Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
March 10, 2004:
of stories and old gadgets
In Bruce Douglas
47s collection is a buttonhook with a Princeton
insignia. (Courtesy Bruce Douglas 47)
Bruce Douglas 47
owns one of the most extensive buttonhook collections
to the Chicago home of Bruce Douglas 47 invariably wonder
at the display cases filled with hooked implements, three to eight
inches long, each with a distinctive handle. They know Im
a surgeon and ask if they are surgical instruments, says Douglas.
So he launches into a detailed discourse on the items he and his
wife, Jan, an occupational therapist, have collected since their
Between the 1850s and the 1930s, buttonhooks were the gadgets
that made fastening shoes, gloves, collars, corsets, and shirts
relatively easy. Some handles were utilitarian made of steel
or plastic while others were made of silver, gold, ivory,
or porcelain, among other materials, and shaped like golf clubs,
tennis rackets, animals, and dragons. Today, in a world of Velcro
and zippers, they are fashion relics. To Douglas, who has amassed
well over a thousand of them, buttonhooks represent a lot
of romance and personal stories.
Those stories begin in 1973 at a hospital clinic in Bangkok, where
Douglas and his future wife first met while on assignment with the
World Health Organization. She was using a Thai-made plastic-handled
buttonhook to teach a one-armed patient to button his shirt. That
was the first time I ever saw one, Douglas recalls. The couple
later decided they should share a hobby, and collecting buttonhooks
became their mutual pursuit.
On Douglass many travels as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon,
including two Fulbright professorships abroad, the collection grew.
Douglas works two days a week with indigent patients at a Chicago
hospital, remains active as professor of occupational medicine at
the University of Illinois School of Public Health, and consults
on the health of older workers. Wherever I go, he says,
I scour the shelves and glass cases of antique shops for buttonhooks.
His most treasured discovery is the one with a Princeton insignia,
the only one of its kind, to his knowledge. He located it through
a member of the Buttonhook Society. Says Douglas, its the
gem of my collection.
By Maria LoBiondo
Maria LoBiondo is a frequent PAW contributor.