Open House to celebrate Tag der Deutschen Einheit on Oct. 3, 2018

October 2, 2018
Kathleen M Smith
Image of buttons

To commemorate the German national holiday Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity), there will be an Open House in Special Collections from 1:30-4:30pm on October 3rd, 2018, featuring recent acquisitions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

One item on display is a German button manufacturer's catalog from the turn of the 20th century. The button catalog is from a firm founded in 1896 by Gustav Overhoff in Lüdenscheid, an industrial German town in North Rhine-Westphalia with a long tradition of mining and manufacturing. It contains nearly 1,000 buttons manufactured for various purposes, from glove buttons to military uniforms, made from copper, brass, nickel, pewter, iron, chrome, enamel, mother-of-pearl, glass, and various fabrics.

According to an unexpectedly-fascinating report by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1916, Foreign Trade in Buttons, issued when the "European war" was seriously disrupting button manufacture and export among European button producers, the conditions at the time were ripe for American expansion into a market that had been upended by conflict. In 1914, the U.S. contained 517 button-manufacturers engaged solely in the manufacture of buttons, while Germany was home to the largest button industry in the world. Berlin alone was home to 155 button manufacturers. Buttons were made of almost every substance, organic or inorganic, and therefore the German button industry relied upon the import of raw materials such as ivory nuts, pearls, pearl shells, and other materials from South America, Africa, and the Pacific.

Materials such as this catalog and the other items on display offer us a fascinating window into this period--please join us for a closer look!