Trouser/brace (or in America, suspender) buttons stamped with inscriptions such as ‘Double ring edge’ have existed since at least the 1860s until the 1930s.
‘The Monster Card’ of brace/trouser buttons were advertised in Australia from 1905 until 1924, although in 1924 the card was described as having only 12 buttons. The ‘Best Ring Edge’ buttons were made in England, as seen on the below version of the card. I have also seen ‘Monster Card For the Million’ labelled ‘Made in Czecholslovakia’ (from 1918 onwards) with a slightly different card and also a ‘Monster Card of Patent Boot Buttons’.
The one penny pricing may date this example from 1905-1916 by the Australian advertising.
The Sun (Sydney) 1st July 1913. A bargain price for a dozen cards.
Card of pearl sequins: I’m not sure if it’s creepy or cute?
I wouldn’t want to sew such choking hazards on a baby’s clothes.
On the 22nd January I showed some pictures of buttons that I had missed out on. As luck would have it, more came up. Here is the pink version of the blue diamente flower: Absolutely gorgeous!
The shank of this button is one of 2 common shanks I have observed with Beauclaire buttons; an irregular shape with rounded ends and a rounded ‘bite’ out of each side as seen from the top.
The other common shank is a wedge shape when seen from the side.
I have some designs, like the rose, with both shank versions. I can only guess as to why there were 2 shank varieties; either one was superseded the other, or two different factories with differing moulds were producing the buttons.
One of the other buttons I shared on 22nd January has a “non-standard” shank. It is a round post with a domed top. I wonder was this an imported button, as it does say “from New York” on the card. ( I don’t know whether this phrase refers to the buttons or just to the design.)
Cloth covered buttons were made in small quantities. Bone buttons were preferred.
These territories now form parts of Malaysia and Singapore. There was no local manufacture. Fancy buttons were imported from Germany, Austria and England. The war had resulted in shortages.
Turkey, including Beruit and Smyrna:
“In the Anatolian peasant costume, buttons are entirely eliminated in the trousers, which close by means of a cord, like a bag, around the hips. The short, vest-like coat is provided, like all underwear, with cheap porcelain button, which are imported from a few firms in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy.” In 1909 the manufacturers had formed a syndicate and bumped up their prices by 40%. A colour called ‘mineral’, a tone between gray and brown, was the best seller.
All buttons were imported into the District around Beirut. About 80% of these were bone from Italy. The other 20% were from Germany and Germany and France.
All buttons were imported into Smyrna including pearl, glass, stone, pasteboard, cloth and wood, from Italy, Austria, Germany and France. Metal uniforms, mostly galvanised, were used for the military.
The markets were small. The buttons were re-exported from the mother countries of each colony. Buttons were imported for resident Europeans’ use, mainly pearl, cloth, bone, and metal from Austria, Germany and Italy. In the Kongo pearl buttons were used “on the white duck coats which are worn almost exclusively”. A few brown bone buttons for khaki coats and common bone trouser buttons were also used. There were very few white women in the Kongo, and the native women generally use pins as fasteners.” The Arab populations did not use buttons on “their native garb.” In Libya the presence of Italian garrisons provided a market for buttons. In Madagascar ordinary white bone buttons were used on all kinds of garments. Most buttons were imported from France duty free.
The population was less than 5 million peoples. All buttons imported, particularily in 1915 from Britain and Japan. Not a large market, but with good credit standing.
Sydney: “is the principal and only commercially important city … a normal English-speaking colonial community, taking its ideals primarily from Great Britain and following British practice i all matters of fashion and dress … The nonoccurence of extreme cold weather has its influence upon the demand for buttons suitable for heavy overcoats, etc …but on the other hand the long summers call for relatively large supplies of buttons for light fabrics.”
