WW2 and Onwards: including leather buttons and obscure companies

The outbreak of WW2 changed everything. Manufacturers went into overdrive to supply  military needs. Civilian production changed as well. Materials such as casein and bakelite were in such demand that some became ‘declared commodities’ under government  control. Some previously imported haberdashery had to be rationed due to dwindling supply. The plastic industry underwent rapid growth, which would forever change manufacturing. Whilst shortages created problems, there were also opportunities….

The Newcastle Sun 10th November 1939

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

published in the Examiner (Launceston, Tas), 2nd December 1939

Published in the Examiner (Launceston), 2nd December 1939.


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

Published in The West Australian, 28th November 1940

Published in The West Australian, 28th November 1940.  How shocking. But wait, there’s further news ….


The Mercury (Hobart) 6th June 1941 “For Hitler”. he description reads: “Button and Shells are made under the same roof in a Melbourne factory now filling war orders. The buttons are for uniforms, the shells also will be put to good use. The picture shows shell workmen handling some of their products.”

The World’s News (Sydney) on 20th September 1941 come news of a clever recycling initiative.

In both world wars many people found work producing military requirements, but imagine being employed just to sew on buttons!

The Sydney Morning Herald, 29th October 1941.

c.1944Australian War Memorial collection: A woman operates a sewing machine to sew on Army overcoats at the Commonwealth Clothing factory.”


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Published in The Henty Observer (NSW), 12th June 1942.

Brass is probably now in short supply, and who can polish buttons in the trenches?

Brass is probably now in short supply, and who can polish buttons in the trenches? The West Australian, 28th March 1942.

The Argus, 6th November 1942.

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 and the export of casein powder 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 both problems and opportunities for many manufacturers.

Queensland Times (Ipswich) 30th November 1939

Queensland Times (Ipswich), 30th November 1939.

Tweed Daily (NSW) 25th January 1940

Tweed Daily (NSW), 25th January 1940.
















After the war, things did not simply go back to the way they were. Supply shortages still existed.  For example …

Published in the Townsville Daily Bulletin, 18th December 1945.

Published 1st June 1945 in the Daily Commercial News and Shipping List (Sydney)

Published 1st June 1945 in the Daily Commercial News and Shipping List (Sydney).

Commonwealth Government war factories were rented out to private enterprise. A newspaper article reported that in Hamilton, Victoria, E.W. Tilley were to produce plastic buttons in such a factory. (This company also operated from 123 Latrobe Street, Melbourne from 1942 onwards.) Confidence returned as the economy switched over to post war production.

In 1945 no thermo-setting ingredients were being made locally. By July 1950 C.S.R. Chemicals (Aust) Ltd. started local production of cellulose acetate. By 1953 Monsanto Chemicals (Aust) P/L started production of polystyrene in West Footscray. In 1959 local production also included phenol formaldehyde, melamine formaldehyde, urea formaldehyde and polyvinylchloride. In 1968 Nylex (formerly Moulded Products) started production of ABS plastic. These plastics were vital for many Australian manufacturing industries.

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

Marie Gardner pottery buttons.

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. 

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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 after WW2, as European buttons  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. Her buttons were sold between 1947 to around 1957 then she managed the ANINA jewellery shop that was located at 21 Rowe Street, Sydney  until her death in 1961.

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

The Sydney Morning Herald, 16th December 1947.

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 6th May 1948.

Herald (Melbourne) , 1st February 1949.

The Argus 11th June 1949.

The Age 6th April 1950.

See examples of her buttons:


Published in Weekly Times (Melb) 14th April 1948.

Published in The Age (Melb) 26th May 1949.

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, print maker and sculptor. The buttons below are courtesy of the Museum of Applied Arts:


Another artist was Gordon Andrews of Sydney.

Australian Women’s Weekly, 13th March 1948.

For an image of his buttons see:https://collection.maas.museum/object/138047

Published in The Age (Melb) 26th May 1949.

Australian Women’s Weekly, 2nd April 1949.

Pearl shell buttons were declining in market share, while plastics were booming. In the 1950s there were at least 4 major Australian button manufacturers (possibly Beauclaire, Beutron, Leda,  and Delphi) according to the following article…….

1Published in The Sunday Herald (Sydney) 8th October 1950

Published in The Sunday Herald (Sydney), 8th October 1950.

