The outbreak of WW2 changed everything. Manufacturers went into overdrive to supply military needs; civilian needs changed as well. Materials such as casein and bakelite were in demand. Some became ‘declared commodities’ under government control. The plastic industry underwent rapid growth, which would forever change manufacturing.
After the war, things did not simply go back to the way they were. Supply shortages still existed. For example…..
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. (I don’t know if this eventuated, but the company did operate from 123 Latrobe Street, melbourne from 1942 onwards.) Confidence returned as the economy switched over to post war production.
Pearl shell buttons were declining in market share, while plastics were booming. In the 1950’s there were at least 4 major Australian button manufacturers (possibly Beauclaire, Beutron, Leda, and Coronet) according to the following article…….
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!
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 spang 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 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.
An example of plaited leather (or ‘football’) buttons can be seen below.
Landico Pty. Ltd. (Coburg, Melbourne):
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. I Have found nothing else about this company. Please help!
Olson Badges (Adelaide):
This company has been operating in Adelaide from 1966 as Allan J. Olson Pty. Ltd. making badges, medallions, name bars and uniform buttons.
For examples of their buttons 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 within 60 King St, Newton, Sydney, as plastic button manufacturers. 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.
Rothfield & Co. Ltd/John Bowden Plastic Button Pty Ltd:
Rothfield & Co, South Yarra, was a manufacturer of sewing cottons and threads. 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. 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.
This is a reel of cotton produced by Rothfield, produced for defence force use during WW2. Penny at ‘Miss Foley’ has kindly shared photos of the boxes they came in. She’s at https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/MissFoleyVintage?ref=shopinfo_shophome_leftnav on Etsy. She was told the mill closed in the 1950 or 60’s.