Federation to WW2

Even before federation,  there were “protectionist” versus “free-trade” views on promoting the Australian manufacturing industry.  Post Federation,  the subject of raising or lowering tariffs on goods such as buttons would arise repeatedly over the years.

Published in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) 21st September 1930

Published in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane),  21st September 1930.

Published in The Advertiser (Adelaide) 27th March 1935

Published in The Advertiser (Adelaide),  27th March 1935.

Published in The Age (Melbourne) 13th March 1935

Published in The Age (Melbourne), 13th March 1935.

The Great War caused many disruptions,  including to manufacturing,  with some goods and materials becoming unavailable,  and some factory’s outputs completely turning over to the requirements of  war.  In Germany, due to the lack of local supplies of brass,  nickel and tin,  all loose pins,  hooks and eyes as well as metal buttons were confiscated for use in munition production.  Only carded buttons and packets of pins and hooks could be sold.  Although circumstances weren’t quite so extreme here,  shortages still occurred.

Published in The Argus, 28th October 1915

Published in The Argus,  28th October 1915.

The Sun (Sydney) 11th July 1914

The Sun (Sydney) 11th July 1914.  It seems not everyone approved of the new design of buttons for the forces. (see an example below).

AMF button; backmarked K.C.Luke Pty.Ltd.Melb

AMF button made by  K.C.Luke Pty.Ltd. Melbourne.

Screen shot 2016-01-11 at 9.52.11 PM

Published in The Daily News (Perth),  25th January, 1919.

An example of small scale button making by individual, or husband and wife teams. Published in the Port Melbourne Standard on 4th May 1918.

An example of small scale button making by individual or husband and wife team.  Published in the Port Melbourne Standard on 4th May 1918.

Published in the News (Adelaide), 25th October 1933

Published in the News (Adelaide),  25th October 1933.

On the 29th August 1934 this article was published in the Daily News (Perth) detailing the growth in the button manufacturing industry in Australia at that time.

Screen shot 2016-05-14 at 9.21.46 PM Screen shot 2016-05-14 at 9.22.13 PM Screen shot 2016-05-14 at 9.22.34 PM Screen shot 2016-05-14 at 9.22.46 PM

The Sun (Sydney) 13th may 1937.

The Sun (Sydney), 13th may 1937.

Published 1st June 1935 in The Australian Women’s Weekly  (Herculoid was a celluloid product made by DuPonts).

Published in the News (Adelaide) 17th August 1940.

Published in the News (Adelaide),  17th August 1940.


 From around 1908,  dairy producers started exporting casein to America, then England, for the manufacture of casein.  According to “An insight into Plastics” by BTR Nylex Ltd.,  the plastics industry started in Australia around 1917,  with buttons moulded from imported phenol-formaldehyde powder being among the first products manufactured.

While shell,  wood,  glass and metal buttons were still common,  plastic became more and more dominant.  This was  driven by the technological developments and demands of World War 2.


As early as 1856 an early form of ‘celluloid’ was developed,  although it was not until the 1890’s that celluloid buttons were produced.  Many ‘pin-back’ buttons were produced and sold in Australia from circa 1900 on “Button Days” for fund-raising.  Collecting these is a popular hobby,  separate from that of clothing buttons.

It could be a dangerous industry,  due to the highly flammable nature of this plastic.  Factory fires,  some fatal,  occurred both here and overseas.  A later form,  cellulose acetate, which was cheaper and  less flammable than cellulose nitrate,  was used to make buttons in Australia by companies such as Leda in the 1950’s.  It was sometimes trademarked as  ‘Permaloid’.


According to  ‘An Insight Into Plastics’  by BTR Nylex Ltd,  in 1917 buttons were moulded from powdered phenol-formadehyde  (e.g. Bakelite)  imported into Australia.  Moulded Plastics (Australasia) Pty. Ltd. made ‘Duperite’ products from 1932.  These included  buttons for the Australian Military Forces between 1940-44.

