Cute as a Button and Other Reasons to Become a Button Collector
Tales from (mostly) tiny towns in (mostly) the Midwest
I don’t remember why my husband and I had stopped forty miles north of Interstate 70, our usual route across Ohio. Maybe we were heading home from a B&B in that northeastern corner of the state. Or maybe we were bored with the endless gray ribbon of Interstate 70 spooling through the farmland. Whatever the reason, we parked in the miniscule village of Dover and decided to check out its main (and only) attraction, the Ernest Warthur Museum & Gardens.
Ernest “Mooney” Warthur (1885–1973), a Dover native, learned to whittle as a child. He grew up to earn the nickname of “the world’s master carver.” Some of his detailed locomotive replicas boast over 7,500 pieces and built-in motors. He also, with only ten cuts each, carved working miniature pliers. People still talk about the plier tree he carved out of one block of wood. The 511 interlocking pliers were exhibited at the 1933–1934 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Henry Ford tried unsuccessfully to woo him away from Dover to become a living exhibit at Ford’s Greenfield Village. Johnny Carson had him on his show.
In a January 2020 article in Ohio Magazine, Vince Guerrieri declared the Ernest Warthur Museum “serves as a beautiful example of a hobby that got out of control.” I try not to be judgmental.
My husband and I oohed and aahed the craftsmanship as we walked through the Warthur Museum. At one point, we learned Mooney woke up at two in the morning and carved until five before going off to his machine shop job, then found another two hours in the evening to carve his trains. We looked at each other. “Wonder what his wife did?”
We found out. We exited the museum and were faced with a small, neat as a pin, building which held Freida Warthur’s button collection display. Mooney’s wife kept herself busy collecting buttons, sorting buttons, and creating button arrangements. The buttons, placed with the precision of a neurosurgeon, were arrayed into pinwheels, stars, and other geometric figures. Currently about half of the 73,282 buttons in…