Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Fascination with Buttons


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.

Wedgewood Buttons

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.

The War of 1812 broke trade relations with England and out of necessity, Aaron Benedict opened a cut-steel factory in Connecticut. The factory produced buttons for 191 years.  Later renames Wedgewood.

As fashions in both men and women’s clothes changed, so have the use of buttons. Zippers replaced most buttons as fasteners. Many styles incorporated buttons as ornamental once again.

Gemmed button collections are on display in museums across the world. The values of some of these collections are in the millions. I noted a button from a confederate uniform priced at over nine hundred dollars. Who knew all those buttons our grandmothers held on to would be of value today?

Whenever my mother would throw out a garment, she always kept the buttons. Something her mother and grandmother did. Some held memories of a special dress and occasion while the majority served a practical purpose of replacing a lost button.

How often have you searched through saved buttons? Do you save them? Is there one that evokes sweet  memories? Do you have fond memories of a button collection?


Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be live theater.

Visit her at


 Rescuing Her Heart

As her husband's evil deeds haunt a mail-order bride from the grave, can she learn to trust again and open her heart to true love? Jed has his own nightmares from a POW camp and understands Delilah better than she knows herself. Can two broken people form a forever bond?



  1. Thanks for the post! I have a small button box but there are no gems or pretties in there, mostly just craft buttons or the spare ones that come when you buy a nice shirt or blouse. My mom had a collection that was probably her mother's. I'd love to find one of those pretty Wedgewood buttons, I didn't know they made buttons!

  2. I have a big button jar and so did my mother. I have made sure my grandchildren have one too.

  3. I loved too sort through button jars
    as a child.

  4. I don't have a button collection, but I was just recalling that game, "Button, Button. Who has the button." I remember playing it in Kindergarten and loved it when I was five. I wonder if kids today would like it like we did. Or has technology made such simple games lose their charm.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful post. I have always had a funny fascination with buttons. Mom had a large jar and would let us five kids play through them. When I started to sew, I love to put buttons on everything. As useful buttons with button holes and as decorations. I still have a large button jar that I pull from for sewing and now for homemade greeting cards also. I have some buttons from moms wedding dress and a few other dresses that were special put off to the side. She died recently and I will be adding them to a shadow box of some other items that express who she was. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net