Melbourne: British buttons were imported duty free, all others had a 10% duty. “Since the beginning of the war the Japanese have entered with a dash, supplying well-made buttons of the cheaper kind, principally pearl.” British celluloid buttons had proved to be of more reliable quality than the American. It was noted that there were summer and winter fashion seasons, and that “..fashions are so precarious that the Australian importers will buy sparingly, say April to July, … and actually be tested in stock on the market. The importers will then cable London for furthet immediate supplies of such patterns as have proved to be favourites …”
Hobart: Celluloid and metal buttons for women’s dresses made about 65% of all buttons used, “often multicoloured, though there is no effort made to harmonise the buttons with the pattern of the cloth.” Bone and ivory nuts buttons made up 20% of trade, and pearl about 10%, and most of the remander cloth covered. Most of the supply came through Melbourne. Before the war, most were from Germany and since, England and Japan.
List of Australian button dealers and importers:
No buttons were being manufactured locally. Before the war bone, and similar, came from Austria, but in 1915 they mainly came from America and England, although English manufacturers were having trouble filling orders. Pearl buttons had come from Italy, France and Japan, and now Japan was increasing its share. Metal buttons were coming from America and England. American white pearl buttons were not favoured, although some coloured varieties were.
” The ‘button’ in general use by the Chinese in their native style garments is the ingenious cloth knot of the same material as the garment; the buttonhole is a small loop of the same material stitched in braid form on the garment.”
“For many years brass buttons, globe or ball shaped, with ground surfaces worked up in a variety of fancy decorations oftentimes bearing a stamped design of some Chinese conventional character, signifying happiness, long life, or wealth, constituted the bulk of the imports of foreign buttons. Since the 1911 revolution in China, however, the use of these globe or ball-shaped buttons has fallen off. In their place are found fancy buttons in various styles, usually on the garments of the women, the ornamental parts being of vari-coloured glass, principally to appear like diamonds, set in brass or other metal.”
“As to foreign staple buttons, these are, of course in used for … the foreign resident … and by Chinese who have adopted the foreign style of dress.”
Excepting for some cheap buttons, including pearl and brass, manufactured around Canton, there was no button manufacturing in China. The shell and bone buttons were all hand made. Imported snap fasteners were imported from Germany pre war, since then from Japan. Fancy buttons were sold in sets of 5 mounted on cards, as that was the number usually found on the front of a Chinese gown.
“Buttons, brass and fancy” imported into China. Note that Hong Kong was only a transshipment point for foreign supplies. The Japan buttons were mostly very cheap ones.
Hong Kong (and Southern China):
Nickle covered steel was not suitable as it rusted in the climate; bronze-nickle was better. Bone buttons could become oxidised. Some glass and Japanese pearl and cloth-covered linen buttons. Irish crochet buttons made in local convents were sold by hawkers!
As for Southern China, cheap brass, pearl, imitation pearl and bone buttons were chiefly used. It was noted that the Japanese is this area tended to own at least own foreign-style suit for business and dress clothes, as well as wearing foreign-style overcoats. Buttons here were all imported, chiefly from Japan but also Austrian, including metal, bone, porcelain, shell, buffalo horn, and nuts. No buttons were manufactured here.
This included the regions of included Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Guangzhouwan. No buttons were manufactured there, with around 20,000 kilos imported annually. There use was mainly limited to Europeans and the Chinese business community.
“Buttons are largely used in India by the middle and better classes of natives, as well as by Europeans “. these included including pearl,mainly from Japan, and ivory nut and china from Italy and metal. “There is a demand for lentille China buttons, made in Italy, on account of their cheapness”. (“Lentille” is French for lentil. Were the buttons shaped like, or as small as, lentiles?) Some leather, and better vegetable ivory came from Britain.
Low quality pearl, as well as horn, bone and coconut shell were manufactured locally to a small extent. Italian buttons had replaced German and Austrian, with some coming from England. Brown and white buttons suitable for tropical clothes were especially in demand.
The button industry was the reverse of many countries already mentioned, in that there was limited local consumption, but a large export of shell, horn, brass and copper buttons. The metal buttons were only sold to China and other “Far Eastern” countries. In 1915 there were over 250 factories in Osaka alone.