AMF button made of 'Duperite'

AMF button made of ‘Duperite’


 Casein, a.k.a. Galalith  (literal meaning ‘milk-stone’) or ‘Erinoid’ was first presented in 1900.  It was an inexpensive and more humane alternative to ivory,  horn and bone products.  Casein was favoured for button production because it wasn’t flammable like celluloid,  and could be produced in many colours.  It also polished up to a beautiful luster.  Initially Australian made casein was mostly  exported to markets such as Canada,  the USA,  England and Japan where it was made into many products including buttons,  buckles,  and combs.  Many people bemoaned the fact that,  just like with so much other Australian produce,  it was exported only to be re-imported as value-added objects.  A newspaper report from December 1929 stated that “no buttons were (being) manufactured in Australia.”  However,  this is incorrect,  as the Herrman’s were producing casein buttons in the 1920’s (see the General Plastics page).  In 1935, at the North Coast National Exhibition,  casein buttons , products of Norco, were displayed.  In the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, is a casein formaldehyde button made in 1944 by General Plastics.  They claim it to be “one of the earliest… to be manufactured in New South Wales.”   This again is  mistaken as explained in a 1945 a newspaper article;  “For many years,  Australian factories have been making buttons from casein plastic;  one enterprise alone makes 45 million buttons.”

Some controversy occurred when it was claimed that weevils had been eating English-made casein buttons.   Mr Riddle, manager of Milk Industries,  denied this;  “I can set your mind at rest regarding the fears that beetles and mice eat into the buttons.  This does not occur at all with casein buttons,  but is a common complaint with vegetable ivory nut buttons.  Casein buttons are not attacked by any pest,  and will keep indefinitely unless they are immersed in water.  This information will probably enable you to set the minds of yours friends at rest,  and also to recommend them to use the casein button instead of the inferior imported ivory nut.” (Northern Star, Lismore,  5 July 1934).  I’m not sure he was a disinterested party if the following article was true….

Published in the Portland Guardian 6th December 1943

Published in the Portland Guardian 6th December 1943

At various times during the 1930’s  submissions were made to the Tariff Board about imposing duties onto imported casein sheets.  Some wanted the local casein production to be encouraged and local button production increased.  Others in the fashion industry were concerned that not enough colours could be made locally,  and that the fashion industry would suffer if importation of casein was made more expensive.

WW2 saw an increased demand for casein for manufacture of uniform buttons,  paint,  adhesives and also in aircraft production.  Therefore, it became a ‘declared commodity’ with the price under government control.  The export of casein powder was banned.  In 1947 local producers were asking for this ban to be lifted.  People working in a wide range of employment, including button manufacturing ,  were not free to change employment without a permit.  The following article describes how the sudden demand created problems,  and opportunities, for many manufacturers.  Some of these manufacturers are outlined below.

Queensland Times (Ipswich) 30th November 1939

Queensland Times (Ipswich), 30th November 1939.

Tweed Daily (NSW) 25th January 1940

Tweed Daily (NSW), 25th January 1940.















The Newcastle Sun 10th November 1939

The Newcastle Sun (NSW), 10th November 1939.

Khaki wool pants made by H.R.Hayman in 1940: Australian War Memorial collection.

Khaki wool pants made by H.R.Hayman in 1940: Australian War Memorial collection.  The company was listed from 1937-2009.

















Published in The Australian (Melb) 20th May 1922

Published in The Australian (Melbourne), 20th May 1922.

Published in The Age (Melb) 2nd January 1934

Published in The Age (Melbourne),  2nd January 1934.

‘Statement’ buttons were popular after WW2 to decorate the otherwise  austere style of clothing in vogue at the time.  One local maker of these were Grant Featherston with his beautiful glass buttons.  Another producer was Marie Gardner.

Screen shot 2017-04-13 at 7.40.43 PM

Ian F’s collection.

