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’
alloy of copper and zinc, brass has been used to manufacture
more buttons than any other material. The brass button
industry peeked between 1820 & 1850. This period
is often called the “Golden Age” because
of the superior quality of these buttons.
is the hard, white dentine which makes up the tusks of
elephants, whales, walruses and hippopotamus. Because
of its rarity, manufacturers began to use animal bones
to imitate expensive ivory buttons as early as the 18th
Silver buttons became fashionable
in the mid 1800s through the early 19th century. In the
19th century silver buttons were large and made for men’s
First used as a substitute for tusk
ivory and wood. Buttons constructed with celluloid parts
appeared in the 1897 Sears & Roebuck catalog. These
buttons are rather fragile.
Bakelite buttons became very stylish
about 1940 to 1950. They produced a fresh warm feel, the
color combinations were delightful.
Lucite, the trade
name of synthetic thermoplastic acrylic resin, was used
to make buttons in the mid 1930s. Lucite was produced
by DuPont Plastics in Arlington, New Jersey. During World
War II, Lucite was used to make gun turrets as well as
other practical home items.
The earliest surviving wooden buttons
are smooth, turned discs mounted with nailhead shanks
made during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Horn buttons made from both the hooves
and horns of cattle and other animals. Most molded horn
buttons were dyed black or dark brown. After 1880 fewer
black molded buttons were made in favor of more natural
Ivory: First presented
at the 1862 Universal Exposition in Paris, “vegetable
ivory” buttons were carved from the corozo nuts
of the tague palm. The material resembled ivory, therefore
“vegetable ivory”. The material was so dense,
the dye would only penetrate the surface layer, the interior
remains uncolored. Production reached a peak between 1870
In 1839, Goodyear
secured a patent for vulcanization, a process using extreme
heat and sulfur with hard rubber to form products. One
famous rubber button was the “Anchor” design
with border stars which was originally manufactured for
Pearl buttons are made
from the nacreous (pearly) lining of shells of various
marine or freshwater mollusca found principally in warm
waters. Freshwater pearl buttons have less iridescence
than ocean pearls. Eighteenth century pearl buttons were
large (approximately 1-1/4 inches) and considered the
most beautiful ocean pearl buttons ever made.
Shell is a term
used by American collectors to differentiate buttons made
from mollusca shells rather than nacreous (pearly) linings.
The earliest buttons were cut from the white layer, the
grey or brown portions were considered to be inferior.
It was not until after 1800 that brown or grey shells
Named for the 18th
century design of fabric buttons, these buttons were faceted
pieces of black glass soldered or riveted to a metal back
to form an open work design. Quite rare.
and Black Glass: Prince
Albert of England died in 1861 and Queen Victoria, the
fashion setter of the times, went into mourning. Her mourning
jewelry and buttons were made of “jet”, a
light weight, highly fragile, expensive mineral mined
in Whitby, England. Overnight, the black glass industry
became highly active. Black remained the predominant fashion
color for over two decades. True “jet” is
rare and feels warm to the touch.
is a metallic sheen applied to black glass buttons for
a wonderfully, unique look.
to China buttons painted with the designs of the calico
fabric made by the Calcutta
Glass: Fancy g lass
buttons of the late 19th century were molded clear with
paint or transfer designs applied to the back.
Moonglow buttons have opaque
bases which give the illusion of swirl or eye in the center
and made between 1940 and 1960.