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 http://www.stokesbadges.com.au/about/ for further information and pictures.
Thomas Stokes (1831-1910) like many others, had come to Victoria to look for gold, arriving on New Year’s Day, 1854. Unsuccessful, he returned to his former trade and in 1856 set up business as a die-sinker, producing 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, probably continuing down to near Queens Wharf. He then moved to 115 Flinders Lane east.
Around June of 1868 his business was declared insolvent, and his tools, stock and plant advertised for auction. I presume he was able to trade out of trouble, as by December he was applying for the ‘certificate of discharge’ of his debts.
Stokes was in partnership with George Frederick Martin from about 1867 until some time after 1891 when a fire destroyed the business premises in Caledonian Lane. 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 would be correct as in July 1893 Stokes and Martins advertised that they had signed all their estate over to trustees for their creditors. None -the- less, I have seen a 1887 medallion struck for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee that is still marked ‘Stokes and Martin’. 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.
Thanks to Ian and Carol for sharing this button (above) from the Brighton Yacht Club, which started in 1875. Below; N.S.W. Military Forces uniform button and early artillery button. Both buttons are backmarked ‘Stokes & Martin’.
Stokes’ three sons entered the business. In 1893, after the partnership with Martin had dissolved, the firm was (possibly) renamed ‘Stokes and Son’, and then ‘Stokes and Sons’ by 1895. It changed again in 1911 to ‘Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd.’ Another fire considerably damaged the premises in Caledonian Lane (off Little Bourke Street) in 1901. By 1900 a branch was opened in Sydney. This was listed in the Sands Directory until 1912.
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.
In 1935 the firm moved to Brunswick. Several grandsons would join the firm.
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 was sold several years ago to a N.S.W. company (Perfection Plate Holdings) and continues as Stokes Badges.
Deborah Zinn found this article in a back issue of the National Button Bulletin. Love the photos of Thomas and his grandson Russell.