Marie Gardner, 1899-1971,  began studying pottery at Sydney Technical College in 1938.  In 1947 she set up a small pottery studio in her backyard in Harbord,  Sydney,  and produced vases,  lamps,  wall pockets,  cruets and other decorative pieces. 

Screen shot 2017-04-13 at 9.10.28 PMScreen shot 2017-04-13 at 9.09.33 PM






Screen shot 2017-04-13 at 8.51.47 PM

The Sunday Herald, 26th July 1953.  A piece of Marie’s work was chosen for the Museum of Applied Science in Sydney.

The buttons were  very successful during and after WW2,  filling the void left by European buttons that could not be imported at that time.  There were around 12 different moulds with many colour and finish variations.

Another producer was Austrian born  Anna Louise Alma who had moved to Sydney.

The Sun, 20th October 1947.

The Sun, 20th October 1947.  The ad below probably refers to her buttons.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 16th December 1947.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 16th December 1947.

The Age 6th April 1950.

The Age (Melbourne),  6th April 1950.


Courtesy of the Museum of Applied Arts. It is described as " 3 sets of plastic buttons bought from ALA between 1950-1957." However, the top row appear to be ceramic.

Courtesy of the Museum of Applied Arts.  It is described as ” 3 sets of plastic buttons bought from ALA between 1950-1957.”  However,  the top row at least appear to be ceramic.

Published in Weekly Times (Melb) 14th April 1948

Published in Weekly Times (Melbourne), 14th April 1948.

Published in The Age (Melb) 26th May 1949

Published in The Age (Melbourne),  26th May 1949.






Stacha Halpern

Stacha Halpern 1919-1969.

Other artists produced ceramic studio buttons (i.e. in small quantities for a short period as artistic items).  One such artist was Stanislav (Stacha) Halpern.  He was born in Poland and fled to Melbourne in 1939.  He was a painter,  potter,  printmaker and sculptor.  The buttons below are courtesy of the Museum of Applied Arts.

Screen shot 2017-04-13 at 7.22.04 PM

Published in Weekly Times (Melb) 26th April 1950

Published in Weekly Times (Melbourne), 26th April 1950.


A.C.I. Plastics Pty Ltd.,  Booker St, Spotswood and Spencer St, Melbourne:

This was a subsidiary of Australian Consolidated Industries established in 1939. The company exists today as ACI Plastics, Inc.  It supplied black and khaki plastic buttons for the military between 1940 to 1953.

Commonwealth Gazette, 1941.

Commonwealth Gazette, 1941.

A. Favell Pty.Ltd., Melbourne:

Albert Flavell 1868-1917

Albert Flavell, 1868-1917.

The Argus 21st August 1955.

The Argus (Melbourne),  21st August 1955.









This Melbourne company produced buttons for the military between 1933 to 1940.

from Government Gazettes: 1939.

From Government Gazettes: 1939.

Australian Buttons and Buckles Pty. Ltd., Sydney:

This company existed from 1936 until 1951, when they went into receivership.  They produced “Jiffy” recoverable button molds. There was also the “Jiffy de Lux” in gold or silver, which showed a ring of metal around the outside of the  covered button. They also made casein buttons, but I am unaware of their branding.

Screen shot 2016-07-11 at 9.14.41 PM

Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 13th February 1950.

Cashall Pty. Ltd., Melbourne:

This private company was incorporated in December 1933 and continues today.  It was previously known  as Cashall Button Co. and also Cashall Manufacturing Co. They were located at 114 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy,  then later at 8 Sydney Street,  Collingwood.  The company was involved in button manufacturing,  plastic molding and casein production.

20th October 1951

The Age (Melbourne), 20th October 1951.

6th October 1951

The Age (Melbourne), 6th October 1951.






The company is presumably the one referred to in the article below from 1937.

The Riverine herald, 13th July 1937.

The Riverine herald, 13th July 1937.

They started out manufacturing things a little larger than buttons,  like the charcoal gas producer below.

