Author Archives: abuttonadmin

16th November 2019

New Embassy cards:

The cards with the rounded corners were the earliest to sport the ‘Embassy’ brand within the map of Australia. It would have resulted in waste cardboard and been more costly. Not surprisingly, the shape was later changed to a simple rectangle, although perversely, at the same time a waist was cut into the card to take the cotton, which also would have resulted in extra cost!

The Card at the right is unique in my collection, in that it has both the rounded corners and the added cotton. It must have been made just at the changeover of styling. It also has an added price sticker, has up until then the prices were not printed on the card. The cards below now have printed prices and the cotton. The card on the lowere right shows the next step, with the words ” Guaranteed to Launder and Dry Clean” now included.The dating of these changes spans from 1959 until 1970.

Although I believe (due to the actual button designs) that General Plastics originally supplied both G.J. Coles (Embassy branding) and Woolworths with their branded buttons, by the time the cotton is added if not before, they are now being supplied by G.Herring. The cotton was a Beutron/Herring marketing feature dating from 1949. Beauclaire cards of buttons never included cotton, and only a few Leda cards dating from the 1960s did, by which time they were produced by Beutron.

New Leda cards:

The card on the left is the first example I have where the word ‘BOILPROOF’ is printed next to the Leda brand. Other cards are VARIOUSLY labelled FASHION BUTTONS, PERMALON, PERMALOID,  and PERMALITE.


15th November 2019

Wonderful new finds!

Beauclaire sample card:  To think that one design was made in 3 sizes and 29 colours!!  In case it’s hard to see, the darkest examples are not all black, but  charcoal (170), dark charcoal (103),  brown-grey (106), dark green (182) and dark brown (138). Number 173 is the actual black example.

I challenge you to find 29 shades of a Beauclaire design! I “only” have eight shades of this particular one!

Compared to the above sew-through buttons, these below are made of 4 parts: an aluminium (I think) shank,  a possibly casein, dark green, mottled body into which is inserted a different plastic disk to mount the escutcheon to (see the example missing the escutcheon) and the metal escutcheon itself. They would have to be for a heavy winter coat, or the like, as they are quite substantial. They are approx 26mm in diametre and nearly 4 mm thick.

Here’s hoping I have given you a bad case of envy, as possibly encouraged you to try to collect as many shades/sizes of each design as you can.

13th November 2019

Edinburgh Encyclopaedia (1808-1830). Button making continued:

To made metal buttons a mould was made by pressing a pattern for multiple buttons into sand. The shanks were pressed into the sand in the centre of each impression, then molten mixture of brass with tin and sometimes zinc was poured into the casting. When cooled, the sand was brushed off, and the individual buttons snapped apart. One workman would lathe the edges, another the backs, and another the front. This was followed by polishing with leather and “rotten stone” (a finely powdered porous rock) by women. Buttons were dipped into a solution containing tin to coat the buttons to “render the buttons white”.

Gilt buttons were formed by stamping out from sheet copper (sometimes alloyed with a small amount of zinc). The blanks were softened by heating in a furnace to allow the maker’s name to be stamped into the back, and also to make the face slightly convex. The shanks were then soldered on. After smoothing the edges the buttons were burnished  smooth with “bloodstone” (an iron containing quartz) before gilding.

The prepared buttons were then placed in an earthernware pan containing a mixture of gold and mercury and nitric acid, then stirred until coated. The acid was washed away before the buttons were heated in a pan to melt the mercury amalgam. The hot buttons were now placed in a felt bag and stirred to spread the gold evenly before returning to the hot pan to evapourate the mercury. This process was repeated to drive off more mercury. The buttons now appeared yellow but required burnishing again with bloodstone and water in a lathe by three seperate men to do the edges, face and back. (Editor’s note: this division of labour, as well as powered tools, were the keys to England’s mastery of mass production during the industrial revolution.) Some buttons then had their edges milled, and/or circles milled upon their faces. “Double gilt buttons are gilt twice over, in the manner before described.

As ” the drying off is exceedingly pernicious to the operator, as he inhales the vapour of the mercury, which is well known to be a violent poison”  Mr. Mark Sanders, “an eminent button manufacturer of Birmingham” used the structure below for safely collecting the mercury vapour for reuse. I wonder if he was a relation of Benjamin Sanders?

The article further describes ‘plated buttons’ cut from copper plate pre-coated with silver on one side, and ‘cup-buttons’ “made from two pieces, viz. a common flat button with a shank, and a small hemisphere fixed on in front … the edge of the cup is burnished down over (the plain button) to hold it fast.” This sounds like what we now call a Sanders type button.




12th November 2019

Edinburgh Encyclopaedia:

This encyclopaedia was published 1808-1830 by William Blackwood with editor Sir David Brewster in 18 volumes. It contained many scientific articles and included information on button manufacturing.

