New Zealand Button History

Information for this page were in large part sourced from New Zealand’s National Library’s resource, ‘Papers Past’.  

I also found this history useful;—plastics-new-zealand

The history of button manufacturing in New Zealand followed a similar course to that in Australia. Total reliance on imports gave way to local manufacturing and even exporting.  Finding value from the waste products of the county’s growing meat and diary industry,  buttons were made from teeth and bones,and casein was exported.

Published 25th Mar 1881 in the Star

Published 25th Mar 1881 in The Star.


Published Auckland Star, 20th December 1919

Published Auckland Star, 20th December 1919.


Wanted ads for two button factories, in the Auckland Star, 1920.

In 1939 in the suburb of Petone, Lower Hutt, a company called the  American Button Company started manufacturing fashion buttons. Reportedly, before this factory opened there had not been a significant local production. From the article below  it seems likely that the ‘American Button Company’ was making covered buttons:

Auckland Star, 23rd December 1919.


Published in The Queenslander, 14th May 1931

Published in The Queenslander, 14th May 1931.

How you gonna keep them down on the farm? Well, it wasn’t just Broadway pulling the young folk away, there was also the chance to sew buttons!

Published in the Evening Advocate (Queensland) 10th November 1941

Published in the Evening Advocate (Queensland), 10th November 1941.

Major world events had local impacts. The  New Zealand plastics industry made major contributions during WW2, producing large quantities of buttons for uniforms as well as millions of toothbrushes! In 1945 it was reported that the entry of Japan into the war had meant the loss of New Zealand’s main supply of pearl buttons. The  local fresh-water mussels and trochus shells were of no commercial use, and supply from India was insufficient. This changed demand from pearl to plastic buttons,  locally made as well as imported from the USA and Canada. Post war, world-wide shortages of supplies prompted charity efforts like that below;

Published in the Auckland Star, 21st March 1945

Published in the Auckland Star, 21st March 1945.

There were  two major plastic button producers:

British Buttons and Buckles(General Plastics)

Initial shareholders included A.G. Griffiths, O. C. Rheuben and N. R.  Rheuben, who were involved in button manufacturing in Australia (O.C. Rheuben & Co, which would become ‘General Plastics’ in 1941). This new Zealand company  was also renamed General Plastics (circa 1946). Headed by Jack Quinn,  it produced Beauclaire branded buttons. The buttons were made by compression molding, pressing of slugs, and later injection molding. At one stage the company employed 70-80 people and was exporting container loads of buttons.

Evening Post, 31st July 1939.

In November that year it was reported in the Evening Post that “The new factory already employs 50 hands and it is expected that the staff will increase to 70 when full production is attained. Already the company has delivered nearly 10,000 gross of buttons and it is contended that it can produce 1000,000 gross per aNnum”. It was not making men’s buttons or pearl buttons, rather women’s fashion buttons.

Like Beauclaire cards, but with a different branding: Astoria ?circa 1950. Below are several photos of a display box of Astoria buttons.

Advertising card

Unbranded cards, but General Plastic buttons:






Probably 1950s-60s.


Post Beauclaire/Leda merge. The bottom row of buttons are positioned over holes punched into the card, and with a strip of sticky-tape behind the card holding them in place. I wonder who thought that was a good idea?

Beauclaire buttons produced in Petone. Notice the play on words “the Leda in fashion”. This presumably dates the buttons to the late 1950s when the companies merged.

It appears that Delphi also was merged with Beauclaire.

All these are labelled as approved by the NZ Drycleaners.

On 13th April, 1965, an electrical short circuit initiated an exposition of plastic dust which had accumulated below floor boards in the factory in Masterton. The explosions was so massive that 300kg machinery was thrown onto the roof. Four people were killed, six were injured, and it would have been worse had not most of the staff been on a tea break.