Published in The Australasian, 6th October 1934

Published in The Australasian, 6th October 1934

Cooper & Cooke,  Glenhuntley, Melbourne:

Cooper & Cooke ceramics,  in Glenhuntly, Melbourne,  set up in 1937  to make porcelain flowers,  and later made jugs,  vases,  urns and dishes.  During WW2 they made insulators,  casseroles,  coffee pots and buttons for the Army.  The firm moved to Long Gully in Bendigo in 1976 and closed in 1996.

I do not have an image of these buttons.

Please contact me if you have any images of their buttons.

Cushioned Heels Limited,  Carlton:

 In 1938 Sandals Pty. Ltd. converted to a public company and changed their name.   As expected with a name like that,  this company produced moulded heels for shoes.  They operated at 15 Macarthur place,  Carlton until 1951.

Commonwealth Gazette 21st January 1943.

Empire Die & Tool Works Pty. Ltd.,  Sydney:

This company was registered in 1940 as die makers,  die sinkers,  iron founders,  and tool makers in Sydney,  New South Wales.  They operated from a garage and workshop in Cathedral Street,  Woolloomooloo.  Like many in manufacturing,  they became involved in the war effort,  and produced uniform buttons.  The company was wound up in 1950.



Sungravure building at 41-49 Forbes Street, used by Empire Die and Tool Works

Sungravure building at 41-49 Forbes Street, used by Empire Die and Tool Works.

F.H. Edwards, Melbourne:

This was a plastic manufacturer that produced buttons for the military during WW2.  In 1937-8 they were located at 460A Queen Street,  opposite the Queen Victoria Market.  Later they were located at 52 Lyndhurst Street,  Richmond,  until at least 1955.

Commonwealth Gazettes, 1941.

Commonwealth Gazettes, 1941.

H. Arendsen & Sons Pty. Ltd., Melbourne:

Henrik (Henry) Matthew Arendsen was born in Melbourne in 1914  after his parents immigrated from Holland in 1912.  He was a die-sinker,  and started his metalware company before 1938.  His sons would later join the business.  It appears to recently been re-named  as Stormor Shelving,  a tailoring trimmings and supply firm.  They produced metal buttons,  buckles and other goods for the military in WW2.

Commonwealth gazette 1939.

Commonwealth Gazette 1939.

Hooper and Harrison  Pty. Ltd., Sydney:

A cartoon of Mr Harrison published in the Truth(WA) 27th May 1911

A cartoon of Mr Alfred  Harrison, 1856-1933,  published in the Truth(WA), 27th May 1911.

Hooper and Harrison were operating from Sydney from 1889.  They produced NSW tramways uniforms in 1912.  Hooper and Harrison (Victoria) was registered in 1938 to take over the business of Hooper and Harrison Pty. Ltd., as wholesale suppliers of woollens and tailors trimmings in Flinders Lane,  Melbourne.   The company went into liquidation in 1942.


Kitchener & Co. Ltd.,  Sydney:

This was a naval and military outfitters in George St,  then later Hunter St., Sydney.  Later it was known as Sandhurst Kitchener & Co. Pty. Ltd.  Produced uniforms for the military during both World Wars.  It existed from at least 1915 until some times in the 1940’s-1950’s.

Buttons backmarker Kitchener Ltd Sydney

Buttons backmarked Kitchener Ltd Sydney from an auction ad.

Laughton Ltd. (Rainsford),  Sydney:

The parent company was the British company Stratton that started in 1860 producing knitting needles.   It merged in 1920 with the companies Jarrett and Rainsford,  makers of haberdashery and jewellery.  In 1928 the company of  “Jarrett,  Rainsford and Laughton Ltd”  established the subsidary Rainsford Ltd.,  later Rainsford Pty Ltd.,  in Sydney.  Initially they were importers only,  but later set up manufacturing as well.   In  February of 1935 a large fire in an adjoining building caused an estimated 25,000 pounds damage to stock.

This company also produced uniform buttons during WW2.

