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Birmingham Button Manufacturing: Part 7
Manufacturers mentioned by John Pemberton Turner in 1866.
Benjamin Sanders & Sons:
Benjamin Sanders (1763-1852) lived a colourful life, travelling and trading around the world. With his sons Benjamin junior (1796-1840) and Thomas Tudor Sanders (1805-1881) he made an enduring mark on button manufacturing. Whilst the firm was not always located in Birmingham, it was there for a period, and also in nearby Bromsgrove (13 miles SW of Birmingham).
Benjamin was born in Worchester (31 miles SW of Birmingham) in 1763. In the 1780s he was a tailor in London. He took his family to America in 1792, surviving storms and pirates. They spent 3 year in New York, surviving Yellow Fever, then set off for Copenhagen, surviving another storm and a French man-of-war. After building up a profitable business, Britain declared war on Denmark and bombed Copenhagan including Sander’s own house! Not surprisingly, he needed to return to England in 1807 and start again.
Whilst living in Lambeth, South London in 1813, with the technical assistance of his name-sake son, he patented the production of cloth covered buttons by machinery. The machine had to stamp out the parts, attach a shank to the back then cover the whole with fabric.
The buttons were cloth covered in which the cloth was held in position with a metal plate with a slot. The shank was secured to the body, passed through the slot and opened with a skewer to hold it tight.
He then moved to Birmingham to take advantage of his patent in the centre of the button making trade. He move to nearby Bromsgrove in 1821 , another button making town, to get away from his competitors, first in High Street then at Sidemoor Mill. In 1825 his son patented the “flexible shank button”. This type of button had a cloth patch protruding through the metal back plate. This allowed the button to be stitched snug and flat onto the garment.
Later they patented a 3-part metal version with a steel back plate and a loop shank instead of the cloth patch. This is referred to as the “Sanders type” button. They also invented the modern ‘snap-fastener’.
By 1830 there were 300 employees, mostly women earning one shilling and one pence per day. George Nicholls became manager then later a partner in the firm. His son left school to become manager after his father’s sudden death in 1890, aged only fifteen. He bought the firm in 1908. However, Today, it still trades under the name of Sanders as a badge making firm. However, button production ceased around 2014.
New inventions and changes in fashion dictated the sorts of buttons produced by the firm over time:
1825-late 1890s: covered buttons.
Early 1900s: velvet covered, braid covered, satin covered. Starts to make ladies’ buttons. Celluloid.
1923: Casein buttons started.
1924: Bought the Worcester Button Co, that specialised in leather and branded trouser buttons.
1930s: gilt and chromium plated, Injection moulding
1940s: due to war-time shortages, buttons from waste perspex.