As button fans and collectors, it’s inevitable that we’re also students of history at Busy Beaver. Whether it’s celebrating 19th century pin-on political memorabilia, midcentury illustration or a zine celebrating 100 years of button history, we love uncovering the stories behind the objects. When we found out that Chicago’s Newberry Library was interested in a Button-O-Matic machine as part of their 30th annual book fair, we jumped at the opportunity to work with an organization after our own history-loving, object-collecting, knowledge-spreading hearts.
The Newberry is one of just a handful of independent research libraries in the world that allows free and open access to the public. Founded in 1887, the Newberry is home to 1.5 million books, 5 million manuscript pages and 500,000 maps. The collection focuses on Western Europe and the Americas, including Chicago’s only copy of Shakespeare’s first folio, illuminated Medieval manuscripts and letters written by Thomas Jefferson.
Newberry bookstore manager Jennifer Fastwolf explained that “as a Chicago chick, I’ve been buying from Busy Beaver for years…and was super jazzed for the chance to have a Button-O-Matic at my store.”
For their Button-O-Matic, the Newberry staff wanted to highlight pieces from the library’s collection, though with archives that deep, narrowing down what to include was no easy task. They eventually settled on 20 designs, including five color variations on the Newberry logo, and images from paintings, manuscripts, posters, photos and more. Jennifer walked us through a few of the button highlights–
The machine was rented for the book fair weekend late this summer, and the library president approved housing it permanently in the bookstore shortly after. Jennifer explained, “The Book Fair attracts a pretty great oddball clientele, but many of them and many staff got excited about the Button-O-Matic.”
The library took over management of the bookstore itself in late 2013, and, Jennifer said, “we’re slowly establishing ourselves as an independent book and gift store, highlighting the Newberry’s collections and some awesome local talent.” The Button-O-Matic fits right in with the fun and quirky new products the shop now carries, including work from local artists including Busy Beaver pals Nerfect and La Familia Green.
“Playful intellectualism, that’s what I want us to represent,” Jennifer said. We couldn’t imagine being in better company!