Published in The West Australian, 4th July 1934

Published in The West Australian, 4th July 1934

Published 14th July, 1934 in the News (Adelaide)

Published 14th July, 1934 in the News (Adelaide).

backmarked: RAINSFORD. SYDNEY.

backmarked: RAINSFORD. SYDNEY.


As the company had its origins in knitting needles,  this needle sizing tool is a nice item.



Moulded Products (Australasia) Pty.Ltd.  Melbourne:

In 1927 in North Melbourne  John W. Derham formed the Australian Moulding Corporation.  This Company produced ‘Saxon’ and “Harlequin” ware.  To survive the Great Depression,  in 1932  the company merged with Moulded Products  (a company  started in 1931  producing gramphone records) to become Moulded Products (Australasia) Pty. Ltd.   Dunlop Perdiau had a controlling interest in this firm from 1934 until 1937.  During the war required the company was obliged to  produce only military requirements,  including plastic and vegetable ivory buttons.

The Dandenong Journal (Melbourne),  21 Aug 1940.

Government Gazette, 19 December 1940.

The company became the largest producer of moulded plastic products in Australia.  In 1944 a new factory was built in Mentone.  New products,  such as garden hoses were made.  In 1966 the company was renamed Nylex Pty Ltd.  The factory employed many people at the Mentone factory until its closure in 2006.


Nally Ltd., Sydney:

Screen shot 2017-03-04 at 6.08.16 PM

In 1927 an electrical engineer,  Herbert Anthony Marshall,  started a company called Nally Products Limited that produced Plastic products including “Nally Ware”,  plastic kitchenware made from phenol resin.  The company was in liquidation in 1930 but re-born as Nally Limited and continued until bought out in 1990.  They produced plastic buttons for the military in WW2.

Commonwealth Gazettes, 1944.

Commonwealth Gazettes, 1944.

Norco (North Coast Co-operative),  New South Wales:


 In 1935 Norco purchased a casein factory at Lismore from S.M. Cottee and Sons.  The main use in Australia at that stage  was for glue used in the plywood industry.  However,  at an exhibition that year, Norco had displays of casein products,  including “buttons of  many attractive shapes and colours”.   Later they would also include items such as buckles and dolls heads!   Local people bemoaned the fact that overseas manufacturers were using Australian casein to make products to sell back to us,  and that more should be made of the industry.

Published in Northern Star (Lismore, NSW) 16th January, 1947

Published in Northern Star (Lismore, NSW), 16th January, 1947.

 Perfection Plate,  Sydney:

Another business whose primary business was not button manufacturing,  but who produced uniform buttons during WW2.  It was established by Silverbrite Electroplating Company in 1925. The company continues today as Perfection Plate Holdings,  and includes Stokes Badges, the remaining part of the business started in 1853 by Thomas Stokes.

Publshed 2nd June 1932 in the Farmer and Settler (Sydney)

Published 2nd June 1932 in the Farmer and Settler (Sydney).



Department of Supply tenders in Commonwealth Gazette: 15th October 1942

Department of Supply tenders in Commonwealth Gazette: 15th October 1942

Raynors Pty. Ltd., NSW:

Commonwealth gazette 9th April 1953.

Raynors were (?are) engravers who expanded into die-casting and general metal engineering.  They operated from at least 1932 until 1977.

Sheridan’s,  Perth,  West Australia:

Charles Sheridan circa 1918

Charles Sheridan circa 1918.

Mr Charles Sheridan, circa 1932.

 circa 1932.











Sheridans Badges is  a family firm started in 1913 in Perth by  Victorian born Charles Sheridan. The firm  continues today.  It had large contracts in both WW1 and WW2.  See http://museum.wa.gov.au/research/research-areas/history/sheridans-badges and http://wanumismatica.org.au/medalists-badge-makers/sheridans for more on the history of this company. The buttons below are backmarked “Sheridan Perth”.

Screen shot 2016-05-09 at 8.37.53 PMFrom an Ebay sale: I doubt I'll be able to afford these buttons. The bidding is keen!