|By Cindy Ervin Huff
Button, button, who's got the button. Do you remember that game as a child? Okay, so that dates me.
I was looking once again through my husband’s antiques and found these interesting buttons. They’d been removed from one of those raccoon coats from the 1920s. The glass bead in the middle was cut making the button more valuable. I find it interesting that these buttons are still safely tucked away.
|cut-steel and glass button
Examining those buttons reminded me that my mother used to have a metal container brimming with buttons of all shapes and sizes. As a child, I would dig through them when we needed a substitute game piece or a replacement for a stuff toy’s eyes. So many crafts to make with buttons.
Then that memory led me down a trail of discovery about buttons. Let me share a little of what I learned.
Buttons were first used as ornamental decoration on clothing before medieval times. Ornate buttons were fastened to a tunic or robe to hold it in place with a pin. Much like a brooch. But as fashion evolved, so did the use of buttons. Men used buttons on their clothes long before women. Men’s shirt sleeves and jacket fronts required buttons to fasten them. Women’s clothes designed with lacing and hooks to provide a smooth fit for the womanly figure had no buttons.
|Tiny cut-steel buttons
Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396-1497) ordered Venetian glass buttons decorated with pearls. And Francis I of France (1494-1547) is rumored to have had a set of black enamel buttons mounted on gold. Buttons were the equivalent to fine jewelry today.
Throughout the 18th century buttons on men’s ensembles expressed their wealth. The value of the buttons on a man’s suit accounted for eighty percent of the tailor’s fee.
Buttons were often handcrafted from bone, shell, metal , enamel and wood. Some were painted with the faces of famous people. George Washington’s campaign buttons were actual buttons sewed to clothes. Many wealthy individuals had their portrait painted on buttons. Beautifully handcrafted painted buttons appeared during this time.
Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) created a process to mass-produce cut-steel buttons. When polished these buttons imitated faceted gems and glass and were exquisite.
Standardization of military uniform buttons in eighteen century Europe kept button manufactures producing specialized buttons through the centuries. They indicated rank and branch of the service. Production of uniform buttons is still the mainstay of button manufacturers today.
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