1950 saw the start of a concerted and long running campaign by local button firms to discourage the use of ‘inferior’ imported buttons. According to the local companies, Australian buttons were technologically advanced. They were boil proof, detergent proof, and dry-cleaning proof. They would not fade, melt or damage clothing. What’s more, the rotten Commies were making profits from selling us their glass buttons! It was claimed there were around 1000 employees of the button industry in 1950.

Two questions; Who were the Australian Button Manufacturers Association, and did anyone really believe that buying glass button was funding the Communists?

Two questions; Who were the Australian Button Industry Association, and did anyone really believe that buying glass button was funding the Communists?

Published in the Northern Star, 15th March 1952

Published in the Northern Star, 15th March 1952.

Part of a dry-cleaning feature published in The Argus, 8th June 1954.

For 4 years Dry-cleaners and Button firms were cross promoting.

Published 24th June 1954 in The Argus.

According to this article from 1954, Australia was producing 90% of the button used in the country, and 99% of the billions of buttons produced world-wide were by now made from plastic. “Even those frivolous diamente-centred jet buttons, those round pearl ones, those crystal glitterers, those mother of pearl ones, and those shining gold and silver filagree fancies that come on your fashion-right frocks aren’t what they seem. They’re plastic.”

Plaited Leather Buttons: 1950’s onwards

While undoubtedly leather buttons were used before this time ( see below article from 1917),   they seem to become more popular after  WW2 (borrowing perhaps from military uniforms)  particularly on sports/tweed coats and jackets. A local industry sprang up to meet the demand.  Many European and Jewish immigrants set up in the ‘rag trade’ at this time. Some would use outworkers to hand plait strips of leather into buttons in their homes that would be collected,  dyed, varnished and carded to be sold to shops and tailors.

Published 10th August 1907 in the Australasian (melbourne)

Published 10th August 1907 in the Australasian (Melbourne).

Published in The Prahran Telegraph, 10th February 1917

Published in The Prahran Telegraph, 10th February 1917.

a bc

Published in the Advocate (Launceston), 5th August 1954. It appears Mr Grey started his business after WW1 (‘the last war’) and was quite successful. A bit of detective work has uncovered that (despite being reported as W.E. Grey) his name was actually William Maxwell Gray (so much for accuracy in journalism!) He was born near Kobe, Japan in 1889 and died in 1960 in Tasmania. His wife,  demonstrating leather plaiting in the photo, was Helen Gray.

Advocate (Burnie) 1st May 1954.

An example of plaited leather (or ‘football’) buttons can be seen below.

"Pukkah-Sahib" meaning a perfect gentleman. How very colonial!

“Pukkah-Sahib” meaning a perfect gentleman. How very colonial!


ALWATCO, Sydney:

“ALWATCO” stands for A. L. Watson  Manufacturing Company Pty Ltd, who made or supplied buttons and buckles as well as other products, on a wholesale basis only. It existed from July 1954-July 1999.

Badge A Minit, Adelaide:

This is a South Australian button and badge making and equipment company in Norwood, established around 1984.

The back of a school uniform button.

Barwon Button and Buckle Company Pty. Ltd:

In August 1939  this company commenced operating in Geelong. It was to “manufacture from Australian Casein articles which were previously made in Germany. A modern plant has been installed and is under the management of a skilled Continental technician. The establishment of the factory should be a benefit to the community…”  By September they were making, and about to market “a large range of buttons, buckles and dress ornaments.”  Forty machines had been installed. The company deregistered in  July 1944.

Bijou Button and Buckle Manufacturing Co.

 In 1938 the Bijou Ornaments Manufacturing Company started at 132 Queensberry Street, Carlton. In 1939 it became a propriety limited company with Nitalis Barski  and William Hoffman as directors.

The Herald (Melbourne) 25th October 1939.

They advertised as button manufacturers. In October 1939 they also advertised as located at 110 Flinders Lane, though they stayed at Queensberry Street until 1940. In 1942 they were in liquidation.

Victoria Gazette, 29th April 1942.

The company was revived as the “Bijou Button and Buckle Manufacturing Co.”  in the Leroy Buildings, Higson Lane (opposite 129 Flinders Lane) under the management of the widow (Elsie Gintz) of one of the listed liquidators (Charles Gintz. who died in 1943).