The buttons that were imported had come mainly from Germany. These included brass, copper, rubber and covered buttons.
No buttons were manufactured locally. Bone, pearl, metal, and glass ere imported mainly from Holland, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan.
1914 fashions started with an Edwardian in silhoette, with lacy ‘shirtwaists’ and long arrow skirts. Tunic style dresses,with a military feel, came in.
Men’s suits (coat, vest, trousers) were usually trimmed with vegetable-ivory. Overcoats required large horn buttons. Tweed suits and jackets sometimes leather or galalith. Morning coats, which were not being worn as often, used silk covered buttons. Khaki uniforms required metal buttons made in Birmingham. Women’s suits had either vegetable ivory or cloth covered. Cloaks used fancy celluloid or celluloid and enamel. Underwear, shirts and blouses used pearl. Some underwear used linen buttons. Printed celluloid were also popular for women’s wear.
Pearl buttons had been imported from Vienna, but were now coming from America, Japan and France. Buttons were previously imported from Austria-Hungry, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and elsewhere. Because of the war, Austria and Germany were not trading, and France and Italy were not able to supply as much as usual. In general, prices had risen considerably since the start of the war.
There was less ready-made men’s clothing made in England compared with In the USA, so British tailors did a relatively larger trade in buttons than American. Some button types, for example galalith button, could no longer be obtained. Metal buckles, snaps and clasps were in short supply.
In 1916 Birmingham, the largest button manufacturing centre in the UK, had around 20 firms pouring out an estimated 9,000,000 gross annual output due to the large military requirements. Also, British firms were meeting the local short fall of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000 of pre-war imports from Germany and Austria.
Since 1865 pearl shell had been obtained from Australia, but in latter years had become more expensive, so that celluloid, galalith and “variable vegetable preparations” were tending to replace shell.
In Bristol, the production of woolen clothing by both outworkers and factories, including for government contracts, used a lot of buttons. Buttons were also needed for the export clothing trade, and for the manufacturing of waterproofs. The clothing factories of Leeds, “second only to London in size” used large numbers of vegetable ivory buttons, also bone, horn, celluloid and tin, none of which were made locally.
Nottingham had an extensive industry manufacturing blouses, hosiery, gloves, and footwear that needed buttons, including fancy coloured glass, vegetable ivory, pearl and xylonite for women’s wear; metal, bone, vegetable ivory and cloth covered for menswear; papier-machie and pearl for footwear. Pre war only 5% of these buttons came from Britain. Some covered, bone and vegetable ivory had been made locally. Demand for American stocks had increased.
In Wales, no buttons were made. No buttons were imported directly. All were imported from or through places such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and London. There was a need for strong workwear buttons from the industrial centres.
Buttons were not manufactured to any extent in Scotland but imported from Austrian, German and English manufacturers. It was felt that American buttons were too expensive to compete with other markets for menswear, but that this was not a problem for women’s fashions where originality and variety were more important than price. In general the quality of buttons and cloth were not as good as they had been. Before the war “black braid buttons made in Barmen, Germany” were popluar in Glasgow, as were ivory nut. Fresh water pearl buttons “plain, white, smoked, fancy, coloured and carved”, were being imported from America, as were ivory nut and papier mache. Japan and Italy were also supplying buttons. It was noted that the quality control of American pearl buttons was not as good as that of the Japanese.
The only buttons made in Ireland were crochet buttons. The local clothing industry was centred in Belfast, using large quantities of pearl and bone ( actually vegetable ivory) buttons, with composition coat and metal trouser buttons from America. The better quality pearl buttons were bought from England, lesser quality from America, England and Italy. It was felt that the British and American metal and composition fashion buttons were inferior to the Austrian and German ones they replaced.
At the time Malta was a British colony.
Most button trade was done by tailors, as there was no ready-made industry. Pre war they were imported from Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Italy and England. As most Maltese were of the agricultural class, cheaper buttons predominated.
In Athens there was a factory producing horn buttons, and in Piraeus one making iron buttons. Only a small quantity of cloth-covered buttons were made in Salonika.
