Stokes & Sons: 1856 – today

The subject of military/livery/uniform buttons is a study in its own right. This is not meant to be an exhaustive look at this subject, rather just to highlight Australian manufacturers. Please refer to specialty books/websites/clubs for more information on this topic. See also ‘Buttons in the News” page and  for further information and pictures.

If you do Facebook (I don’t) there is an ‘Australian Military Button Collectors’ group.


Thomas Stokes, 1831-1911

Thomas Stokes, 1831-1910.

Thomas William Stokes (1831-1910) came from Birmingham to Victoria to look for gold, arriving on New Year’s Day, 1854. Unsuccessful, he returned to his former trade and set up business as a die-sinker. He produced medals, tokens (unofficial pennies and half-pennies used due to a shortage of official coinage), buttons and silverware in Mincing Lane. This lane no longer exists, but ran between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane in the block between Queen and William Streets, probably continuing down to near Queens Wharf. He then moved to 115 Flinders Lane east.

The Argus, 28th August 1854. Possibly the first reference to Stokes die-sinking, although he’s not named.

The Argus (Melbourne) 4th October 1855. The Mincing Lane address consisted of one room. At this stage Thomas worked alone.

The Argus (Melbourne), 3rd April 1856.  In May he advertised as ‘cutting wood letters for large posters’, and wanting an apprentice.

The Argus (Melbourne), 10th November, 1856.

The Age, 18th February 1857. The Age writer was attributing the start of the industry to the tailor, which annoyed Thomas; see below!

Published in The Age (Melbourne), 19th February 1857.

Williamstown Chronicle,  21st February 1857.

Thomas Stkoes business at 100 Collins Street, Melbourne from circa 1858-1862.

The Thomas Stokes, (later Stokes and Martin), business at 100 Collins Street East, Melbourne from circa 1858-1881. When this building was sold in 1881 he had moved to 29 Little Collins Street by July and remained there until around July 1888 when they moved to Caledonian Lane/Post Office Place.

Advertising token made by Stokes & Martin.







Published 16th May 1859, in The Age (Melbourne). This is  likely to be Thomas Stokes, although he’s not named.

 The Colonial Mining Journal, Railway and Share Gazette and Illustrated Record, 7th february 1861.

The Colonial Mining Journal, Railway and Share Gazette and Illustrated Record (Victoria), 7th February 1861.

Around June of 1868 his business was declared insolvent. His tools, stock and plant were advertised for auction as well as land and a timber dwelling. He must have been able to trade out of trouble, and by December he was applying for the ‘certificate of discharge’ of his debts. The business would continue at the same address as before the insolvency.

Medal to commemorate the visit of Prince Alfred to Australia in 1867. The words “Stokes and Martin” can be seen in small print under the bust.

Victorian Almanac for 1875

Victorian Almanac for 1884.

Stokes was in partnership with George Frederick Martin from about 1867, the time of his insolvency, until some time after 1891 when a fire destroyed the business premises in Caledonian Lane. ( The building ran between  Little Bourke Street a.k.a ‘Post Office Place’ and Bourke Street. The address was referred to as 246 1/2 Post Office Place) . They were not insured, and suffered losses estimated around £15,000. According to differing sources, either because Martin had not renewed the fire insurance, or because of the recession that occurred in Melbourne in the 1890’s, the partnership was dissolved. According to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney this was in 1893. This could be correct as in July 1893 Stokes and Martin advertised that they had signed all their estate over to trustees for their creditors.  It 1892, there was a report of  a trial connected with fraud conducted against a bank of which Martin’s brother, Charles R. Martin was a director. In that, it was revealed that Stokes & Martin had owed that bank 4,000 pounds, and Charles had personally loaned the firm money. Although mention of  a robbery at the premise of ‘Stokes and Martin’ was reported in 1898 in multiple newspapers, this was presumably in error.

George Martin had come to Australia in 1852 and died in 1912, aged 82 years. He was a member for the Malvern Shire Council from 1882-8.

 The Argus ()Melbourne), 22nd October 1870.


