Information for this page were in large part sourced from New Zealand’s National Library’s resource, ‘Papers Past’. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/
I also found this history useful; http://studylib.net/doc/7569817/pinz-history—plastics-new-zealand
The history of button manufacturing in New Zealand followed a similar course to that in Australia. Total reliance on imports gave way to local manufacturing and even exporting. Finding value from the waste products of the county’s growing meat and diary industry, buttons were made from teeth and bones,and casein was exported.
In 1939 in the suburb of Petone, Lower Hutt, a company called the American Button Company started manufacturing fashion buttons. Reportedly, before this factory opened there had not been a significant local production. From the article below it seems likely that the ‘American Button Company’ was making covered buttons:
How you gonna keep them down on the farm? Well, it wasn’t just Broadway pulling the young folk away, there was also the chance to sew buttons!
Major world events had local impacts. The New Zealand plastics industry made major contributions during WW2, producing large quantities of buttons for uniforms as well as millions of toothbrushes! In 1945 it was reported that the entry of Japan into the war had meant the loss of New Zealand’s main supply of pearl buttons. The local fresh-water mussels and trochus shells were of no commercial use, and supply from India was insufficient. This changed demand from pearl to plastic buttons, locally made as well as imported from the USA and Canada. Post war, world-wide shortages of supplies prompted charity efforts like that below;
There were two major plastic button producers:
British Buttons and Buckles(General Plastics)
Initial shareholders included A.G. Griffiths, O. C. Rheuben and N. R. Rheuben, who were involved in button manufacturing in Australia (O.C. Rheuben & Co, which would become ‘General Plastics’ in 1941). This new Zealand company was also renamed General Plastics (circa 1946). Headed by Jack Quinn, it produced Beauclaire branded buttons. The buttons were made by compression molding, pressing of slugs, and later injection molding. At one stage the company employed 70-80 people and was exporting container loads of buttons.
In November that year it was reported in the Evening Post that “The new factory already employs 50 hands and it is expected that the staff will increase to 70 when full production is attained. Already the company has delivered nearly 10,000 gross of buttons and it is contended that it can produce 1000,000 gross per aNnum”. It was not making men’s buttons or pearl buttons, rather women’s fashion buttons.
On 13th April, 1965, an electrical short circuit initiated an exposition of plastic dust which had accumulated below floor boards in the factory in Masterton. The explosions was so massive that 300kg machinery was thrown onto the roof. Four people were killed, six were injured, and it would have been worse had not most of the staff been on a tea break.
The company became New Zealand Casein Plastics Ltd in 1969. In 1988 a joint venture was formed with New Zealand Dairy Co. and a Japanese company, Nissei Kyoeki, to manufacture casein buttons for the Japanese market. This venture only lasted two years. The company wound up in 2004/5 as competition with cheaper polyester buttons as well as a rising NZ dollar against a sluggish Japanese economy took its toll. The final seven workers were laid off.
Buttons (N.Z.) Ltd./Falcon Plastics
Joseph Henry Faulconbridge (1800 – 1955) was involved in clothing production. In 1934, starting from his backyard and with a few pounds capital, he started a button factory producing wood and pearl buttons. In 1936 he listed Buttons (New Zealand) Limited with his sons Roy and Ian and expanded production to cast resin, casein and compression molded plastic buttons in Auckland. The company became Falcon Plastics after 1945, with Ian as production manager and Roy as managing director. They produced items such as kitchen ware as well as buttons.
Minor Manufacturers and Tailors Buttons:
A. LEVY Ltd., Wellington
Abraham Levy, tailor, was supplying uniforms from at least 1913. In 1916 he was in trouble. Apparently he used cotton instead of linen thread!
The case must have been resolved as he continued to supply government uniforms. The company was incorporated in June 1918, several months after his premature death at the age of 55 years, and finally liquidated in 1993.
H.B. Craighead Ltd., Wellington:
The Craighead family were tailors in New Zealand for several generations. Hugh Clark, Edwin George and his brother William Bruce Craighead were tailors and outfitters in Ashburton on the South Island. It appears W.B moved to Wellington and continued as a tailor. Huia Bruce Craighead was born in Wellington in 1897 so presumably was William’s son. H.B. would also become a tailor and from around 1932 traded as H.B. Craighead Ltd.
Horn Buttons and Accessories Ltd: Wellington
This company started in 1940 and was still advertising for staff in 1945. I don’t know when it folded.
New Zealand Clothing Factory (Hallenstein Brothers): Dunedin
In 1873 The New Zealand Clothing Factory was established in Dunedin to supply the Hallenstein Brothers clothing stores. By 1900 there were 30 “HB” clothing stores across the country. A grand new headquarters was built in 1882-3 which housed up to 300 employees. The opening was celebrated with a ball for 500-600 people. The company continues today, but now most of the clothing is made in China.
As the above newspaper article outlines, the factory manufactured military uniforms. I have just received NZ artillery buttons, including these 2 from the New Zealand Clothing Factory.
Ross & Glendining: Dunedin.
In August 1862 two Scotsmen, John Ross and Robert Glending, took over a drapery store in Dunedin. It was the start of a business that would last until 1966. They changed from retail drapery to wholesale and importing when they opened a warehouse in 1865.
By the 1900’s over 500 people were employed at the mill. The business changed from a partnership to a Limited company. John Ross remained involved in the company until the 1920’s, and his sons continued after that. The number of factories increased producing clothes and shoes under various fashion labels. In the 1960s the firm struggled, finally being sold and broken up after over a century of trading in 1966. The mill continued under new ownership until 1980.
The Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company, Limited.
This company was incorporated in 1882 and commenced manufacturing in 1886. The head office, warehouse and clothing factory were situated in a three/four story brick building in Petone, near Wellington. The mills were also in Petone.
Other Kiwi buttons:
Paua is the Maori name for several species of sea-snails, known elsewhere as abalone.
Native wooden buttons:
Kawau Island lies in the Hauraki Gulf off the north Eastern coast of New Zealand. It is approximately 8×5 km. Ten percent of the Island is under control of the Department of Conservation, including an historical mansion and remains of a copper mine. Considerable damage has been done to the environment due to introduced species, particularly wallabies. A trust is working to reverse some of this damage. The wooden buttons may be tourist, or perhaps fundraising items.
Items such as this, made from 3 uniform buttons, were bought or made as a gift for a sweetheart, wife or mother to wear whilst her boy served overseas.