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Department of Commerce of USA
Special Consular reports
FOREIGN TRADE IN BUTTONS: 1ST APRIL 1916
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.