The Ballarat Star (Victoria), 11th October 1871.

















Published in The Herald, 8th March 1912



The Brighton Yacht Club, which started in 1875.









N.S.W. Military Forces uniform button.








It is an artillery button,  but without the usual crown over the gun.  From other (although more recent)  examples online,  this may mean it was from the Royal Artillery Uniformed Staff Association.

Note the P.O.P. which stands for Post Office Place, the address of the form from around 1888-1934.










Victorian  Volunteer Cadets Corps.








Thomas and his wife Ellen had 9 children, 8 of whom survived into adulthood. Of these, Henry Richmond (1861-1919), Frederick Percy (1863-1939), Thomas William (1871-1913) and Edgar Vincent (1878-1932) were involved with the firm. Another son, Charles Sydney (1874-1939) was a shipping agent, but not part of the firm as far as I can find. In 1893, after the partnership with Martin had dissolved, the firm was possibly renamed ‘Stokes and Son’, and then  ‘Stokes and Sons’.

The Age, 21st November 1893. The first record of ‘Stokes and Sons’.

It changed again in 1911 to ‘Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd.’  (However, note that the mark ‘Stokes & Sons’ appeared on the back of buttons until 1962.) Another fire considerably damaged the premises in Caledonian Lane (off Little Bourke Street) in 1901.


An article in The Advertiser (Adelaide), 23rd March 1905 about the tariff commission. Despite being described as “late”, Thomas did not die until the 13th June 1910. Perhaps the newspaper meant ‘retired’. His sons Henry, Frederick, Thomas and Edgar followed in the business,  as did Henry’s son Russell. Henry died of influenza in 1919, only 9 years after his father.

The gentleman on the right is Henry Richmond Stokes (1869-1919), who was a renown cyclist, as was his brother Fred (below).


Sportsman 9th July 1884

The Age 21st October 1939

Obituary from the Herald  27th September 1932:

“Stokes, principal in Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd., near Post Office Place. Mr Stokes was widely known among sporting and other clubs as a maker of medals and metal badges.For a long period, he had been contractor to the Victoria Racing Club, the Victoria Amateur Turf Club, the Defence and other Government departments, and was formerly the contractor for the supply of badges to the Melbourne Cricket Club. He has left a widow and family. The burial took place today in the Brighton Cemetery.”
By 1900 a branch was opened in Clarence Street, Sydney. On the 1st February 1913, Mr Francis Henry Muller became a partner. This branch was offered for sale in December 1913, and Muller became the sole proprietor. The name was changed to Sterling Plating & Manufacturing Co on 3rd February 1915.

Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser, 31st July 1900.

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Stokes & Sons, Sydney, was listed in the Sands directory from at least 1901-1912. (from Carol’s collection.)

Postal services became Commonwealth at Federation.


In 1906 the firm won a tender for military buttons for Tasmanian and New South Wales forces.  The prices ranged from 25 shillings per gross for gilt buttons, to 2 shillings, 3 pence per gross for brass buttons. Thomas Stokes died on the 13th June, 1910. Below is one of the many contracts for military buttons to be found in the Commonwealth Gazettes.

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Staff and equipment, Stokes and Sons, 1909. From the State Library of Victoria.

(Museum Victoria collection) A medal and coin press in use at Stokes &​ Sons, Melbourne, circa 1907. This press had originally been brought to Australia in 1853 by Reginald Scaife for the Kangaroo Office venture (Australia’s first private mint) and had been used to mint the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition medals. Thomas Stokes purchased the press from Scaife in 1857, using it until it was scrapped in the 1930s.

Published in The Argus (Melbourne), 14th June 1910.

In 1935 the firm moved to Brunswick. Several grandsons would join the firm.

From the ‘City of Melbourne Collection’ depicting a lane with a sign informing that Stokes has moved. This would be Caledonian Lane. The firm moved in 1935. The quality of the original photo is poor, sorry.

Journal of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects, 1936.

Photo from 1936.

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From the Federation University Australia Historical Collection.