The company  became New Zealand Casein Plastics Ltd in 1969. In 1988 a joint venture was formed with New Zealand Dairy Co. and a Japanese company, Nissei Kyoeki, to manufacture casein buttons for the Japanese market. This venture only lasted two years. The company wound up in 2004/5 as competition with cheaper polyester buttons as well as a rising NZ dollar against a sluggish Japanese economy took its toll. The final seven workers were laid off.

Buttons (N.Z.) Ltd./Falcon Plastics

Joseph Henry Faulconbridge (1800 – 1955) was involved in clothing production. In 1934, starting from his backyard and with a few pounds capital, he started a button factory producing wood and pearl buttons. In 1936 he listed Buttons (New Zealand) Limited with his sons Roy and Ian and expanded production to cast resin, casein and compression molded plastic buttons in Auckland. The company became Falcon Plastics after 1945, with Ian as production manager and Roy as managing director. They produced items such as kitchen ware as well as buttons.

Auckland Star 30th December 1936.


Auckland Star, 18th December 1940

Auckland Star, 18th December 1940.


Published in the Auckland Star 29th March 1944

Published in the Auckland Star, 29th March 1944.

Auckland Star, 3rd November 1945.

This lovely card came from New Zealand. On the bottom right hand corner is a fancy ‘F’. On the top left hand corner is a bird of prey. This is Falcon Plastics branding.

Falcon Plastics also made ‘Duraware’ melamine picnic ware.

The Titan wash buttons card is the same design as for Beutron wash buttons.

The “All Purpose” and “Boil Tested” cards are the same as Australian, except they reference NZ design on the back.

This design card was unique to New Zealand.


NZ Beutron cards. Note the difference from Australian cards.

NZ Beutron cards. Note the difference from Australian cards. Thanks to Carol.


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As these Korbond branded buttons (below) were made in Auckland,  I presume they were made in the Falcon Plastics factory.

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Minor Manufacturers and Tailors Buttons:

A. LEVY Ltd., Wellington

Abraham Levy, tailor, was supplying uniforms from at least 1913. In 1916 he was in trouble.  Apparently he used cotton instead of linen thread!

Evening Star 25th August 1916

Evening Star 25th August 1916.

The case must have been resolved as he continued to supply government uniforms. The company was incorporated in June 1918, several months after his premature death at the age of 55 years, and finally liquidated in 1993.







Otago Daily Times, 25th January 1927. This may date the above NZ Rail button.

Ballantyne & Co, Christchurch:

John Ballantyne was born in Scotland in 1825.  He traveled to Australia in 1852 then to New Zealand in 1871.   Arriving in Christchurch in 1872 he was encouraged to take over a drapery firm,  Dunstable House that had been established in 1854.  The business became J. Ballantyne & Co. in 1920.  The company trades today as Ballantynes.

These buttons were sold at Ballantynes’s.

H.B. Craighead Ltd., Wellington:







The Craighead family were tailors in New Zealand for several generations. Hugh Clark, Edwin George and his brother William Bruce Craighead were tailors and outfitters in Ashburton on the South Island. It appears W.B moved to Wellington and continued as a tailor. Huia Bruce Craighead was born in Wellington in 1897 so presumably was William’s son. H.B. would also become a tailor and from around 1932 traded as H.B. Craighead Ltd.

 Horn Buttons and Accessories Ltd:  Wellington

This company started in 1940 and was still advertising for staff in 1945. I don’t know when it folded.

Evening Post, 30th September 1940.

Kawali Island Industries:

Kawau Island lies in the Hauraki Gulf off the north Eastern coast of New Zealand. It is approximately 8×5 km. Ten percent of the Island is under control of the Department of Conservation, including an historical mansion and remains of  a copper mine. Considerable damage has been done to the environment due to introduced species, particularly wallabies. A trust is working to reverse some of this damage. The wooden buttons may be tourist or perhaps fundraising items.

Location of Kawau Island off the North Island of NZ.