The Leroy Building in 198, prior to demolition. It had been after fire in 1919 from a building existing prior to 1914.

Weekly Times, 6th November 1946. Note the miss spelling of her surname.

Karel (Charles) and Eliska (Elsie) Gintz had fled to Melbourne from Czechoslovakia in 1939. As her husband became unwell and then died in 1943, she had gradually taken over management of the factory, despite not having previous experience. During the war the entire output diverted to military stock. In 1946 the article about her in The Weekly Times claimed there was only one other factory of this type in Melbourne at that time.

To see the whole article: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/224423420?searchTerm=Mrs%20e%20gientz%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20&searchLimits=sortby=dateDesc

British Novelties Pty. Ltd. and Datar Products.

The Daily Telegraph, 15th May 1940.

British Novelties started in 1940. It advertised for tradesmen and factory workers, producing products such as cigarette cases and buttons and was located at 144 Mallett St, Camperdown, NSW.

In 1942 a plastic products company, Datar Products, was started.

Wise’s Post Office Directory, April 1942

By 1946 it had moved to the same address as British Novelties, and was making button blanks.

Wise’s Post Office Directory, 1948.

In 1953 the owner of Datar Products was applying for British Novelties to be wound up. What had happened? Had British Novelties collapsed? Had Datar been providing button blanks for British Novelties, and not paid? Had the two companies simply merged. There were problems, as there were law hearings related to equity (whatever that means) in the District Court of NSW. I have not found out how long Datar existed for; it may have collapsed along with british Novelties.

Dun’s Gazette, 27th November 1953.


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, producing 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.

Advert for a more typical product in 1946.

G. N. Raymond

G. N. Raymond was a company producing casein sheets and prepared button blanks for button manufacturers in the 1950s.

The Age,  31st May 1950.

J. G. Lloyd and Company Pty. Ltd:

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On the back of these 2 button cards is printed  “J.G.L. presentation”. 

John George Lloyd, of Hungarian descent, fled from Austria to Australia in 1939 and established J. G. Lloyd and Company Pty. Ltd. the following year. The company operated at Goldie Place and Elizabeth Street, Melbourne in the 1940s, before moving to 94-106 Pelham Street, Carlton. They supplied buttons for the military from 1941-1957. They produced plastic buttons as well as vials, jars, toys, jewellery,  hair ornaments, kitchenware, electrical fittings and hardware. The company was still around in 1965.

14 Goldie Place, Melbourne. Built inc.1925, it was the site of Lloyd’s business in 1944-46.

The site of J.G. Lloyd & Co. Pelham Street, carlton.

The site of J.G. Lloyd & Co. Pelham Street, Carlton.

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The Argus, May 1946.

The Argus, 8th September 1953.





The Age, 18th May 1946.

One of the company’s subsidiaries from 1946 was Duranol Co. Pty. Ltd. (Lloyd was one of the directors). Buttons were produced under this name, as well as the  plastic MacRobertson and Hoadley chocolate boxes you may find in vintage stores (see above). In 1965 Cope Allman (Australia) Ltd. acquired a majority share of Duranol Pty. Ltd., Modern Mouldings Pty. Ltd. and J. G. Lloyd Pty. Ltd.

Another subsidiary started at the same time was Modern Buttons. They were still advertising for staff in 1953.

The Age, 18th May 1946.

John Bowden Plastic Button Pty Ltd:

This company was registered on 30th January 1951 and deregistered in 1988.

Rothfield & Co, South Yarra, was a manufacturer of sewing cottons and threads started in 1934. In 1947 it became Rothfield &Co. Ltd to raise capital and extend business. It acquired or established several subsidiaries, including John Bowden Plastic Buttons Pty Ltd. In 1952 a fire destroyed £50,000 worth of cotton and £10,000 of machinery as well as a brick building occupied by the button subsidiary.  In 1956 they supplied the military with khaki plastic buttons.

Commonwealth Of Australia Gazette, 13th September 1956.

The company merged with Peerless and changed its name to Peerless Holdings Limited in 1959. Rothfield’s Sewing Cottons (NSW) Pty. Ltd. was deregistered in 1968, and John Bowden Plastic Buttons in 1987.

Jacob Rothfield

News(Adelaide) 9th March 1953. Walter Norman Rothfield, chairman and managing director in 1953.

