Winthrop Topliff Doolittle, Sr., button collection

Biographical and Historical Notes

Winthrop Topliff Doolittle, Sr., was born on January 22, 1895, in Meriden, Connecticut. Doolittle attended the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, graduating in 1916. In 1917, Doolittle enlisted as a medic in the American Expeditionary Force. Before serving in World War I, Doolittle married Olive Carter Austin of New Haven, Connecticut, with whom he eventually had four daughters and one son, Winthrop Doolittle, Jr., who later attended Yale University.

"Doc" Doolittle, as he was known, settled in Milford, Connecticut, after the war to practice dentistry. He continued to work in this field for 48 years, dying in Milford on October 26, 1967.

Throughout his life, Doolittle became an avid collector of stamps, coins, early American radios, and late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century campaign buttons and related memorabilia.


Information provided by the donor.

Scope and Contents

The Winthrop Topliff Doolittle, Sr., button collections contains approximately 200 political campaign, tobacco and advertising pin-back buttons, pins and medals, the bulk of which date between 1892 and 1920.

The collection is divided into five thematic series:

Series I, Advertising buttons, includes buttons advertising different products and services, as well as collectable buttons sold with products such as cigarettes.

Series II, Yale University pins and buttons, most of which likely relate to Winthrop Doolittle Jr., who attended Yale University.

Series III, Political buttons, include buttons from both presidnetal candidates and candidates for state and local office.

Series IV, Commemorative buttons, pins, badges and medals, feature special buttons relating to the Grand Army of the Republic, the Spanish American War and other commemorative events.

Series V, Miscellaneous buttons and pins, include a variety of buttons, pins and charms that do not fall into the topical categories of series I-IV.

Most of the buttons in this collection are celluloid pin-back buttons. Pin-back buttons are buttons which can be affixed to garments via a pin mechanism on the back of the button. This allows the front surface to carry an image or text. The first US patent for pin-back buttons was issued in the 1890s. These early buttons were made by adding celluloid over a photograph or text to protect the image from scratching, then attaching the fastening mechanism to the back of the pin.

Buttons, especially campaign buttons, have been in use since the end of the eighteenth century; however, the new celluloid pin-back buttons were cheap and easy to make, leading to an increase in their popularity. By 1898 pin-back button were used in advertising by chewing gum and tobacco compaines. The 1896 presidential campaign between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan saw the first widespread use of buttons for political campaigning.


"A Short History of Pin-back Buttons - The Button Guy Blog." July 1, 2011. (accessed February 2020).