22nd September 2019


I have bought a booklet produced by ‘Art in Buttons’ (the branding of vegetable ivory buttons by the Rochester Button Company) from1927 that offers a glimpse into another era.

Cover of “Volume XXX March 1927 number 2”

According to an article by Jeff Ludwig (see http://media.democratandchronicle.com/retrofitting-rochester/rochester-button-company)

The company was founded in1887 as the M. B. Schantz Company, changing its name in 1904. It absorbed several other button manufactures to become a large company with a reputation for high quality products. In its heyday it supplied buttons for major fashion producers and department stores, producing up to “3,000 different kind of buttons”. In the 1940s it changed from vegetable ivory to plastics made to mimic horn. They ceased production of vegetable ivory buttons in January 1946. The company was bought out in 1968, then again in 1983. Increasing competition lead to downsizing then in 1990, the closure of this iconic Rochester firm.

The booklet proudly boasts of the superior quality ‘ivory’ button produced in its modern factory. It was proud of the fact that whilst ” Other merchandise of all kinds is selling today from 125% to 200% above pre-war prices, while Art in Buttons sells its quality buttons for less than pre-war prices ..”

It was marketing also “Fashion Horn”, a vegetable ivory button made to mimic horn, but without the “rough holes and edges which cut the thread and fray the button holes ” as well not warping out of shape. They also had the advantage of uniform appearance, unlike real horn. Also, they were cheaper!

The company claimed to be the oldest corporation in the USA exclusively making ‘ivory’ buttons. Its factory was twice the size of the next largest vegetable ivory factory.

Located in an 8 -acre park it had approximately 250,000 square feet of floor space.

They predicted that the economic status of the “average citizen” was such that men were likely to be spending more on their clothing than they had for some years. “He will not get along with one suit, but will have, in addition, sports clothes and a dressy suit. He will have two overcoats, – one for dress and another for knockabout wear.”

The booklet explained that due to the size of ivory nuts, larger size buttons were harder to produce. Many nuts were simply too small to make overcoat buttons from. They quoted that it took ” 6 nuts to get one 45 line button, 7 nuts to get one 50 line button, 28 nuts to get one 55 line button”  (Lines, or lignes is a measurement used in button manufacturing, with 10L to the 1/4 inch. The 55 L size mentioned measures approx 24mm or 1 3/8 inches).

The photos below show a sample/souvenir box from Art in Buttons from an auction site. Wouldn’t you love to have it!

Many of the tailors’ button featured in this blog were made in places like Birmingham from vegetable ivory.


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