Published in the News (Adelaide) 14th August 1952

Published in the News (Adelaide), 14th August 1952.

Published in The Argus (Melbourne) 16th October 1954

Published in The Argus (Melbourne), 16th October 1954

Rothfield & Co.s

This is a reel of cotton produced by Rothfield, produced for military use during WW2. The mill closed ?1950s-60s.

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Commonwealth Gazette 21 December 1939.

Commonwealth Gazette, 13th September 1956.

Landico Pty. Ltd. (Coburg, Melbourne):

1950 Sydney telephone directory.

From 1949-1954 this “manufacturer of high class buttons” advertised for staff.  They also sought salesmen in Gippsland, Western Victoria,  Adelaide, Sydney and in Tasmania for their products.  They registered designs for buttons (class 3) in 1955.

In 1951 they had a contract to supply brush holders to the military:

Commonwealth Gazette, 28th June 1951.

Sydney Road, Coburg

148-154 Sydney Road, Coburg. The Landico office would have been in the right half of the Aussie Home Loans site.  This strip is part of a heritage precinct dating from the late 1880s.

Below: A Landico labelled button on the right and a similar button by an unknown maker.

Another Landico button. This design is replicated by Beutron.

The buttons are solid metal with a bit of weight to them. The backs are rough and the edges around the holes are sharp.

From Carol’s collection.




The backs are a  little ‘rough’ with a black finish and a “drilled peg shaped” shank.



Meyer Manufacturing Company, Melbourne:

The directors of this manufacturing and engineering company were Norman Rothfield and Samuel Mark Goldbloom from around 1947. They were located at 30 Little Lonsdale street until 1951 when they moved to Burwood Road, Auburn.

Barrier Daily truth (broken Hill) 15th May 1951.













































































Olson Badges (Adelaide):

This company has been operating near Adelaide from 1966 as Allan J. Olson Pty. Ltd. making badges, medallions, name bars and uniform buttons.  Allan Olson started as an apprentice in 1936 with S. Schlank & Co., working with them until 1965 then starting his own business. In 1971 he bought the former Schlank plant, equipment (including many old dies) and their factory located in Forrestville, South Australia.

My husband’s swimming medallions by Olson badges.

see: http://www.olsonbadges.com.au/index.php/all-buttons


Ornacraft Pty Ltd:

In 1939 this business was formed from the previously named Ornacraft Company. They registered button designs in 1947. This company operated from at least 1940 to 1950 at 60 King St, Newton, Sydney, as plastic button manufacturers. The company possibly supplied clothing manufacturers rather than retail, as I have seen no cards of Ornacraft branded buttons.

This building still stands as a apartment/business/hotel complex. A photo of the building and some employment adverts follow, from The Sydney Morning Herald. The company was deregistered in 1966.

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58-60 Kings St,  Newtown.

Paladin Products Pty Ltd:

Dun’s Gazette for NSW, 1950.

This business was not successful, as it was being offered for sale by January 1952 by the liquidators. Matthew Felix Lipworth was a chemical engineer from South Africa. Mr Phillips may have been Frederick John Phillips, a salesman.

Mr Lipworth, 1950.


Precision Pressed Metal Company Ltd:

This company started in Gawler in 1939. During the war it was turning out Defence buttons, military hardware and steel helmets. In 1945 it was sold to James Robert Holden (of the famous Holden motor car family) and moved to  350 Port Road, Beverley. It was still going in 1954.

J. R. Holden

Bunyip, 25th May 1945.

Raynors Pty. Ltd., NSW:

Commonwealth Gazette, 9th April 1953.

Raynors were engravers who expanded into die-casting and general metal engineering.  They operated from at least 1932. The company was in liquidation in 1988.


Solite Mouldings Pty Ltd, Sydney:

In a 1948/9 phone directory for Sydney, this was the listing for button manufacturers and wholesalers, with a G. E. Rhodes as the proprietor. By  1950 the company had been listed on the stock exchange, with new owners.

Dun’s gazette for NSW, December 1950.

Not long after, a proposal to form a new company from So Lite Mouldings and another firm was advertised. Unfortunately the new firm was already in financial difficulties by 1952 and in liquidation the following year. These buttons date from 1966 due to the dual pricing.