Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and for 12 months anyway, a St. John’s man’s hobby may not seem so obscure.
Newfoundland soldiers fought for the British in various places throughout North America during that war, and Dave Ficken collects buttons off their military coats and gaiters.
The fasteners are quite rare — he’s only managed to acquire eight in eight years.
“When I find one, I get a little obsessed over it,” Ficken says.
The Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry — also known as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment — fought at places such as Detroit, Fort Erie and Fort York during the War of 1812.
According to historians, the troops displayed some bravery, including an 1814 incident on Lake Huron where they helped capture two American ships at night.
Ficken began collecting the buttons in 2003 after he stumbled across one on eBay. Thinking he might never get a chance to see one again, he bid on it.
Successful, he soon found himself a little obsessed with collecting the buttons, and bringing them back to the province.
Ficken has since added seven more Newfoundland Regiment buttons, including two he’s yet to physically receive from a collection put together during the 1920s and ’40s.
The fasteners were found in places like upper New York state, an island in the Detroit River, and on the Niagara Peninsula.
Two-thirds were bought on eBay, with costs ranging from $150 to $430.
Ficken also has collectors who keep an eye out for him.
He says his hobby provides a lot of personal satisfaction.
“It’s a challenge collecting them, I guess, and I like the history.”
Besides the Newfoundland buttons, Ficken has two from the Royal Highland Emigrants as well as one from the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment. There is a Newfoundland connection to both units — they were stationed here in the late 1700s.
One of the Royal Highland Emigrants’ buttons was dug on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The 42nd Royal Highland Regiment’s artifact was found 30 kilometres east of Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Some of Ficken’s collection is featured in the recent book, “A Directory of Officers and Men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment 1795-1816.”
“It was just a family history project that got out of hand,” says author Rodney Lee, an Ontario resident whose ancestor was part of the regiment.
He was grateful Ficken offered up his buttons for illustrations.
“I thought it was right on. I guess we’re all kind of history buffs,” Lee says.
With the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 weeks away, Ficken would like to show his collection to more people.
“I would actually be interested in allowing them to become part of a display,” he says. “I would just be interested in other people being more aware of that part of our history.”