Plaited leather buttons may date from when men started to wear tweed jackets during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As mentioned on the “WW2 and Onwards” page of this blog, hand made leather buttons became very popular after WW2 for sports coats etc, and a local industry evolved to met the demand. One of the people to get involved in this industry was Wilhelm (Willy) Friedhelm, a Czechoslavakian who came to Melbourne after the war to start a new life. Ladies at home could make plaited leather buttons by the gross as outworkers, earning some extra money to help with household expenses. The knotted buttons were collected for finishing. They were then soaked in dye, dried, pressed into shape in moulds and lacquered. A lady who used to make buttons for him gave a talk about her experiences at the Victorian Button Collectors’ Club in 2014. Mr Friedman ran this business until he retired in about 1977. The local trade eventually suffered from competition with cheaper leather buttons imported from China.
Deborah recently supplied me with two leather buttons with patent numbers on the back. The one on the left, labelled AUST PAT 251753 led me back to Mr Friedman! The number relates to a patent applied for on 4th February 1962 for “Improvements in and relating to buttons” by Wilhelm Friedman. The other patent number, on the other button, is not Australian.