19th February 2020

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Department of Commerce of USA

Special Consular reports

FOREIGN TRADE IN BUTTONS: 1ST APRIL 1916

PART 2:

SOUTH AMERICA:

Argentina:

Rio De Janerio, 1915.

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.

Brazil:

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.

British Guiana:

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.

Chile:

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:

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.

Ecuador:

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.

Paraguay:

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.

Peru:

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.

Venezuela:

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.

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