Most buttons, including glass, bone, horn, metal and pearl varieties, were imported from Germany and Austria. Due to the war, some business was starting with English firms. Cheap prices, not quality, was what mattered.
There were 55 button factories in Italy making amber, coral, horn, ivory, pearl, tortoise shell, vegetable ivory, wood, horsehair, leather, celluloid, gutta percha and cloth buttons, and an unknown number making papier-mache, metal, porcelain and glass buttons as by-products. The industry was centred in Milan, Piacenza and Bresica, employing 5,870 people. Italy exported buttons, particularily corozo but also papier-mache, bone, pearl, porcelain, glass and silk, around the world. In 1913 over $3,000,000 worth of vegetable ivory buttons were exported.
They imported some buttons such as pearl, porcelain and glass from Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Japan and Turkey pre-war. Although self-sufficent for many types of buttons, there was demand for bachelor buttons, shoe (made of papier-machie), pearl, celluloid, snap fasteners, glass and agate buttons to be met.
Papier-mache was used extensively for Italian soldiers uniform buttons! A trade in novelty items, including buttons, made of glass, cheap enamel and metal had “flourished under the stimulus of patriotism and war fever” for items of patriotic designs.
Challenges to the industry had included a cholera outbreak in 1911 that resulted in new regulations making the purchase of bone more difficult with a resultant increase in price. In 1913 there had been a decline in trade due to fashion changes and financial conditions. “When war broke out in 1914 … foreign markets were almost closed, foreign credits were unavailable, and many factories closed their doors. After the crisis passed factories reopened and a demand sprang up for cheap buttons for military purposes, but many factories are still (in 1915) running on half time. In spite of the increased price of raw materials, fuel, dyes, etc., prices of finished goods are the same and the industry is in a crippled condition.” Another challenge was that most materials for button manufacture were imported, and becoming scarce. There was competition for the raw materials for the making of uniform buttons.
There was little local industry, some bone, ivory and buffalo horn made in Amsterdam. Most buttons imported from Germany, Austria and Italy and some higher quality items from France and England. Popular buttons included “Steinnuss” (ED: vegetable ivory) which “whilst very expensive, are much liked for overcoats and mantles”, also pearl, horn and linen. A demand for American press buttons existed.
Postcard of Christiania, 1915.
Ready made clothing was manufactured in Norway, but there were only metal and covered buttons being made in Christiania so an import market existed. The traditional exporters had been Italy, Germany and England.
Common types of buttons used, in decreasing order, were vegetable ivory, bone, metal and paper/pressed cardboard. Also used were xylonite, linen, tin, celluloid, stone and glass. The lacquered pressed cardboard buttons were very cheap and came from Germany.
Inferior quality buttons were made at around 8 factories in Oporto from horn, corozo, pearl, glass, slate, wood, metal and cloth. Higher qualitity products made from glass, porcelain, coloured aluminium and other materials were imported, pre war from France, Germany and Austria. As supplies from these countries had ceased, stocks were low in 1915.
The only exportation of buttons was a small amount to Portugese colonies.
There existed 28 button factories in Moscow and Lodz supplying cheap coconut, Steinnuss (vegetable ivory) and horn buttons. These had existed for less than a decade.
The most popular type of buttons in the Caucasus were the cheap four-hole types made from coconut in Moscow. Also popular were imitation-ivory made from composition. Most imported buttons came from Austria-Hungry, and most of these were pearl. Linen and steel trouser buttons had been imported from Poland, but at the time of the report this supply had been completely cut off.
In the Riga district, most buttons had come from Germany and Austria, including buffalo horn, linen, horn, jet, glass, pearl and Steinnuss. There was no local manufacturing in this district, and button stocks were very depleted, with dealers hoping to gain supplies from the USA, despite the city’s population being only half normal, and money tight.
Finland: Note that Finland was part of Russia until declaring independence in 1917.