The firm employed 280 people by 1939. The name changed to ‘Stokes (Australasia) Ltd’ in 1962.  In 2015 the manufacturing plant (originally purchased in 1956 and located in Ringwood, Victoria) was closed. However, the button and badge making division had been sold to a N.S.W. company (Perfection Plate Holdings) and continues as Stokes Badges.

"These are the expert employes (sic) of Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd., manufactures of Georgian silver ware, badges and medals, and die sinkers, who have a modern factory in Albert Street , Brunswick. published in The Age 25th May 1939

“These are the expert employes (sic) of Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd., manufactures of Georgian silver ware, badges and medals, and die sinkers, who have a modern factory in Albert Street , Brunswick. Published in The Age (Melbourne) 25th May 1939.

The Argus, 13th September 1946

The Argus (Melbourne), 13th September 1946.

Russell at his wedding in 1935.




Buttons: back marked Stokes & Sons top: pre-1901 Victorian Police Force, Qantas Empire Airways centre: Australian Military Forces ?WW2 bottom: 1903-10 Australian Commonwealth Military Forces x 2

Buttons backmarked ‘Stokes & Sons’. Top row: pre-1901 Victorian Police Force (Queen Victoria crown), Qantas Empire Airways,1934-1967. Note that there is a ‘rising sun’ symbol above the coat of arms. Bottom row: 1903-10 Australian Commonwealth Military Forces and Victorian Railways (VR) pre 1953.
Centre: Australian Military Forces, backmarked ‘Stokes’, i.e. post 1962.

left: Victoria Counrt Fire Brigades (1891-1945) centre: State Electricity Commision 1921 tramways uniform button. right: Scottisk style diamond button with thistle. ?band uniform. Backmarked Stokes (1960 onwards)

Left: Victoria Country Fire Brigades (1891-1945).
Centre: State Electricity Commission 1921 tramways uniform button.
Right: Scottish style diamond button with thistle for band uniform. Backmarked ‘Stokes’ ( this dates it 1962 onwards).

3 Australian Navy buttons. Note the different backs, hollow back and loop. Melbourne Fire Bureau, Artillary.

L to R: 3 Australian Navy buttons (note the different backs; hollow back and loop), Melbourne Fire Bureau, Artillery.

The national Coat of Arms on a uniform button of staff of the Government House, Hobart.

This ‘Yellow Cab’ button came a 3/4 inch and 1 inch sizes.

Australian Staff Corps.

Small (aprox.13mm) plain gold buttons from Stokes Melbourne.








?South Australian General Service buttons. The one on the left has no lettering, the other just ‘SA’.


Metropolitan Abattoirs

Trans Australian Airlines








Navy, QV crown





Tasmanian Police Services. The Staybrite coating wears off.

Royal Australian Artillery and a ‘Flaming grenade” style artillery button.

Cam Smith

Campaigners for Christ Volunteers

Royal Australian Army Nursing Crops. If you rub the lamp, a nurse appears.

Australian National Airways

MSS Security

Merchant Navy, WW2 era.

British Petroleum post 1961, backmark Stokes Vic














2 Royal Marine buttons by Stokes post 1961. The Staybrite coating does not always wear well.

South Australian Railway (pre 1901), Merchant Navy,Tramways board.

RAAF pre 1952.







Backmarked: Stokes & Sons


Maritme Services Board  of New South Wales. Date 1937-1952.

SA Fire Brigade. QV crown. Markers mark: Stokes & Sons Melbourne


R.A.A.M.C. Stokes & Sons The Australian Army Medical Corps was formed in 1902 from colonial units and received the Royal prefix in 1948. This is a ‘rose gold’ anodised Staybrite type button, post 1951.

Deborah Zinn found this article in the July-August 1973 issue of the National Button Bulletin. Love the photos of Thomas and his grandson Russell.

“T.V. Stokes” quoted in the article from 1973 was Thomas Vincent Stokes (b.1916), son of Edgar Vincent Stokes, grandson of Thomas.

Over the years backmarks have included:







For more images, see