Susan gives talk at Marble House Mansion
A favorite part of my job has always been working with museum stores. As you might expect, the most interesting and hardest working people find their way into museum store management! Just such a group of women invited me to the Marble House mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, last Friday (August 26) to do a trunk show and give a talk on antique buttons.
Here I am between Kate Botelho the E-Commerce Manager, and Laura Murphy the Retail Sales Manager, for the Preservation Society of Newport County. These wonderful women manage a thriving website, Newportstyle.com, and five beautiful stores. The Preservation Society itself manages and presents to the public a number of historic properties in Newport, from Gilded Age palaces to a small colonial home.
I was especially thrilled to be invited to Marble House, because I had learned the story of its original inhabitants, the famous mother-daughter duo of the Gilded Age, Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt, at an event WYES in New Orleans called “How to Marry an English Lord.” Alva, originally from Mobile, AL, had captured a proposal for her beautiful daughter Conseulo from Britain’s 9th Duke of Marlborough, thereby securing the Vanderbilts’ place at the very height of New York society, and providing much-needed funds for the Duke’s estate. (Fans of Downton Abbey will no doubt recognize a parallel between Consuelo’s story and that of Lady Cora, whose New York riches similarly boosted the fortunes of the Grantham estate. Sadly, Consuelo’s union was not as happy as the Grantham’s, eventually ending in divorce.)
The Marble House, based on the Petite Trianon at the Palace of Versailles, is the very definition of Gilded Age style. Above are some details of the dining room.
Gilded oak paneling makes the ballroom among the most opulent rooms of the era.
Before my trunk show, I presented a talk, “Buttons: History in Miniature” in the basement of the Marble House. I had lots of fun preparing some 40 slides for the talk, which included pictures from my family and the early days of GB, a history of buttons going back to ancient times, and many buttons from our museum. Below are just a few of these slides:
The grandmother of Grandmother’s Buttons, Bettie Gandy Garrett, taking the steamboat from New Orleans to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1907, along with buttons from that era.
A picture from our Button Museum showing my mother, Miriam Scales Garrett, with her button tin, the one I played with as a child.
A selection of buttons from our museum, along with a quote from a 2012 Slate article that I think best sums up the appeal of antique buttons.
After the talk, I spent time identifying and valuing buttons brought in by the public, a sort of buttons-only Antiques Road Show. Several people had lovely Victorian and Art Deco buttons which I was able to identify, but this one button stumped me:
A bit of research after I returned home revealed that this button has nothing to do with Newport, RI, or Camel cigarettes: it is from a pair of overalls made in the 1920s! Newport was one of many brands of overalls made in the early 20th century that used whimsical brass buttons to mark their identity.
The jewelry trunk show ended up being quite a success, and we are so pleased that Grandmother’s Buttons will now be carried in the gift stores at Marble House and other Newport mansions, as well as on Newportstyle.net!