At Busy Beaver they don’t just make buttons* in their millions – round, square, metallic, oval – they love them too. Such is their devotion that the company’s beautiful new building now houses its own button museum. Given the immediacy of the format, it’s appropriate that the buttons do the talking here, gathered together in loose themes including Ask Me, Art, Entertainment, Music, Chicago, Beavers and Social Lubricators – the kind that sparks a conversation with strangers, or just scares them off. Assembled in broadly chronological order, the little guys vie for visitors’ attention just as they would in the wild on a wearer’s jacket.
The museum is not large but it’s well-stocked, with the tiny exhibits tightly packed into a handful of elegant wooden cases on the walls of Busy Beaver’s bustling headquarters. Recent pop culture is well-represented, including examples from London’s punk rock-era Better Badges, although it’s some of the earliest exhibits that really make you stop and stare. In particular the 1920s metamorphics which show a woman’s face one way up and an entirely different body part when turned upside down, and buttons for stockings featuring flappers’ faces. While the more outrageous items tend to leap out, there’s also some quite beautiful graphic design on display as well as fascinating glimpses of long-forgotten fads, fancies and consumer favourites. There’s nothing remotely serious about Busy Beaver’s museum, there are no captions… in fact there’s no commentary at all, but it achieves the not insignificant task of establishing the humble button as a significant tool for communication from its inception to the present day.
*It is only out of deference to Busy Beaver that we use the American term for badges here. It won’t happen again.