. The buttons should come as gifts from friends or be traded with other stringers, they should never be bought
3. The more brilliant and beautiful each button, the better
4. Buttons with shanks are best because they nest together well
A young girl would begin her string with what was called a "touch button," one button that was usually a little bigger than the rest. From there, she would collect for years, always in pursuit of one more button, until the charm string reached 1000 buttons. Then, legend took over. Some stories said that 1000th button would be presented by the man who would become the girl’s husband. Another story said that after she strung that last button, a girl would meet her Prince Charming. In a total turn-around from those legends, some stories said that if a girl collected all 1000 buttons, she’d end up being a spinster.

Charm strings are also called memory strings, and it’s no wonder why. Each button came with a story, and families would gather with the charm string and trade memories. "This is a button from the coat I was wearing when I met your father," a mother might say. "And here’s one from Grandpa’s Army uniform." In the days before the distractions of TV, internet and cell phones, charm strings sparked conversation and help pass along family traditions and tales. In fact, an unfinished charm string was always left out in full view so visitors could contribute buttons (and stories) to it. It was also common to find non-button items on charm strings, things like religious amulets, coins and charms.

Charm strings of any size are nearly impossible to find these days. Most have been scooped up by collectors or broken apart by family members who each wanted a keepsake of the memories. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t revive the tradition. Stringing buttons is a great way to encourage fine motor skills in young children, and sorting the buttons, too, helps them learn analytical skills. As for adults, there is endless delight in old buttons, and I’ve seen charm strings (of less than 1000 buttons, of course) used as one-of-a-kind bracelets and necklaces.

So get started. All it takes it a little string...and a few buttons!

Josie Giancola owns the Button Box a shop that specializes in antique and vintage buttons.  It's not her fault that she keeps getting involved in murders...honest!


  1. Lol, could the young girls buy buttons to give away to their friends, so they had something to trade? Or could they only come of off old clothes?

  2. I love buttons and love the old tradition. I wonder if either of my great-grandmothers made charm strings? It's easy to imagine that they did. I wish they'd been passed down to me...

  3. Sound like a great treasure. I saved a few of my kids favorite or more memorable clothes as they got older in hopes that I would make a quilt for each of them someday. Now I'll have to consider pulling the buttons off and starting another kind of memory.

  4. Oh, to find a button string! What a treasure that would be. I did meet a jewelry maker once who makes new charm strings as bracelets and necklaces. They were gorgeous!

  5. My mom had a button box. Or tin. It was so fun to look through the many different buttons in there! I never heard of a button string but she had some very unique ones in her tin. Northern Reflections made unique buttons for their sweaters, the buttons matched the picture that was on the sweater. But buttons now days are rather boring when I think about Mom's button tin...

  6. My Mom had a button box from the 1920's that I know have. The buttons were her only toys during a part of childhood spent living with cruel relatives who put a 6 yr old in a empty room with just buttons for hours on end. My Mom kept the buttons so she would never forget and to remind herself that her children would always be loved and have toys. I have been keeping them for a special craft project. Now I know what to do! Thank you.