There was insignificant manufacture of buttons, with 2 or 3 factories doing a small amount of business. Most buttons used locally were bone or horn, but not shell, from Germany and Russia, and Denmark, with better class buttons from France.
Spain had a significant button industry but still imported a third of its requirements. Its export market had increased due to war time shortages. There were 85 factories making stamped metal items, including buttons, in Barcelona; 18 making imitation pearl in Cardeau; 1 making only vegetable ivory in Gerona and 5 making a variety of non-metal types including bone. Pearl buttons were made in Valencia. Many of the factories were no more than small workshops. Buttons were also made in considerable numbers in homes. two factories in the Madrid district made cheap grade white metal and brass uniform buttons.
Buttons used locally included bone, imitation pearl, real pearl and novelty buttons, also metal and Irish crochet, horn, celluloid, china, porcelain, composition, papier-mache for shoes and gaiters, and metal and gutta-percha for trousers. Pre war buttons imported buttons came from Germany, France, Japan and Austria. Compostion buttons were called botones de pasta, vegetable ivory, botones de coco.
There was only one factory making snap fasteners in all of Spain which was unable to meet demand. Most imported snaps had come from Austria; with the closure of this market prices had risen from 40-80cents to $2.50 per gross. Novelty buttons were also in low supply. Black glass were in demand for mourning buttons.
The stocks of buttons previously bought from Austria and Germany had run out. Bone, pearl and pressed metal buttons for overall were the main requirements.
There were only 4 button factories in Sweden. These made uniform buttons of brass, nickle, iron and lead, including “yellow anchor buttons” for boys clothing. Some were exported to Denmark. Ivory nut and pearl buttons for underwear and shirts were the main demand, also bone, glass and covered, Germany and Austria had supplied most of the pearl buttons and Italy the ivory nut, and England textile covered buttons. German buttons were said to be half the price of American.
Metal buttons, primarily used for uniforms, were the only type made in Switzerland. Vegetable ivory (Steinnuss) for men’s clothing predominated, also cheaper metal trouser buttons. Fancy buttons of celluloid, glass, cloth, horn, wood and galalith were sold. It was noted that although it had been discovered 10-15 years ago, galalith had only been successfully used for buttons for 4-5 years. Supplies of casein to make it were unobtainable, however, there were large stocks of galalith existing. The Swiss were having no issues obtaining supplies of buttons from the “Belligerent countries”. Therefore there did not seem to be encouragement for American manufacturers to sell here.
Snap fasteners by the Koh-i-noor factory in Prague, 1902-1939.
“Northern Bohemia is noted throughout the world as a centre for the manufacture of buttons of almost every type, chiefly vegetable ivory, metal, glass, galalith, silk, linen and cotton covered crochet buttons, and cloth-covered buttons … The principal purchasers are the United States, Germany, England, Russia, Balkan States, the Orient, and South America. Fully 80 percent of the output … is produced by home or house workers.” However, there were 27 factories in Prague that had employed around 5,000 people pre war making glove, lead, snap, glass, enamel, rubber, buckhorn, wood, horn, bone, leather, linen, paper, MOP, porcelain, celluloid, composition, paper-mache, vegetable ivory, tin, zinc and thread buttons as well as wooden button moulds. Imports were limited to fancy women’s buttons and shoe buttons from Germany and cheap vegetable ivory from Italy.
The MOP industry had been declining even before the war due to increasing competition and reduced supply of shell from the Red Sea.
There were no button factories. Before the war buttons were imported from Germany, France, Austria and England. In 1915 consumers were using existing stock, and not yet planning for the future.
Apart from a small amount of hand-made buttons, there were no local manufacturers. Most imports came from Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Japan.
Popular buttons in 1915 included ‘soft-back’, silk covered and ‘three-fold’ linen, horn, celluloid, pearl, vegetable ivory, glass and composition. Metal buttons very less popular but still used for uniforms, trousers and fancy. Vulcanite buttons were imported from America.
