Okay, so it's 1872, and you are getting ready to go to the ball. You have your chemise on ~ oh come on now, you know that a chemise is just a type of slip ~ and you have your corset of whalebone on (how else are you going to get that 24" waist?) ~ and you are just about ready to put on your hoop skirt.
So the shoes are next. But just think of those high topped, leather monstrosities with their rows of fifteen buttons and matching button eyelets lining the opening of the high upper. And that's just one shoe ~ there's two of them to deal with. It's going to be a chore, especially if you don't have a servant girl to help you.
So what's a poor girl to do?
The answer is ~ you have your husband, or father, or brother, take a saw and cut about four to six inches off the bottoms of the legs of a chair to make a short shoe-buttoning seat for you.
By lowering the height of the chair, when seated, the lady's knees would be higher than her waist, and her relaxed arm would reach to the floor without any effort or discomfort. Without straining, she could easily button her own shoes because the row of buttons and eyelets were positioned on the 'outside' of the shoes.
I found the chair shown above in an antique shop many years ago. The antique dealer thought it was just cut off for a child to use. But small chairs were made for that purpose ~ or the child would simply sit on the floor. Children, back then, were considered to be subservient to their elders, and often did not merit being afforded the luxury of sitting in a chair. They often stood at the table during meals, and sat or lay on the floor in the evening after chores were completed.
Chairs, like any other piece of furniture were costly, and so when the legs of a regular size chair were cut off, you can bet it was intended for a lady to easily button her own shoes.
I also own a high, spindle back chair with the legs uncut, whose turned legs and stretchers exactly match those of the altered chair. From the two pictures, you can see that there was about four inches cut off the one; it was cut off just below the side stretcher.
The cut off chair would also be used by ladies who wore lace-up high boots because they were perhaps as difficult to fasten as were the button type.
So now that we have the chair out of the way, let's look at that thing that is pictured at the top of this post. The button-hook was the tool used by a lady to connect the eyelets around the buttons of her shoes. The hook end would be passed through the bottom-most eyelet, and then hooked around the bottom-most button. The button-hook would then be pulled the entire way through the eyelet, thereby pulling the button through with it. The hook end would be disengaged from that button, and the process repeated, moving up the row of buttons / eyelets, until all of the buttons would be pulled through the eyelets.