“Buttons in this shop are made out if resin applied to a metal shank. The artisan with his hammer raised is about to punch out a disk if metal, to be handed to the second man who immerses it in a little tub of resin kept molten on the brazier which sits before him on the table, and then presses in the design from an appropriate mould. When cool, the buttons are buffed and polished at the window.”
Although the translation is unclear, quoting from ‘A Structural and Functional Analysis of Eighteenth Century Buttons’ by Stephen Hinks 1988 , “for most of the eighteenth century thin domed brass, silver, and rarely pewter faces were applied over bone or wood button backs. The button faces were normally hand-stamped into the desired shapes, although occasionally the faces were cast. These faces were filled with clay or resinous filler to provide added strength, and then crimped over the button backs.” The translation does not mention what form the shanks took, however, quoting again, “Initially (from 1750) the bone or wood button backs on these stamped brass buttons had four holes … Catgut was sewn through these four holes to form the shank, and was knotted on the inside of the button. The interior of the button was filled with a type of cement, normally of a resinous or asphaltum base, before the brass face was applied … (later) the catgut was replaced with thin brass wire, secured in the same way … (later again) the four holes (in the mould) were replaced with one central hole. A wire shank was attached to the button through this hole with the ends of the shank bent against the button back interior … By the late 1770s each of these shank varieties was in use, with the eyed shanks becoming more widespread.”
This print shows the physical effort and the tools required to make the wooden moulds that would be used for the casting of metal buttons. Below is a print showing more detail of the equipment.
Left: “Two workers saw out a block of wood.” Centre: “A man and a woman drill into it the outline of the mould, using a bow to turn the bit where a modern carpenter would likely prefer a brace.” Right: The exact pattern is drilled out by use of the big two-man drill-wheel in the background, which by the difference in diameter of the primary and rotary wheel imparts a very rapid rotation to the drill, so rapid that a wheel of the same design could turn a lathe.”
Although the industrial revolution (approx. 1760-1840) was starting in Britain at the time these prints were made, industrialisation in France would lag behind by decades. In part, this was because of the French Revolution and its aftermath (1789-1871) which saw a cessation of trade with Britain and so a delay in the newly developed machinery being able to be imported. Entrepreneurs moved abroad or were executed. Also important was the relatively low population growth of France (40%) versus Britain (350%) and a great deal of poverty, both which reduced consumer demand for new products, and a greater proportion of peasants tied to the land rather than seeking employment in factories. Another factor was the lack of supplies of coal and iron to support new industries.
When it did occur, like in Britain it started in textile manufacturing. With industrialisation there developed a new working class, however as late as 1906 most factories were small in size with less than fifty people. Skilled artisanship suffered, as it did elsewhere, by this competition with factories, however, small industry was to a degree more protected and preserved by the the special value placed on the manufacture of luxury goods by the French. Historically this had been given great support by the court of King Louis XIV with its high consumption of luxurious and fashionable clothing and other goods. As well as the royal patronage, there had been high import tariffs which protected local artisans, but may have stifled innovation.
Passmenterie Buttonmakers: “A workman who throws a button, that is, covers it with silk which comes from above the ratchet which is in front of him, fixed on an iron pin planted vertically in a hole in the workbench. The workbench is usually hexagonal, the side of which is sixteen inches, and can be used for six workmen at a time. We have only represented two of them to avoid confusion; besides, the smallness of the figures would not allow us to see the objects they hold in their hands.”
The two figures below are sitting as described above at the hexagonal workbench, working on their buttons.
The women on the left is making lace or braid on her lap with the yarn pinned into position. The man on the right is working with weighted threads arranged over a shaped stool, possibly to make a braided cord..
Below are some French passmenterie buttons:
The backmark A.P. & Cie Paris dates this one to 1894-1912 according to the National Button Bulletin, July 1985 pages 99-100.
This button was dated 19th century French by an online seller.
Some time ago I bought some button related antique prints from Diderot’s Encyclopaedia or a Systematic Dictionary of the Science’s, Arts, and Crafts. Since then I have learnt of this encyclopaedia’s connection with the French Revolution.
Date of print: 1763. Legend: “The different configurations of these last five buttons are the invention of M. Pierre Bergerot. They are lined by several strands of silk. … 9. Gold button with double filigree blade, with four crosses. The attention of the workman contributes greatly to the perfection of the work. 10. Button of gold with filigrame simple, with six crosses, points in blades united. The key to making this button is that the tool that makes the filigrame is well made, and that the draft cord is of equal size. 11. Solid blade shown, as well as the following, much larger.” Note that figure A is an undecorated button mould.
The encyclopaedia was published between 1751 to 1772 with Diderot as the main editor and also the writer of many of the entries.
Diderot, by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767.
It was not the first such work, but was significant for its scope and breadth. It encompassed 28 volumes, including 71,818 articles and 3129 illustrations. It aimed to incorporate and summarise all of the world’s knowledge and by secular philosophy and political thinking, to challenge and “change the way people think”. The anti-establishment tone of many articles brought it into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in France, and the withdrawal of the favour of the original patron, King Louis XV. It may not be appreciated that Louis XV was a keen patron of the Sciences, including cartography, exploration, watch making, and botany during the ‘Age of Enlightenment’.
