Donation Story: Eleanor Savery McVay

NJSBS was delighted to accept the gift of buttons from the collection of Eleanor Savery McVay (March 18, 1909 – June 14, 1982).  Her daughter, Carolyn Thelander Gittelson, was moving from her Short Hills home and contacted Gloria Chazin and Ann Wilson regarding the donation. Some of the collection had been sold to a dealer, but three boxes remained.  Ann Wilson picked up the boxes, delivered them to Barbara Fox, who transferred them to Lorraine Grinka, Ways and Means Chairman, who will prepare the buttons for sale to benefit the NJSBS. Central Jersey Buttoniers has carded some of the nicer shell buttons from the collection and they will be offered for sale.

Carolyn Gittelson tells how her mother became a collector in Wilmington, Delaware where she belonged to a local club before moving to Short Hills in 1978: “My mother got into collecting in order to energize and motivate a friend languishing in a wheelchair. Button collecting, she knew, would interest her very bright friend intellectually, was something she could handle right on her lap, keep her engaged for sustained amounts of time, and above all create some real drive to get her out of the house regularly for meetings and shows. It worked indeed just that way. What a beautiful thing. The unanticipated side effect, of course, was that my mother became a serious collector as well.”

“The ripple effect from that was that, as her daughter, I was exposed to a whole new field. I just rolled my eyes when I first heard that my mother was joining a “button club.” She had been a founding member of the Wilmington Skating Club and was lovely out on the ice. She had waited half a lifetime for the leisure to get into the cultivation of miniature bonsai trees and spent twenty-five years working on her collection. (I added twenty more.) All of that I appreciated immensely.”

“That I got, but it took her getting me to a button club meeting for me to understand that buttons held our history: where each fits into our manufacturing history, our expanding geographical reach in sourcing materials, the demands of our military, our changing social history, our changing aesthetic, our increasing expansion in distributing goods, and…..well,…..I left that first meeting pretty humbled and quite respectful.”

Carolyn says she is glad to find a place where her mother’s buttons will be appreciated. “You and I may never meet,” she wrote, “but I could not feel more happy and connected.” We sent her a picture of us unpacking the boxes, oohing and aahing over the contents. “The image of you both going through what I had held out to transfer to you on my mother’s behalf is all I was hoping for.”



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