The ‘Syndicate of French Button Manufacturers’ estimated that the normal (non-wartime) production of buttons totaled US$5,790,000 to 6,755,000 in value. Materials used included pearl, bone,horn, polished and enameled and coloured metals, porcelain, glass, jet, vegetable ivory, ivory, tortoise shell, celluloid, wood, silk, mohair, linen, other textiles, leather, precious metals and stones. Different centres in France specialised in varying types of buttons; Paris for fancy/fashionable products; Oise for corozo, bone and pearl; Loiret for porcelain; Haute Garonne for bone; Charente, Vosges, Main-et-Loire and Isere for pearl. Isere also produced snap fasteners.
Despite the large production for home use and export, some buttons had still been imported from pre war Germany, Austria-Hungry, England, Italy (corozo) and Japan (pearl). Since the war more buttons were coming from Italy and England. There were shortages of metal snap fasteners, hat pin tops and cuff buttons.
French women working in a button factory at Briare, September 1917. (From blogberth.com)
“The button industry of Germany, which is probably the largest in the world, is centred principally in Saxony and the Rhine Province. Many millions of metal buttons are manufactured for military use, and there is scarely any other hard substance, organic or inorganic, which is not utilised in Germany for the manufacture of Buttons. Button making materials, especially the ivory or corozo nut, are imported in immense quantities at Hamburg, beyond even the needs of the German button manufacturers, Hamburg is, in fact, the largest market for button-making materials in the world … Only ivory-nut, glass and pearl buttons had been imported into Germany to any extent.” The vegetable -ivory was imported for men’s clothing had been cheaper to import from Italy, although they did also make there own, mainly in Schmolln. Fancy glass buttons had been imported from Bohemia.
The overseas trade in buttons for 1913 (after which statistics ere not available) is below:
The report noted that prior to the development of its own pearl button trade, the United States had been the largest importer of MOP buttons from Germany. This industry had been monopolised by Viennese manufacturers during the middle of the 19th century, then from Lower Austria, Bohemia and Moravia, then from 1870s onwards also Saxony, Berlin and Hanover. The success of the States own industry would practically exclude Germany pearl buttons from its market, however, there was a continued market for buttons made with feldspar there. There had been two factories in Herzogenrath that made most of the feldspar (agate, china poecelain) buttons in the country, mostly for cheap dresses and underwear. A firm in Stolberg had been a large exporter of metal snap fasteners to the USA.
Pre war buttons were a large item of export to the USA from Berlin, with 155 button manufacturers existing in the city and suburbs in 1915, including wood, horn, metal, pearl, celluloid, glass, ivory nut, cuff, textile, patent fasteners, moulds, button making machinery and materials.
“In Upper Silesia, where there is a large Polish element, shawls are worh rather than coats, but buttons are used upon women’s dresses for ornamentation only.” In Plauen, one small manufacturer supplied the crochet and pearl buttons favoured in that region.
As Germany was self-sufficent, the report concluded that there was little scope for American firms to export there, except perhaps for novelties or patented materials.
There was practically no local button manufacture. Buttons were imported from Germany, France and Italy with pearl buttons coming from Japan. Varieties imported included MOP, ivory nut, horn, papier-mache, metal and bone, especially cheaper grades. A financial depression in the country had reduced trade there considerably since the beginning of 1914.
There was a small industry unable to supply local demand. Only one factory was manufacturing pearl (from imported Japanese Takase) and metal buttons in Rio de Janero. The metal buttons were for uniforms mainly made from copper sheeting imported from France. However, with the war time ban on copper exporting, local foundries were making copper sheet from scrap. A limited amount of higher quality buttons for officers uniforms were imported. There were small local concerns making covered, composition and bone buttons.
Large amounts of buttons (especially cheaper varieties) were imported, mainly from Germany and Austria-Hungary (before the war), and from Italy, France and Portugal, including wood, glass, bone, horn, composition, MOP, ivory and celluloid. It was cheaper to import completed vegetable ivory buttons from France and Italy (and Germany pre-war) than make them from local supplies!
It was noted that American buttons cost twice as such on average as European buttons to import.
