Our button-hunting adventures usually take us far and wide. We’ve traveled throughout the United States and across oceans in search of antique buttons and vintage glass. This year, however, the pandemic kept us closer to home. Luckily we hit the button hunting jackpot in a Five and Dime store, located less than a hundred miles from our studio in St. Francisville, Louisiana.
In the small Cajun prairie town of Rayne, Louisiana, the local Five and Dime store was a daily life staple. The Worthmore’s Five and Dime store opened in downtown Rayne during the Depression. Its owners, Ike and Effie Hanks, sold everything anybody in town needed, with products ranging from bobby pins to crawfish nets.
Family-owned Five and Dimes were fixtures in many small American towns before the proliferation of Dollar Generals and Walmarts. They became a sensation after Frank Woolworth opened the first one in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1879.
Five and Dimes typically stocked everything a person could want, ranging from sewing patterns to fishing lures to parakeets. They provided rural communities across the nation with the necessities of life at prices regular folk could afford. Some even had lunch counters serving up grilled cheese sandwiches, Frito pie, and ice cream sundaes.
Our founder, Susan Davis, fondly remembers spending her weekly six-cent allowance in Vee’s Five and Dime in St. Francisville, Louisiana, while her mother perused sewing patterns in the notions section.
This winter, Ike and Effie’s granddaughter called Susan and told her that the Worthmore Five and Dime in Rayne was closing after 86 years in business. They said they had a large cache of vintage buttons and wondered if Susan wanted to take a look. Of course, she was eager to do so but never anticipated the treasure she would find.
Walking into the store felt like stepping back to a simpler age, a time before big-box retail outlets and Amazon homogenized our daily shopping experience. The shelves were cluttered with outdated inventory, some decades-old with products ranging from silk flowers to lamp parts to doorknobs. Walking in was like opening a time capsule. Susan’s long-gone childhood memories bubbled to the surface with a wallop of nostalgia.
The century-old cash register, which was used until the store closed its doors for good, could only ring up a maximum purchase of $9.99. Of course, sales totals grew over the years to exceed this number, but nonetheless, the clerks continued to ring them up in $9.99 increments.
Best of all, however, was the buttons. Susan was elated to find a sizable stockpile of brilliantly colored, hand-molded vintage glass buttons manufactured in Western Germany shortly after WWII. They were still in their original boxes and attached to the manufacturer's button cards. The cards were branded Le Chic, La Mode, Exquisit, and Costumaker with a price tag of ten or twenty-five cents each.
There were dozens of boxes containing hundreds of button cards, each with about four billowy moonglow or silky satin buttons attached. The moonglows were manufactured beginning in 1952, while the satin glass buttons were created a few years later.
Moonglow glass is characterized by a silky opaque interior sealed with a clear exterior. The process for making moonglow glass was developed in the 1950s by West German glass artisans who discovered how to create glass canes (rods of colored glass) that were half clear and half opaque. These half and half canes were heated until soft, then pressed in molds to create buttons that resemble sparkly gumdrops.
Satin glass buttons are typically more opaque than moonglows and have a lustrous, silk-like gloss. Satin glass canes are made by folding a single color of glass over on itself several times to create thin layers with a smooth satin finish.
Despite their delightful beauty, the popularity of glass buttons was short-lived.
After WWII, home sewing was very popular, and handmade European glass buttons reached their fashion apex in 1958. However, by 1969 automatic washing machines and the convenience of increasingly affordable store-bought clothes with plastic buttons put most glass button manufacturers out of business.
Our Five and Dime stash is exceptional, and we found enough to feature these gorgeous pieces of vintage glass in our regular jewelry lines. However, quantities are limited, so some pieces are likely to sell out faster than usual, and these sweet buttons are getting harder and harder to find. So get them while you can!