Gift mussel shells from the Little Miami River...
...and old buttons made from the same type of shell.
The purple ones are rare! Beautiful, lustrous lavender plum,
ranging to opalescent dusty pink.
Freshwater mussel shells were used in the U.S. from the 1800's to produce millions and millions of buttons, as well as cutlery handles, inlay and other products. (Before that, I guess the shells were mostly used as tools by indigenous North Americans.) But by the 1930's, over-harvesting, decline in mussel habitat, and eventually, alternative technology and materials put an end to the river-based shell industries all along the Mississippi and other eastern waterways.