New Zealand Clothing Factory (Hallenstein Brothers): Dunedin

In 1873 The New Zealand Clothing Factory was established in Dunedin to supply the Hallenstein Brothers clothing stores. By 1900 there were 30 “HB” clothing stores across the country. A grand new headquarters was built in 1882-3 which housed up to 300 employees. The opening was celebrated with a ball for 500-600 people. The company continues today, but now most of the clothing is made in China.

The NZ Clothing Factory, 18-20 Dowling Street, Dunedin.

The NZ Clothing Factory, 18-20 Dowling Street, Dunedin.



Otago Daily Times, 15th April 1890.


As the above newspaper article outlines,  the factory manufactured military uniforms. I have just received NZ artillery buttons,  including these 2 from the New Zealand Clothing Factory.

Note the Queen Victoria Crown, dating the buttons pre-1902.

Ross & Glendining: Dunedin.


Two of these are backmarked Ross and Glendining. One is Stokes and Sons, Melbourne.

In August 1862 two Scotsmen,  John Ross and Robert Glending,  took over a drapery store in Dunedin. It was the start of a business that would last until 1966. They changed from retail drapery to wholesale and importing when they opened a warehouse in 1865.

The warehouse as it looked in 1908.

The warehouse as it looked in 1906.

Their traveling salesmen would sell goods from Europe all over New Zealand. The business diversified into sheep farming, milling and manufacturing in the 1870’s. In 1879 they built the Roslyn Woollen Mill in the Kalkora valley, Dunedin, producing yarn, blankets, flannel, plaiding, knitwear, hosiery and men and boys wear. The buttons and trimmings were sourced from London. They were the largest manufacturing firm in New Zealand, even expanding into coal mining.


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By the 1900’s over 500 people were employed at the mill. The business changed from a partnership to a Limited company.  John Ross remained involved in the company until the 1920’s, and his sons continued after that. The number of factories increased producing clothes and shoes under various fashion labels. In the 1960s the firm struggled, finally being sold and broken up after over a century of trading in 1966. The mill continued under new ownership until 1980.

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Van Staveren, Wellington:

Sweetheart brooch made from a military button.






In Wellington the name of van Staveren was well known.  Herman van Steveren (1849-1930) was the Rabbi of Wellington from 1877 until his death.  He was very active in the community,  serving on charitable and hospital boards, for example.   Three of his sons (out of 13 children) opened Van Staveren Bros. Limited in 1905 as general traders and importers.  The firm finally closed in the 1980’s.

As merchants rather than tailors,  they must have been involved in the supply of  of soldiers’ uniforms.  As 4 sons volunteered in WW1,  the family was obviously proud to contribute.

The Art Deco style Van Staveren Building, built 1937.

Rabbi Herman van Staveren, wife Miriam with children and grandchildren c.1925

The Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company, Limited.







This company was incorporated in 1882 and commenced manufacturing in 1886.  The head office,  warehouse and clothing factory were situated in a three/four story brick building in Petone,  near Wellington.  The mills were also in Petone.                       

Looms in the mill, c.1906
The Warehouse, Wellington in the 1920’s.
The Head Office, corner of Willeston and Victoria Streets, Petone.

Other Kiwi buttons:

Paua Shell:

Paua is the Maori name for several species of sea-snails, known elsewhere as abalone.

Native wooden buttons:

Kawau Island lies in the Hauraki Gulf off the north Eastern coast of New Zealand. It is approximately 8×5 km. Ten percent of the Island is under control of the Department of Conservation, including an historical mansion and remains of  a copper mine. Considerable damage has been done to the environment due to introduced species, particularly wallabies. A trust is working to reverse some of this damage. The wooden buttons may be tourist, or perhaps fundraising items.

Sweetheart brooch:

Items such as this, made from 3 uniform buttons, were bought or made as a gift for a sweetheart, wife or mother to wear whilst her boy served overseas.

The buttons were made in London and by Stokes and Sons, Melbourne.