In 1915 buttons were chiefly being imported from USA and England; mostly cheaper varieties of pearl, glass, bone and metal. A small colony, with many of the East Indian and native population using few buttons.
Manufacturing consisted of one establishment in Santiago making around 20 gross per day, mostly shoe buttons, and the lack of experienced workers was limiting the ability to increase production. Therefore most buttons were imported from Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain and the USA; horn, bone, leather, MOP, vegetable ivory, wood, metal, shoe, rubber, covered, and paper. Black mourning buttons were important due to the custom for deep mourning. They had in the past imported nearly all their military buttons and supplies from Germany, so by 1915 the supply was nearly gone.
Mapache (South-central Chile and south-western Argentina) women.
It was noted that the custom of wearing black shawls that covered the head and 3/4 of the body by Chilean women of the lower and middle classes, as well as for all classes outside major cities, reduced the demand for fancy blouse buttons and for buttons for tailor made clothing. Therefore most buttons used were cheaper varieties and reused for generations. Those wealthy enough to follow fashion bought from Paris or London, not America. However, since the outbreak of war European manufacturers, particularly of metal buttons and snap fasteners, had not been able to provide supplies, so there was an opening for American exporters.
Colombia had no local manufacturers, but supplied large quantities of tagua nut to the world. The use of buttons was limited “by climatic conditions, and many persons (being) scantily clad.” The general use of white clothing limited choice of buttons used to mostly white, including those made of porcelain, bone and pearl, from France, Germany, USA and Britain.
There was no local manufacture. The button trade limited mostly to cheaper types; small amount of MOP, vegetable ivory, bone and metal from Germany, France, Britain, and since the war, mainly from the USA and Japan.
All buttons were imported, mainly from France and Germany. Mostly cheaper buttons: MOP, bone, china, porcelain, corozo, wood, and metal bachelor’s buttons. Due to the local climate, the demand was for light coloured buttons for their light coloured clothing. Most clothing was made at home, with the few wealthy people buying their clothing overseas.
There was no manufacturing of any buttons. Buttons of all types were imported, mainly from Germany, excepting for vegetable ivory from Italy. Japan had just introduced imitation pearl buttons with increasing sales. Favoured types were vegetable ivory, MOP, metal, horn, glass, bone, glass, composition, porcelain and ivory. Small black glass buttons were important for mourning clothes. Popular types included small novelty, small coloured glass and small brass buttons, also fancy vest buttons and shoe buttons.
There was no local manufacture; there was a factory set up to make coconut shell buttons, but it had no money to start operating! Buttons used were” those suitable for women’s clothing of white goods or cotton prints and for men’s washable clothing of duck, denim, and khaki cloth.” It was noted that the fact clothes were usually washed by pounding them on stones resulted in a higher consumption of buttons! Types used were mainly bone, vegetable ivory and MOP, although all types of buttons were being imported, especially from Germany, Italy and France, but also Spain, USA and Austria. American buttons were considered more costly, but of much better quality.
Venezuela, 1915. Note the light coloured clothing.
In pre World War 1 times Austria-Hungry, Germany, France, Italy, England, Japan, and to a small extent, Spain, supplied the world’s (apart from the United States and Canada) buttons . The USA produced 90% of its own needs and greater than 50% of Canada’s. At the time of this report, the rest of the world outside of central Europe had to depend on USA, Japan, Italy and Spain for button supply. As the USA was by far the largest producer, there was considerable growth in its exports during the war. Therefore, this report was commissioned to supply information to the American industry. It was 182 pages long, so I’ll summarise over several posts. It provides interesting historical information about manufacturing, fashion and culture around the world. If you wish to read it in it’s entirety, see https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=d5MUAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&pg=GBS.PP1
Although importing was still happening from Great Britain, Italy and France in 1915, these countries were experiencing increased demands for uniform buttons, and problems of supply that allowed for countries such as Japan and America to increase their exports. For American manufacturers however, a challenge was to meet the low cost of buttons formerly sourced from Europe.
Military Alliances during WW1.
