MUSCATINE, Iowa–When Chad and Christa Brus of Brus Construction in Blue Grass and Midwest Properties began pulling down a rail shed behind a warehouse they acquired in June of 2020, they had no inkling of what they would find in the building. Seanteelle Smith, who works with the Bruses remembers, “when they ripped off the roof with an excavator, we discovered about 100 55 gallon drums full of pearl buttons that haven’t seen sunlight since the 1970’s.”
Long before the Bruses bought the warehouse at 1009 East Sixth Street, Muscatine, and the other outbuildings on the property, they belonged to the Weber & Sons Button Company. First opened in 1904, the company moved to the present Sixth Street Location in 1914. The company survived the collapse of the pearl button industry by shifting to plastic button manufacturing in the 1950s and continued to ply their trade into the 21st century.
Along with the barrels of pearl buttons, Smith and the Bruses uncovered innumerable other buttons created by Weber & Sons during different eras, including antique brass, pewter, and silver buttons; wooden buttons; and a wide array of decorative plastic buttons and other fasteners. Along with the loose buttons, the trio turned up a collection of old Weber & Sons promotional brochures, business cards, and button sample cards as well.
Hating for this tangible piece of Muscatine’s history to go to waste, Smith got to work organizing and selling the hoard of buttons for modern day sewers and crafters to put to good use. Though Smith has put many hours into this gargantuan project, she has found the investment worth it. “It has truly been an honor to be the person to uncover, clean, and display Muscatine’s history for everyone to come and enjoy,” she said.
In order to move such a large inventory of buttons, Smith sells them in a number of different ways. If you would like to come view the button selection in person, you may visit the warehouse at 1009 East Sixth Street, Muscatine, any Wednesday afternoon or evening between 2 and 7 p.m. Smith also does phone sales at 563-506-5153. For those who prefer online shopping or who live out of town, Smith runs an Etsy shop, MidwestVintagePearl, which allows people from all over the country to view and purchase from her selection.
Though the heyday of the pearl button industry has passed, its history lives on in this unique find. Smith hopes to continue the pearl button story by sharing these treasures with Muscatine and the wider world.