“This year’s theme is maritime,” said Jill Biggie, publicity chair for the WRBA. “It’s a lot of fun. We had a pirate costume contest and we all went around, saying ‘Arg!’ the entire day.”
When Biggie, a life-long button collector, moved out west from New York, she noticed that the state of Nevada had no button collecting groups.
“I started the Western Regional Button Association in 2003,” said Biggie. “There are button groups all over the country. So why not Nevada?”
As a regional division of the National Button Association, the WRBA reaches states west of the Rockies, including Hawaii, Alaska and some Canadian provinces.
“”We meet every two years for our convention,” said Biggie. “Our mission statement is to gather together, educate and refresh our interest and ambition in collecting. It’s hard to keep interest by yourself, so we have a lot of people come out of state to participate. Plus, the camaraderie at the conventions is really great.”
The highlight of the WRBA convention is the “big poke” — button collectors dump out buckets of buttons, letting buyers poke around their collection in order to pick out and purchase their favorites. The WRBA event includes button competitions. With each themed competition, collectors submit different groups of buttons together in order to be judged.
“Because we’re hosting in Sparks this year, we have a competition for ‘vice buttons,'” said Biggie. “People collect different buttons representing vices like drinking, dancing and sex.”
Bev Heebner, a collector from Olympia, Wash., won first place in her competition division. She collects buttons found on everyday pairs of jeans.
“I started collecting 25 years ago,” said Heebner. “I buy jeans at the thrift stores just for their buttons. They’re not expensive and they’re fun and functional buttons.”
Nancy Varah, a collector from San Diego, started collecting glass buttons from her local antique shops. Once immersed in the button world, she swayed from collection glass pieces to collecting sporting ones — buttons found on traditional hunting coats and jackets found in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her sporting button collection includes buttons she bought from private sellers at conventions such as the current one at the Nugget, with buttons ranging from $5 to $200 each.
“Each button has a different scene on the front, “ said Varah, pointing out her various buttons on display. “A lot of the scenes I own have horses on them, different breeds of hunting dogs, foxes, birds.”
Her local button collecting group recently had its collection on display at the San Diego Airport.
“I don’t get to go to every convention,” said Varah. “But every time I do go to one, I learn something new.
Biggie admits that the button collecting craze is slowly dying but she hopes that this convention will attract new members, possibly younger and male ones.
“Button collecting is for everyone, not just for ladies,” said Heebner. “I’ve spoken to a lot of men who would tell me that they used to go poking around their mother’s button collection for fun when they were young and now when they’re older, they still like to go poking around.”
“No one collects anymore,” said Biggie. “It’s really too bad. We’re a fun group. Whether you’re a button collector or not, you can still come down. You'll meet some really fantastic people and learn a thing or two.”
For more information about the Western Regional Button Association, visit wrba.us.