THE United States of America:
The trade was worth $19,476,056 in total in 1914. The table below shows that pearl button industry was the largest branch in quantity and value, followed by vegetable ivory.
Output from American factories in 1914.
America’s exports had nearly doubled in value from 1914 to 1915, with England, Canada, Australia and Cuba the largest purchasers. About two thirds of all vegetable ivory buttons were made in New York State. Two thirds of pearl button blanks were produced in Iowa but almost one half of finished pearl buttons were made in New York. Nearly all the bone buttons were made in Pennsylvannia. In 1916 there were around 20,000 people involved in the fresh-water pearl button industry. In 1917 around $45,000 value of these buttons were exported per monthly, with large qualitities going to central and South America. There were 112 ocean pearl factories in America in 1918, with most of that shell coming from the west coast of Australia.
The Roschman Brothers button factory in Queen (later Regina) Street, Waterloo. Bulit in 1886. Closed mid 1940s. Pearl shell buttons, buckles and cuff-links were made there.
The industry was not large with 15 factories in 1915. The main factories were located in Berlin (now called Kitchener) Waterloo, Toronto, Ganonoque and Montreal. America supplied 53% of its imports in 1914, rising to 64% in 1915. In Montreal the buttons made were mainly hand crochet, mohair and celluloid made mostly by makers of braid, cord and tassels rather than dedicated button producers. In Ottowa they made bone, metal and composition buttons. Wood buttons were also made in Canadian factories. In Ontorio manufacturers made vegetable ivory and fresh-water pearl buttons. Agate buttons were sourced from England and France, as they could not be sourced from America. Salt-water pearl buttons were being imported from Japan. There was an opportunity for American makers to meet the supply of fancy pearl and celluloid buttons previously sourced from Germany and France.
The Dominion Button Factory in 1964. This factory was built in 1910. Pearl buttons were made there.
Buttons were usually bought through French and German wholesalers. Buttons favoured were pearl, metal, horn, paste, porcelain and composition and cloth covered. There was a demand for plain polished brass and tinned buttons for military uniforms. It was noted that an officer’s dress uniform coat alone required 2 to 2.5 dozen buttons! Only poor quality pearl and bone buttons were made in Mexico.
West Indies (including Cuba):
There were no local manufacturing excepting for a very small quantity of hand covered crochet buttons from Jamaica.
Mother-of -pearl and bone buttons were preferred, also glass, horn, brass and linen. Before the war these came from Britain, Germany and France; since the war more came from America. In Cuba the preference for quality salt water pearl buttons was strong. In Martinque, there were high import tariffs excepting for French goods for exporters to contend with.
Overall the market was moderate to low, due to many people being too poor to wear clothes requiring buttons. In some areas, only buttons that could to stand up to the hot humid conditions were suitable. “Horn deteriorates, composition splits, and metal buttons rust out.” A lot of white, washable clothes were worn. The only buttons made locally were cloth covered over wooden moulds. Most buttons were imported from England, Austria, Italy, Germany and France. Shipping and low pricing were issues to be resolved by potential American exporters.
In British Honduras the preferred buttons were vegetable ivory buttons for coats and vests, coloured to match the fabric, with cheaper versions for trousers, plus a smaller quantity of brass buttons for men, plus pearl and linen buttons for women. In Costa Rica the market required pearl, bone, vegetable ivory, metal and cloth covered buttons. In Gutemala some glass and porcelain buttons were imported, also cloth covered and bone buttons. French style, rather than American were preferred by upper class Gutemalians. In Honduras pearl, white china, bone vegetable ivory and non-rusting metal buttons were used, but the demand was not high. Puerto Cortes required pants buttons in bone, composition or metal, white china and pearl. There was low demand from Nicaragua, but some bone, horn, composition, china, vegetable ivory, celluloid and glass buttons were imported. Panama mainly imported white and light coloured buttons to match their light coloured clothing; mostly corozo, metal, glass and cloth covered. In Salvatore the most favoured buttons were glass, metal, and corozo.