Read Buttons Online

Authors: Alan Meredith

Tags: #Buttons


Alan and Gillian Meredith

A selection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century enamels.



Dating buttons

Button history

Materials – metals

Materials – metals: decorations and finishes

Materials – non-metals

Collecting and display

Further reading

A line measure above a card of linen buttons, showing the size and abbreviation for lines. Buttons are measured in lines, with 40 lines to the inch. Each of the buttons on the card measures 18 lines. The contemporary composition button (bottom left) shows the incised line measurement, 28, on the back.

Royal commemoratives. (Top row, left to right) Queen Victoria, young head, white glass set into black glass mounted in brass; Edward VII, stamped metal, gilded; Elizabeth II’s coronation, lustred moulded glass. (Middle row, left to right) George V’s and Queen Mary’s coronation, 1911, waistcoat button; Queen Victoria, old head, glove button. (Bottom row, left to right) Union Jack woven by J. & J. Cash Ltd, Coventry, 1952; Queen Alexandra, imitation cut steel edge; Elizabeth II, woven by J. & J. Cash Ltd.

Olympic Games: top left, Montreal 1976; top right, Rome l960; bottom, Los Angeles 1984

George VI’s coronation, 1937, on the original sales card.

‘Punch’ cartoon buttons, c.1850, showing famous cartoons of the day.

(Top right and left) Eighteenth-century cut steel set into brass. (Bottom left and right) Eighteenth-century pearl set with diamante. (Top centre) Hand-painted miniature under glass surrounded by marcasite set in silver, c.1800. (Bottom centre) Eighteenth-century diamante and pearl set in silver. (Middle left and right) Eighteenth-century painted porcelain discs surrounded by cut steels.


Buttons, uniquely for such a small collectable item, cover the full spectrum of ages and materials. Those who collect them usually experience an additional pleasure engendered by such personal, much handled, utilitarian objects. Studying them entails research into just about every known material and every type of manufacturing technique and throws light on fashion trends, the clothing industry and social history in general.

With such a wide scope available, this volume is restricted to buttons made for use in the British Isles on informal everyday clothes. Uniform buttons for military, civilian, livery or sporting apparel form a subject on their own.

You may be drawn to collecting buttons for one of many reasons. Their small size is a distinct advantage when considering storage and forms an essential part of their charm. Every art and craft has been used in button decoration and the minute scale necessary brings a sense of wonder at the skill involved. A box of buttons, the traditional rainy day toy when visiting Granny, can be just as therapeutically entrancing to an adult wishing to escape the strains of life.

Whatever the reason for your interest we hope this book will give you a brief insight into the vast world of the humble little button.

Dating buttons

One of the first questions usually asked about a button is ‘How old is it?’ In answering, there are a number of imponderables, all of which must be borne in mind.

The only buttons that can be dated with total accuracy are of silver or gold and carry an original hallmark incorporating a date letter. There are a rare few that carry a kite mark, and a few which carry a date or commemorative design. Back marks of a button manufacturer or tailor can give an indication of the age of the button.

Dating unmarked buttons requires careful consideration of the material used and the manner of its use. Close examination with a magnifying glass is always recommended. With this precept in mind it is an advantage to have more than one example of a set so that detailed comparisons can be made of the construction and any decoration, mould marks or natural grain lines.

Kite mark on a black glass button giving a date of June 1868.

Kite mark giving a date of 7th December 1872.

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