Last Sunday my wife and I had the rare opportunity of visiting a one-of-a-kind buttons museum in Panama located in our neighborhood of El Bosque, Panama. It opened its door about three years ago, but I had no idea it was there until I read about its existence through our community chat system.
Shortly after, I contacted Amanda Destro, manager of the museum, and scheduled a visit. It was scheduled for 3:00 p.m., Sunday, September 22, 2019. Sure enough, as soon as we pressed the doorbell, Amanda opened the door with a wide radiant smile on her face. Then we immediately started the tour guided by Amanda herself.
It was the most thorough visit to any museum I have ever been before. Amanda knew everything about the buttons, their history, context information, and just about anything you could even begin to imagine to ask. At 5:15 p.m. the tour was over, but before heading home, we were treated with a refreshing glass of ice-tea. It was delicious!
Earlier, as the tour progressed, I took a few shots of the buttons on display, and before departing, I took a couple of photographs of Amanda herself, who was kind enough to authorize me to take the photos.
Below is a narrative of the history of the museum, as well as a description and a brief history of the buttons displayed. A few photographs complement the blog post for your ready reference.
Embroidered on the fabrics of a handful of stained glass windows, there are buttons that date back to the times of the First and Second World War, the French Revolution and the former European kingdoms. There are zillions of buttons, each very different from each other.
Amanda Destro is the owner and responsible for managing the museum together with her parents Mauro and Tisla Destro. All are originally from Italy and have decided to live in Panama. They have fallen in love with this tropical country in the middle of the world.
It all started three years ago with Amanda’s grandmother’s sewing boxes. The boxes cradled dozens of buttons, some of them very enticing. They carefully observed their characteristics, the spark of curiosity ignited, and gradually the collection was shaped up thanks to the donation of relatives, friends, “friends of friends” and the exchange and purchases in antique markets in Europe and on Internet web sites.
After three years of searching here and there, the Destros accumulated buttons made with sources of diverse raw materials: plastic, metals and minerals (silver, aluminum, lead, steel, copper, bronze, rocks and zinc), plants and vegetables (wood, rubber, coconut or tagua) and animals (bones, skins, shells and fur). There are also cloth, glass, gems, cardboard and even strands of human hair in the form of tiny tissues. Sounds incredible, isn’t it?
Over the years, the Destro family has managed to accumulate buttons used by Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers, by the White Star Line Shipping Company, famous for the sunken Titanic ocean liner, by Edward VIII (the king who abdicated the throne of England for the love of Wallis Simpson ), and by the former African country Tanganyika.
I also noticed hand-carved buttons, others engraved with elaborate prints (cobwebs, mills, snakes, Quetzales or jesters) or buttons shaped like old coins and also old coins turned into buttons.
There is also a section with miniature and technological buttons (with emoji shapes), or buttons that reflect genres of art and architecture (Art Deco, Victorian or Gothic) and designer’s buttons (Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Valentino or Elsa Schiaparelli, the Italian dressmaker who introduced the trademark registration of buttons).
If you happen to be in the vicinity, please don’t forget to schedule a visit to this fascinating place. It’s time well invested. You can take my word for it.