Button Collecting


Most children remember the joy of playing with a button jar and the fascination of the buttons. Anyone can collect buttons you may even have some that has been passed down to you . You can still find jars and tins of old buttons at garage sales and fleas markets and in Grandma's attic. All of the buttons you find in this manner may not have the value, or the fine materials of the vintage and antique buttons, but all old buttons show a multitude of interesting materials, and an endless variation of designs. Buttons which are interestingn but not quite collectible can be well-used for crafts, for instance, or for a collection based on various materials.

Button Collecting Historical Infomation

English: wedgewood - boulton merfamily ca 1760

The earliest known buttons were excavated from tombs in Egypt, Greece and Persia and date to 4000 B.C. They were made of gold, glass, bone and earthenware. It is thought that they were purely ornamental and worn to show rank.B uttons gained a higher profile during the Renaissance. Earlier buttons in the 17th century were mostly made of fabric like silk or velvet although there were a few pieces of clothing that shone with diamond buttons, mostly the nobility.

Some of the most sought after American-made buttons of the early 19th century are known as Golden Age Gilts which were gold washed brass buttons made between 2830 and 1850. These brass disks were stamped out, then burnished and chased, engraved or die stamped by hand with scenes that celebrated commerce, industry and patriotism. Ordinary buttons from the same period were made of horn, bone or wood and covered with heavy homespun.

Wedgewood, as well as humble china buttons, were also being mass-produced by the 1950's. The charming calicoes, super popular with collectors today, are small china buttons transprinted to match calico fabrics.

Celluloid became popular at the end of the 19th century as an inexpensive substitute for ivory, bone, tortoiseshell, amber and horn.

Brief History of Button Collecting

Button Collecting Information and Tutorials

Buttons have to be cleaned, sorted and stored, and each button collector will develop his or her own system for this.

Buttons must breathe and they should be stored in a well ventilated box. Never keep them in a garage and never put plastic and metal buttons in the same box. Older plastics sometimes deteriorate and get sticky, and moisture can cause some metal buttons to rust.

One piece silver, copper and brass buttons can be polished, but those of sell and iron cannot because they will rust.

Mother of Pearl buttons can be buffed with a dry towelk, and one piece molded glass buttons or unpainted glass buttons can be gently washed

and dried.

Button Collecting Tips

Do not store Celluloid buttons in air tight containers. They release gases that will disintegrate themselves and other buttons near by.

Celluloid Button Example

How to Clean Your Buttons By Material Type

How to Test For Bakelite

Get yourself some Formula 409 ALL PURPOSE spray cleaner apply a small amount to a q-tip and rub a small part of the button that is not going to show. If the q-tip turns yellow it is bakelite. Gently wash and dry your button after you do this test.

Most button collectors familiar with their buttons will run the bakelite buton under warm or hot (but not boiling) water. Dip and smell the piece. If you smell a smell that is medicinal like an old bandaid, medicine chest smell, that is the formaldehyde smell of old authentic bakelite. You can sometimes get the smell by rubbing your finger quickly across the surface and get the smell from the heat of the friction formed too.

How to Test For Celluloid Buttons

To tell if a button is Celluloid, run it under hot water and then smell it. If it smells like Vicks Vapor or mothballs it is Celluloid.

Identify Your Buttons

The best thing a new collector can do is obtain a copy of the Big Book of Buttons by Hughes and Lester and study it voraciously. Though more than 30 years old it is still the definitive button collecting guide.

Big Book of Buttons by Hughes and Lester

Examples of Button Types

There are many different types of button material and some collectors , collect only one type of button like glass buttons or carved bone buttons while others have a more eclectic taste in collecting and may collect all types of vintage buttons. The more you collect buttons, the more you will see the diverse and beautiful nature of button collecting.

Antique buttons can be collected by: material (glass, metal, wood, Bakelite, bone, china ), by theme (dogs, people, scenes,flowers), by usage (uniform, work clothes or by historic importance (world fairs, political). There are many fields of interest, but the above are some of the areas of collecting.

Black Glass Buttons are a popular button to collect and many come from Czechoslovakia.

Carved Bone Button Example

18th Century Buttons.Small carved, often "starburst" incised, bone buttons were recovered from the 1784 wrecksite of El Cazador.

Moonglow Buttons are a favorite with collectors. Moonglows were made in W. Germany and Czechoslovakia, showing up in the U.S. in 1953. They were made into the 1960's, but eventually all glass buttons fell out of favor and plastics replaced them as being more practical.

Satsuma Buttons

Satsuma buttons are classified as ceramics, (products made of baked clay). The original technique of Satsuma is native to Korea, but after the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1598 by Yoshiro Shmaza, lord of the Satsuma Province, Korean artisans were used to develop Japan’s ceramic industry. The manufacturing of Satsuma lasted until the 1960s.


Vegetable Ivory Buttons

Button Collecting

Vintage Buttons For Starting Collections

How much is my button worth?

The value is determined by many factors that include:

Trends set by button clubs and magazines

Quantity in existence

Material (precious or semiprecious, for example)

Age and history

Beauty or the design

Personal judgment and preference of the vendor/buyer

Quality or the material and construction

Condition of the button.

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Large = 1-1/4" or larger

Medium = 3/4" to 1-1/4"

Small = 3/8" to 3/4"

Diminutive = less than 3/8"

Metal picture buttons from the very late 1800's and early 1900's are among the most popular of collectible buttons.

The word button is from the French word bouton, meaning bud or knob - buttons, as ornaments, date back several thousand years.

Pewter Buttons: In the late 18th & early 19th centuries, pewter was used for buttons in men’s fashions, but by 1830 the brass button replaced the pewter button. Pewter buttons appeared again in the late 19th century, however, this time in ladies’ fashions.

There are more than 50 different names for the attachment feature of buttons.

"Famous potters and silversmiths of [the 18th] century fashioned buttons with the same beauty as their vases and jewelry," said Sally C. Luscomb in The Collector's Encyclopedia of Buttons (Schiffer Books).

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