Despite the withdrawal of royal approval, and its listing as a prohibited publication by the Church, it continued to be published and widely available. The Encyclopaedia is seen as an influence for the French revolution by its emphasis on political theories such as a shift of power and rights to the people, by its overall tone promoting societal reform.
The French Revolution & What Went Wrong, by Stephen Clarke
The Encyclopaedia described this as “art of executing a large number of small works designated under the generic name of passemens”. This included cords, lace (passement is an early French word for lace), fringes, tassels, borders, ribbons and buttons, made from all types of yarns (including metallic) for decorating clothing and soft furnishings. Woollen yarn was the earliest main yarn to be used, with silk, metallic threads and cotton coming later. The work could be embellished with paste, beads, or sequins. The industry was dominated by the French from the 16th century through to the 1930s when changes in fashion almost spelt the end of the craft. The craft also existed in England, Italy and Spain.
Passmenterie buttons may date from around 1500. They were described as fashionable in Britain from around 1568 by John Stow, historian. During the 17th century, Passmenterie buttons “were made from braids, threads and fabrics drawn over moulds and matching the garment material.” according to Primrose Peacock from her book ‘Discovering Old Buttons’.
William Simon Newton (1902-1957) was a manufacturer of “leather fancy goods” in a two-storey factory in Adolph Street, East Richmond from before 1929. He diversified into metal goods and also button and buckles.
The Age, 4th November 1936.
I don’t think he stayed with casein buttons, as future ads only mentions leather and metal. In 1935 he registered his business as W. Newton P/L.
Austral Buckle Manufacturing Co.
Dun’s Gazette, 21 March 1938.
There is no further information about this one!
There is a pair of Beauclaire roses linked with a chain. Perhaps this was used as a cape or cardigan link?
A step back in time to the second half of the 1930s, when the fashion for novelty/realistic trimmings became a mania. Buttons, buckles and other dress trimmings were adorned with, or shaped as, just about anything and everything! The attitude could be summed up as “the less like a button or buckle it looks, the better the design”. Here are some examples from 1936-7:
Tiny blossoms surrounding a larger bloom.
Buttons and buckles featuring Borzoi dogs.
Spider on a web, grape vine on a trellis, and a lock and key.
Compare the above with these examples from 1934; such a change.
So sad. I picked up this buckle from the post office, but I must have dropped it whilst shopping. Here’s hoping someone re-posts it to me as it was still in the addressed envelop.
This is image was taken from the Ebay advert.
Although it claims to be made Exclusively for David Jones, I have two other of these yellow, shaped cards labelled for Farmer’s. Perhaps not so exclusive? The price dates to the early 1970s.
The ‘Boilproof’ card is not a Woolworths one; the name is coincidental. I have a partial card showing the bubbles: I thought it was Beutron (they used similar bubbles on a card). Oops, these will have to be removed from my Beutron collection.
William John Butler (1869-1932) commenced his business in Bay Street in 1898, first as a tailor then later also as a mercer. He was there until at least 1914. The died in 1932, being remembered as a champion bowler and also as a lodge member.
Standard, 25th January 1902. I had to look up ‘Vicuna’. Apparently the fleece of the Vicuna, a Perusian cousin of the Llama, is the most expensive in the world, and prized for its fine, warm, silkiness. Two years ago the fleece was fetching 5-8 times the price of cashmere.
William Arthur Maguire (1870-1942) lived his whole life in the one house Singleton, NSW. He joined his father John working as a tailor on leaving school. When he died at the age of 72 years, it was the end of 86 years of the family business working from the one store. His father had come to Australia in 1856 from Ireland.
Michael O’Grady was employed by Thomas Flynn in Geelong. In 1878, along with Mr Butter as a partner, he acquired the stock of his late employer and continued to run a drapers store in Moorabool Street. In 1881 Mr Butters left the partnership and Michael continued until 1893, when he nearly died from the effects of chloroform given during a painful operation. By 1874 he had sold the store. He moved to Rutherglen the following year, where he re-entered the drapery business. His favourite cat, unhappy at the move, walked back to Geelong to the old home, travelling 214 miles in 4 days!
Cox & Lett, Parkes:
This button was found in 1987 in the ashes of a burnt home near Parkes. Thanks to Esther for sending it to me.
This was a (self proclaimed) enterprising and popular ladies clothing, mercery and tailoring business from circa 1914.. The partners were Milton Carl Cox and Harold Watson Lett. Their premises was called “The Red House” in 1917-18.
In 1922 the partnership was dissolved, and Harold Lett moved to Cessnock. He would be awarded an OBE in 1958 for his “support of civil, charitable, educational and sporting activites”.
On April 3rd, 1934, Milton Cox, a wealthy businessman now living in Bexley with 2 sons and a newborn daughter, went missing. His abandoned car was found the next day near his shop, but on the 20th April he was still missing, and there was no further news regarding this. Did he met foul play, or leave to start a new life under a new name? His wife never remarried, and died in 1988, aged 93 years.