Ted Hake started collecting buttons in 1948 when he was five years old and an antique dealer friend of his mother’s gave him a small, gray cardboard box. Its contents pinned a passion that later founded Hake’s Americana & Collectibles, America’s first auction house devoted to popular culture collectibles. Mr. Hake is kind to interview with the Busy Beaver Button Blog about his extensive button collection, company, and books.
Inside the box, a young Ted discovered the 1918 era World War I Liberty Loan and Community Chest contributor’s buttons from his hometown in York, Pa. Soon his childhood collections grew to encompass “coins, matchbooks, stamps, comic books, fossils, Indian artifacts, baseball cards, and found objects from [a] local dump like a 1939 New York World’s Fair milk glass bottle that once held Virginia Dare vinegar.”
In 1960, his decision to collect buttons came to fruition when a favorite local coin dealer had a customer who wanted William Jennings Bryan presidential campaign buttons from the three losing campaigns of 1896, 1900 and 1908. Mr. Hake saw the beauty in the antique buttons, and found “their colors, graphics and history absolutely fascinating.”
Coin albums that once cataloged identical objects grew to contain “variety and relative rarity…mysterious and un-catalogued small gem-like historical artifacts.” Hake was hooked as a collector and while at the University of Pittsburgh and New York University his hobby evolved into dealing in presidential campaign items, all types of buttons and eventually in 1967 the founding of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles.
Hake’s Americana & Collectibles contains a catalog with thousands of vintage buttons in all categories and from all time periods from 1896 to now. Click here for the website.
Inventory includes the estate of Marshall Levin, without doubt the world’s foremost button collector before his death in 1999. “For forty years Marshall canvassed New York City button makers, trade shows, parades and protests amassing an incredible variety of old and new issues. Marshall preserved a remarkable slice of American history, documented by buttons.”
How are the collectible pin-backs stored? Mr. Hake uses glass covered cases known as Riker Mounts for storage and warns, “Some frames come with cotton rather then synthetic liners. The cotton will absorb moisture in high humidity environments causing the button backs to rust while the fronts show no damage. Second, if cases are stacked, a lot of weight can build up and buttons with ink on metal (without a celluloid or acetate covering) may adhere to the glass. When popped free, paint may stick to the glass and come off the button.”
And the personal collection of Mr. Hake? He focuses on “pre-1950 buttons with great color, interesting graphics or association with some famous event, person or character.” Because he is very selective, his collection is “around 1000 buttons or so.”
Pretty soon, shipments of the Hake’s Auction Catalog will include his own custom 1.5-inch button produced by Busy Beaver Button Co.
The cover of Ted Hake’s book Collectible Pin-Back Button 1896-1986 features his favorite buttons. When asked to select a number one, he writes, “It would be the 1908 Long Beach Festival of the Sea button. After all, how many buttons feature lettering formed by sea snakes?”