Sand Dollars and Starfish Buttons – Where Do They Fit in the Button Classification?

Hand Painted Brass Realistic Starfish Button

The National Button Society publishes what is commonly called “The Blue Book”, which organizes buttons into categories based on size, material, construction, pictorials, patterns, usage and surface decoration. Formally called the “NBS Classification & Glossary’, it is mailed to members in hard copy, and is available without charge to download here. The version that is currently in use (yes, it changes all the time) is 2013-2017.

For those button collectors who compete, the Blue Book is the guide to understanding how buttons are classified, and the correct way to utilize them in competition.

Recently on Button Bytes, the online button club, there was a discussion I found fascinating on where starfish and sand dollars fit into the Blus Book classification.

The award that was being discussed was NBS #130 for 2013 and it reads like this:

130. Cl. 17-1 + 17-3 + 17-4.2 + 17-4.4, + 17-6, 25 Any size. Animals that live in the water or use bodies of water as a majority of their living environment. No balance required between classes and subclasses, No limit on realistics. Mitzi Lovell. $5-3-2.

Here are the sections of the Blue Book that relate to this award:
17-1 Amphibians. Tadpoles are acceptable unless excluded by award.
17-3 Fish. Should be recognizable as fish but need not be identifiable unless specified in the award. Includes seahorses but not starfish.
17-4.2 Crustaceans (lobsters, shrimp, crabs, etc.)
17-4.4 Mollusks. Includes shells of mollusks. clams, oysters, snails, other shelled animals, octopuses, squid, etc.) Even if the shell is the only part of the animal visible, it is assumed to be occupied by a living creature. If the shell is obviously empty (half a bivalve), it belongs in Sec. 18.

In trying to find as many possible “animals that live in the water or use bodies of water as a majority of their living environment” that fit into the descriptions above, a discussion arose about starfish and sand dollars.

Hand Painted and Glazed Porcelain Starfish Button

Do starfish fit in any of the above categories?

Starfish are echinoderms and are related to sea cucumbers and sea urchins. It was determined that the star fish would be classified as 17-4 (Invertebrates assorted. Includes all animals without a backbone) but award number 130 does NOT include 17-4.

Sand Dollars (Not Buttons)

What about sand dollars?

Most of us think of sea urchins as those tiny little creatures with the long dark spiny coats we see on the sea floor during a National Geographic special on TV or at the bottom of the tank at our local aquarium.

A Button Bytes member pointed out that there is a very flat sea urchin with tiny ‘velvet-like’ spines on its surface, which is actually called a sand dollar. When it’s alive and doing well the color of the velvety spines is dark green, dark brown, perhaps almost black.  When it dies, all the velvety spines fall off leaving the flat, white sand dollar that we find in seaside gift shops.

So, where do sand dollars belong?

  • Buttons with white sand dollars are showing the skeleton of the animal and that’s an object.
  • Buttons with any other color sand dollar would be assumed to be alive and that goes under general invertebrates, 17-4.  Most would assume if the animal is shown in the base material (not white) such as stamped brass or a Moonglow, without any added coloring, it’s alive, too.

Neither star fish nor sand dollars would buttons that would fit in this award as the category they belong in (17-4) is not included in this award.

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