Hi friends! Recently, I wrote a post about vintage buttons, taking a closer look at buttons made of bone, wood, jet, and shell. That was Buttons Part I, and today I’m finishing up with Part II, in which we’ll be considering buttons manufactured in metal, Bakelite, porcelain, and plastic.
Later this week, I’ll be writing a post filled with button decorating ideas. I found some really great ways to use these little beauties in home decor, so be sure to check back.
Metal buttons began to be manufactured in the 18th century, using a die cutting process on sheets of metal. Any embossed decoration would be imprinted at the same time.
Most military uniform buttons are made of metal and older ones are highly collectible. The buttons you see here, embossed with an eagle holding an anchor, came from US Navy uniforms.
Here (in the center) you see another naval button. To the left
Through the years, metal buttons have been manufactured featuring a variety of different ways to attach them to garments. On the far left is a “shank” button, (maybe because it’s shaped like a lamb shank?) with a loop of wire for attachment to fabric.
The bigger gray button on the top right has a stamped and pierced back called a “self shank.” And the one on the far right has a bar that one can sew through for attachment to a garment.
In reading an interesting article about buttons in the online magazine, Slate, I learned that poorer families in colonial America had to make their own buttons and were considered lucky to own their own button molds. Pewter or other metal would have been melted and poured into the mold to fashion buttons for the family.
A small collection of silver-toned metal buttons.
Glass buttons began to be mass-produced in the early 1800s.
Molten glass would be poured into molds of various shapes and allowed to cool to form the buttons. The Czech produced clear glass buttons as well as colored buttons in magnificent colors, like ruby and cobalt, as well as pinks and lavenders and yellows.
Buttons at this time in history made a real fashion statement, depending upon their quality, design, and uniqueness. The clothing of aristocrats and royalty might hold hundreds of buttons, leading in part to the need for servants to dress them. And leading, as well to special tools to accomplish the task–button hooks, for gloves, boots & shoes, and other apparel. Above are a pair that I inherited from my grandmother when she passed away at 89.
Isn’t this one a beauty? Porcelain and other ceramic buttons began to be manufactured from about 1830 and onward. They were widely produced, especially in France, where they were hand-painted or decorated with transfer prints (like Staffordshire china). Like other natural materials, porcelain is cool to the touch.
The lovely button above a would have been hand-painted by a woman, either in a large room filled with other ladies or possibly in her home. The paint would typically have been applied over the glaze and then fired for permanency.
The 22 karat gold painted on the edges is rather delicate; therefore, you should clean it gently. I’ve sold several hand-painted porcelain buttons in the $5-10 range, depending upon size, beauty, and condition. Large, ornate ones could sell in the $100s.
Invented in 1907 in New York, Bakelite is one of the earliest forms of plastic, and it is highly collectible. In fact, collectors go crazy for it in all its forms: buttons, jewelry, toys, flatware, radios, napkin ring holders, and more. However, it can be very tricky to properly identify this unique and rare material. To the untrained eye, it can look like any old plastic.
Jamie Brock, in her Vintage Button Guide, provides a couple of different testing methods. I’m going to be honest with you and tell you that I’ve never done too well with any of these tests. Over the years, I’ve learned what Bakelite looks like, what it feels like, and how much it weighs (heavier than plastic). And most of the time, I’ve been right.
It also has a clunky sound when two pieces are knocked together. This sound, along with the look and feel, are reasons why billiard, dice, and chess makers still use Bakelite in their manufacturing processes. Bakelite buttons can soar in price up to the $100s.
The plastic buttons that we know today began to be produced in large numbers between the World Wars (1930s), in every color under the sun.
Plastic has proven to be the most economical “raw” material for button manufacture, and they now make up the vast majority of buttons being produced today, whether for clothing or crafts.
I think these vintage “King’s Regiment” buttons in bright blue have a nice, nautical feeling about them. In fact, King’s Regiment 71 has a long history as a British regiment that has served all over the world. There’s a school in North Carolina named after this Scottish regiment, and I’m guess that’s where these buttons came from–old school uniforms. They are in my shop for just $2.99. (SOLD)
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Sources for this post:
Brock, Jamie. HubPages. Vintage Button Guide: Ways to Identify Antique Buttons
Stewart, Jude. Slate. The Simple, Humble, Surpisingly Sexy Button