This machine is a foot operated treddle-powered lath for making button moulds.The cutting tool drilled a hole into the centre of a piece of bone or wood, whilst simultaneously cutting out the circumference of the mould. The article mentioned that at the time of printing moulds were only being used for fabric covered buttons to match the garments. “They were formerly covered with the most costly materials, by women, who were seated around a table, and each had a large needle fixed in the able opposite the part where she was seated, and also a bobin, containing thread to cover the button.” The thread could be silk, mohair or gold, and were woven over the mould in various patterns. Fancy examples were further ornamented by wire, or gold or silver covered threads. After singeing to removed projecting fibres, the buttons were polished by shaking in a bag of bread crumbs! The process of weaving around the moulds re illustrated below. ” … this art is now obsolete… many thousands (of patterns) in vogue thirty years since…”

The diagram below shows a press used for shaping horn buttons on the left. The contraption on the right is for drilling 4 holes into “sailors’ buttons”

Cow hoofs were softened in boiling water then cut into slices, then squares, then trimmed into octagons the size of the intended buttons. After dying and drying, they were pressed between the plates that held multiple dies containing the impression of the button design. The plates were heated in a furnace before the pieces of horn were placed in it then held under great pressure in the vice shown below, until the horn was pressed into the desired pattern.

When cooled, the buttons required trimming and smoothing. If the buttons required shanks, these were fitted  by children, who drilled holes in the horn before they were pressed and theninserted the shanks.

The contraption on the bottom right of the above diagram of the horn press is for making brass or iron wire shanks. The wire is wound around a steel rod (A) to make a coil (B) into which the pin (C) is inserted. Placed in an anvil, the coil is punched down between the prongs of (C) to make a figure eight (Shown at D). By cutting apart the two loops, two shanks are formed. Simple! However, the encyclopedia noted that a new steam driven machine could be fed with wire, and with each turn of a winch produced a shaped and cut shank … “the motion is so easy that a boy can drive one machine.”

To read  more of the very detailed article in this part of the encyclopaedia:

9th November 2019

Plaskon, and other early plastics:

Many old plastic buttons are described loosely, and inaccurately, as bakelite, but are actually Beetle, Catalin, Plaskon or Casein.

Bakelite, or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, was the first synthetic plastic. It was developed in 1907 by Dr Leo Baekeland working on a substitute for shellac, and patented in 1909. It was made from phenol and formaldehyde with added fillers such as wood or asbestos fibres. As a result, mainly dark, sombre colours were made. 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. (Editor’s note: This was probably done by Berthold Herrman. See the General Plastics page.)

In 1925 the British Cyanides Company (whose trademark was a beetle) developed  a thiourea-formaldehyde moulding powder which was marketed from 1928 as Beetle powder. In Australia, Duperite branded products, and others, were made from this imported powder. This type of plastic allowed the introduction of previously unavailable colours, and are mottled or marbled.

Plaskon was developed in 1931 by the Toledo Scale Company as a lighter material than metal to make their scales from. It was made from urea formaldehyde with cellulose as a filler, as was great for making white products.

From my Lansig catalogues, a Plaskon button.

NMAH Archives Center J. Harry Dubois Collection, 1900-1975. These buckles and buttons in the bottom right corner make me think that many of my old plastic buttons could be Plaskon.

This was printed on the back of early Beauclaire branded cards, so dates c.1951. It indicates that their buttons at that time were Plaskon and Bakelite, or more accurately Catalin.

In 1927  the American Catalin Corporation of New York City acquired the patents for Bakelite and developed Catalin plastic. Catalin is what most “Bakelite” jewellery is actually made of. It was also made from phenol-formaldehyde, but in a 2 stage process without the use of fillers. It was available in clear and solid colours, as well as light, bright options that were not possible with Bakelite. It oxidises over time so that clear and white would yellow.

Formaldehyde was also used, with casein protein from milk,  to make Casein plastic. It was successfully made in England from 1914. (An earlier French/German version called Galalith was developed from 1899-1904.)

8th November 2019

In The Telegraph(Brisbane) 1939-1940:

14th June, 1939.

25th October, 1939.  I suppose the wine barrel and (?)monkey face are buttons?

7th November, 1939. I can’t work this one out. Is the shape at the top a fancy button?

13th March, 1940.

13th March, 1940.

25th April, 1940.

6th November 2019

New finds: Embassy

Left to right: earliest to latest c. late 1950s-late 1960s.

Vintage advertising from 8th September, 1937 in the Telegraph (Brisbane):

and also …

I’m not sure about the black ??sheep buckle and button. The poor thing has legs, a tail, and a large round  body but no ears! I don’t fancy a ‘Crab Claw Buckle’, either.


5th November 2019

Vintage advertising in The Sun (Sydney) from the 1940s:

“Sensational value in imitation Leather Cardigan Buttons! Obtainable in Green, Grey, Brown, Black, Navy and Fawn … Tremendous range of floral and plain Cardigan Buttons obtainable in all the wanted shades.” 30th April 1940.

21st July 1940.

29th May 1941. Were the buttons “prohibited due to where they came from, or because they were made of Erinoid (Casein) which was a restricted product during the war years?

8th January 1942.

17th June 1942. Ration coupons are now required for many purchases.

3rd December 1944

4th January 1945.