Popular Culture Helps Define Our Political Times

Ask Christen Carter what she collects and it might surprise you.

Or maybe not. She collects buttons. Probably not such a surprise when you find out she owns a button manufacturing business in Chicago called Busy Beaver Button Company, which makes buttons using solar power.

Some of Christen Carter’s favorite “popular culture” buttons.

In a hobby dominated by lots of middle-aged and older men, Carter’s young face is a pleasant distraction at political collectibles shows.

What she collects is a little unorthodox for political collectors. So unorthodox, in fact, that’s she’s started a new specialty chapter of the American Political Items Collectors. She’s calling it the Popular Culture chapter.

“We’re doing the Popular Culture Chapter for people to share their collections of items that are currently called ‘non-political,’” Carter says. “We have about 150 people on our Facebook group and more are welcome to join the party. It’s an interesting and active crowd.”

But what exactly makes up popular culture?

“We’re defining the term popular culture pretty broadly,” she says. “Ways that people are feeling that somehow reflect the culture they are living in – and the buttons and other items are just the physical proof of those feelings.”

It can be cause buttons – the buttons that reflect a group’s feelings. Think anti-war or protest buttons. Think cartoon and comic character buttons. Think advertising buttons.

A Wendy’s restaurant “Where’s the Beef?” button from the 1980s, an anti-Vietnam War pin from the 1960s, a Led Zeppelin pin from the 1970s are all good examples of popular culture items.

And speaking of bands, that’s where Carter and her button business got its start.

“I started Busy Beaver Company because I was in a garage punk band in college,” Carter says, “and while working in London, England, for about six months I met a button maker over there. I always liked buttons and had a tiny collection and since there wasn’t anyone making buttons for punk bands at the time, I thought there might be a need.”

Today, she says, her company makes millions of buttons a year.

Carter’s collection is quite eclectic.

“I collect a few things,” she says. “In the button realm, it’s pretty broad; mostly buttons that reflect a moment in time in a way that’s intriguing. I like it when they are funny, beautifully designed or show some insight to the time they were made that helps me understand that time.”


“I also collect buttons and promotional materials from button manufacturers,” Carter says. “Outside of buttons, I have records, some art and smashed pennies, but those don’t feel like collecting, because I’m more passive about those right now.”

Her favorites don’t fall under the political category, directly.

“One of my favorite buttons is this Lanpher Hat button where the cello is cut in the shape of a hat to reveal hat felt that you can feel,” she says. “I also really like the flapper girl fabric buttons and metamorphic designs.”

As time passes, this past week’s presidential election will be remembered by the popular culture items it produced. And those are?

“From what I’ve seen, which is very limited, it’s jokes about (Mitt) Romney’s dog in a cage on top of a car, or 47 percent jokes,” Carter notes.

Time to put those items aside now. Those “popular culture” items will be tomorrow’s collectibles.




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