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Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Aunt Nellie's Button Box
Article: Aunt Nellie's Button Box
Sullivan Township, Tioga County PA
Article by Joyce M. Tice 1998
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Aunt Nellie's Button Box

By Joyce M. Tice 

Some of you may have noticed a reference to Aunt Nellie's Button Box as a symbol for a lot of STUFF to look through as on the obituary pages of this site. Well, Aunt Nellie's button box was a real thing in my childhood and in my life.

When I was a child I used to stay sometimes with Great Aunt Nellie. I really loved her dearly. She was the sister-in-law of my grandmother who died at age thirty when my father was only four years old. She and her husband, Harold Mudge, had wanted to adopt my father but my grandfather determined to raise my father and his older brother alone. Nevertheless, Aunt Nellie, and other aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers played a very important role in bringing up my father and uncle. When I came along many years later, Aunt Nellie and Uncle Harold slipped into the role of grandparent substitutes for me. One of the many great pleasures of spending time with them - aside from the Chinese Checkers and the National Geographics at their house - was the tin canister that was filled with buttons. They were great playthings, all the colors, all the shapes, all the patterns - fascinating! It was a special privilege to be given the button box to play with. Matching them up into a set, sorting them, piling them, looking at them. It is amazing what a child can do with a large tin full of buttons, thousands of them. Just running them through one's fingers is a pleasure - like King Midas with his gold.

Years later, Aunt Nellie in her migration to Ohio to live with her daughter, gave the button box to my mother and she gave it to me. I used to sew a lot, and from a practical point of view, it seemed a logical thing to do. I would make good use of it. Well, I still approached it as a treasure chest. Even as an adult that is what it seemed to be to me. I found all kinds of interesting things in that box and I traipsed off to the library to find out what all those beautiful buttons were about. Through the books I found I was able to identify buttons far older than I would ever have expected. From the way the manufacturer's name was on the back of some of the large metal buttons, they could be dated. Manufacturers, then as now, changed their names every few years as partnerships and ownership and corporate structure changed. So, I was able to determine in the 1970s that many of these buttons were from very early in the century and some even from the nineteenth century. I found Civil War military buttons that had to have come from Truman Mudge's uniforms put there in the button box by his grieving mother Lucy BRONSON (Mudge). I found glass buttons, beautifully faceted black glass buttons in many patterns. There were rubber buttons and calico buttons. They were small and made of glass and had patterns like calico on them. I found flower shaped buttons that I arranged into a framed landscape "painting." There were bone underwear buttons, and shoe buttons, and tons and tons of dark green plastic buttons that probably came from Uncle Harold's green work clothes. I even found a few political buttons. In short, the button box represented several generations of the Mudge Family from which my paternal grandmother originated. It was a link to the past and to people whom I could never meet. 

While I can not confirm the path of ownership of the button box and its many contributors, I believe, based on the ages of the buttons, that it had belonged to Lucy BRONSON (Mudge) and to her daughter in law Ruth HOLLY (Mudge) and to her daughter in law, Nellie McCARTY (Mudge) and then to me. All three of these women lived in the same location in the house where my grandmother Mildred Mudge grew up with her siblings, Helen and Harold. It is still a treasure to me. Most of the oldest buttons I have arranged on display arrangements. Some of the lesser (historical) value buttons I really did recycle and use. One thing for sure, I have never thrown out a single one of them. They are part of the "inheritance" from my ancestors and a link to objects, however trivial, that were theirs. I love my button box. 

The History Center on Main Street, 83 N. Main Street, Mansfield PA 16933