The subject of military/livery/uniform buttons is a study in its own right. This is not meant to be an exhaustive look at this subject, rather just to highlight Australian manufacturers. Please refer to specialty books/websites/clubs for more information on this topic. See also ‘Buttons in the News” page and http://www.stokesbadges.com.au/about/ for further information and pictures.
If you do Facebook (I don’t) there is an ‘Australian Military Button Collectors’ group.
Thomas William Stokes (1831-1910) came from Birmingham to Victoria to look for gold, arriving on New Year’s Day, 1854. Unsuccessful, he returned to his former trade and set up business as a die-sinker. He produced medals, tokens (unofficial pennies and half-pennies used due to a shortage of official coinage), buttons and silverware in Mincing Lane. This lane no longer exists, but ran between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane in the block between Queen and William Streets, probably continuing down to near Queens Wharf. He then moved to 115 Flinders Lane east.
Around June of 1868 his business was declared insolvent. His tools, stock and plant were advertised for auction as well as land and a timber dwelling. He must have been able to trade out of trouble, and by December he was applying for the ‘certificate of discharge’ of his debts. The business would continue at the same address as before the insolvency.
Stokes was in partnership with George Frederick Martin from about 1867, the time of his insolvency, until some time after 1891 when a fire destroyed the business premises in Caledonian Lane. ( The building ran between Little Bourke Street a.k.a ‘Post Office Place’ and Bourke Street. The address was referred to as 246 1/2 Post Office Place) . They were not insured, and suffered losses estimated around £15,000. According to differing sources, either because Martin had not renewed the fire insurance, or because of the recession that occurred in Melbourne in the 1890’s, the partnership was dissolved. According to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney this was in 1893. This could be correct as in July 1893 Stokes and Martin advertised that they had signed all their estate over to trustees for their creditors. Although mention of a robbery at the premise of ‘Stokes and Martin’ was reported in 1898 in multiple newspapers, this was presumably in error.
George Martin had come to Australia in 1852 and died in 1912, aged 82 years. He was a member for the Malvern Shire Council from 1882-8.
(Published in The Herald, 8th March 1912)
Thanks to Ian and Carol for sharing this button below from the Brighton Yacht Club, which started in 1875. Below that is a N.S.W. Military Forces uniform button and an early artillery button.
Note the P.O.P. which stands for Post Office Place, the address of the form from around 1888-1934.
Four of Stokes’ sons entered the business. In 1893, after the partnership with Martin had dissolved, the firm was possibly renamed ‘Stokes and Son’, and then ‘Stokes and Sons’.
It changed again in 1911 to ‘Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd.’ (However, note that the mark ‘Stokes & Sons’ appeared on the back of buttons until 1962.) Another fire considerably damaged the premises in Caledonian Lane (off Little Bourke Street) in 1901.
By 1900 a branch was opened in Clarence Street, Sydney. On the 1st February 1913, Mr Francis Henry Muller became a partner. This branch was offered for sale in December 1913, and Muller became the sole proprietor. The name was changed to Sterling Plating & Manufacturing Co on 3rd February 1915.
In 1906 the firm won a tender for military buttons for Tasmanian and New South Wales forces. The prices ranged from 25 shillings per gross for gilt buttons, to 2 shillings, 3 pence per gross for brass buttons. Thomas Stokes died on the 13th June, 1910. Below is one of the many contracts for military buttons to be found in the Commonwealth Gazettes.
In 1935 the firm moved to Brunswick. Several grandsons would join the firm.
The firm employed 280 people by 1939. The name changed to ‘Stokes (Australasia) Ltd’ in 1962. In 2015 the manufacturing plant (originally purchased in 1956 and located in Ringwood, Victoria) was closed. However, the button and badge making division had been sold to a N.S.W. company (Perfection Plate Holdings) and continues as Stokes Badges.
Buttons backmarked ‘Stokes & Sons’. Top row: pre-1901 Victorian Police Force (Queen Victoria crown), Qantas Empire Airways,1934-1967. Note that there is a ‘rising sun’ symbol above the coat of arms. Bottom row: 1903-10 Australian Commonwealth Military Forces and Victorian Railways (VR) pre 1953.
Centre: Australian Military Forces, backmarked ‘Stokes’, i.e. post 1962.
Deborah Zinn found this article in the July-August 1973 issue of the National Button Bulletin. Love the photos of Thomas and his grandson Russell.
Over the years backmarks have included:
STOKES MAKER, STOKES MAKER MELBOURNE, STOKES MELBOURNE
STOKES & MARTIN, STOKES & MARTIN MELBOURNE, STOKES & MARTIN MAKERS MELBOURNE
STOKES & SON MELB, STOKES & SONS, STOKES & SONS MELBOURNE, STOKES & SONS MELB, STOKES & SONS P.O.P. MELB, STOKES & SONS VICTORIA
STOKES & SONS SYDNEY
STOKES, STOKES VIC, STOKES MELB, STOKES(A’ASIA)LTD MELB, STOKES AUSTRALIA,