Federation to WW2

Even before federation there were “protectionist” versus “free-trade” views on promoting the Australian manufacturing industry. Post Federation, the subject of raising or lowering tariffs on goods such as buttons would continue to arise over the years.

Published in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane),  21st September 1930.

The Sun (Sydney) 10th September 1931. The tariffs were effective.

Published in The Advertiser (Adelaide) 27th March 1935

Published in The Advertiser (Adelaide),  27th March 1935.

Published in The Age (Melbourne), 13th March 1935.

The Great War caused many disruptions to manufacturing, with some goods and materials becoming unavailable, and some factory’s outputs completely turning over to the requirements of  war. In Germany, due to the lack of local supplies of brass, nickel and tin, all loose pins, hooks and eyes as well as metal buttons were confiscated for use in munition production. Only carded buttons and packets of pins and hooks could be sold. Although circumstances weren’t quite so extreme here, shortages still occurred.

Published in The Argus, 28th October 1915

Published in The Argus,  28th October 1915.

The Sun (Sydney) 11th July 1914

The Sun (Sydney) 11th July 1914.  It seems not everyone approved of the new design of buttons for the forces.


Screen shot 2016-01-11 at 9.52.11 PM

Published in The Daily News (Perth),  25th January, 1919.













Freeman & Co, North Footscray:

In December 1929 ‘Freeman & Co’ were granted permission to start a factory for production of bone buttons. They were still in operation in 1931.

Daily Standard (Brisbane) 27th April 1931.


Published in the News (Adelaide),  25th October 1933.  Mulga buttons were sold during the years 1933-48.

Advocate (Burnie, Tas) 15th May 1935.

On the 29th August 1934 this article was published in the Daily News (Perth) detailing the growth in the button manufacturing industry in Australia at that time.









Published 1st June 1935 in The Australian Women’s Weekly  (NB: Herculoid was a celluloid product made by DuPonts).

The Sun (Sydney), 13th may 1937.


 From around 1908, dairy producers started exporting casein (a milk protein) to America and  England for the manufacture of casein plastic products. 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.

While shell, wood, glass and metal buttons were still common, plastic became more and more dominant. This was  driven by the technological developments and demands of World War 2.


As early as 1856 a form of ‘celluloid’ was developed,  although it was not until the 1890s that celluloid buttons were produced.  Many ‘pin-back’ buttons were produced and sold in Australia from circa 1900 on ‘Button Days’ for fund-raising.  Collecting these is a popular hobby.

It could be a dangerous industry, due to the highly flammable nature of this plastic. Factory fires, some fatal, occurred both here and overseas. A later form called cellulose acetate was cheaper and less flammable than cellulose nitrate. It was used to make buttons in Australia by companies such as Leda in the 1950s (sometimes trademarked as  ‘Permaloid’.)


According to ‘An Insight Into Plastics’ by BTR Nylex Ltd. in 1917 buttons were moulded from powdered phenol-formadehyde  (a.k.a. Bakelite)  imported into Australia.  Moulded Plastics (Australasia) Pty. Ltd. made ‘Duperite’ products from 1932. These included  buttons for the Australian Military Forces between 1940-44.








 Casein plastic (a.k.a. Galalith, literally meaning milk-stone or ‘Erinoid’) was first presented in 1900.  It was an inexpensive and more humane alternative to ivory, horn and bone products.  Casein was favoured for button production because it wasn’t flammable like celluloid and could be produced in many colours. It also polished up to a beautiful luster. Initially Australian-made casein was mostly  exported to markets such as Canada, the USA, England and Japan where it was made into many products including buttons, buckles, and combs. Many people bemoaned the fact that, just like with so much other Australian produce, it was exported only to be re-imported as value-added objects. A newspaper report from December 1929 stated that ‘no buttons were (being) manufactured in Australia.’ However, this is incorrect, as the Herrman’s were producing casein buttons in the 1920s (see the General Plastics page). In 1935 at the North Coast National Exhibition, casein buttons, products of Norco, were displayed.  In the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney is a casein formaldehyde button made in 1944 by General Plastics. Although it is claimed to be ‘one of the earliest… to be manufactured in New South Wales’ this is  again a mistake as explained in a 1945 a newspaper article;  ‘For many years, Australian factories have been making buttons from casein plastic;  one enterprise alone makes 45 million buttons.'(Sydney Morning Herald 30th January 1945 page 2)

Some controversy occurred when it was claimed that weevils had been eating English-made casein buttons.  Mr Riddle, manager of Milk Industries, denied this. ‘I can set your mind at rest regarding the fears that beetles and mice eat into the buttons. This does not occur at all with casein buttons, but is a common complaint with vegetable ivory nut buttons. Casein buttons are not attacked by any pest, and will keep indefinitely unless they are immersed in water. This information will probably enable you to set the minds of yours friends at rest, and also to recommend them to use the casein button instead of the inferior imported ivory nut.’ (Northern Star, Lismore,  5 July 1934). I’m not sure he was a disinterested party if the following article was true….

Published in the Portland Guardian 6th December 1943

Published in the Portland Guardian, 6th December 1943.











At various times during the 1930s  submissions were made to the Tariff Board about imposing duties onto imported casein sheets. Some wanted the local casein production to be encouraged and local button production increased. Others in the fashion industry were concerned that not enough colours could be made locally, and that the fashion industry would suffer if importation of casein was made more expensive.


Published in The Age (Melb) 2nd January 1934

Published in The Age (Melbourne), 2nd January 1934.










Some of these manufacturers remain a mystery as only brief mentions of them exist.

A. Favell Pty.Ltd., Melbourne:

This Melbourne company  started in 1910, producing buttons for the military between 1933 to 1940.

Albert Flavell 1868-1917

Albert Flavell, 1868-1917.

The Argus 21st August 1955.

The Argus (Melbourne),  21st August 1955.


From Commonwealth Government Gazettes: 1939.







Australian Buttons and Buckles Pty. Ltd., Sydney:

See the Covered Button page. They also made casein buttons.


Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd/A.C.I. Plastics Pty Ltd.

There is a A.C.I. trademark on the reverse side of this Australian Military Forces button.

The trademark of the ‘Australian Glass Manufacturers’ dating from ?1930. The A.C.I. trademark was similar, with the G changing to a C, and the M replaced by an I.

An article published in ‘The Labor Daily’ on 9th April 1936 stated that “included in this great glass industry are various other subsidiary factories, including metal spinning, lamp making, metal stamping, plastic moulding, corrugated box making, refractory and crucible works.” In February 1939 A.G.M. Ltd reformed with with a glass making subsidiary ( Australian Glass Manufacturers Co Pty. Ltd.) and a plastic and moulding subsidiary (Australian Consolidated Industries Ltd). Post 1939, A.C.I. Plastics Pty Limited was located at Booker St, Spotswood and Spencer St, Melbourne. The company still exists today as A.C.I. Plastics, Inc.  It supplied black and khaki plastic buttons for the military between 1940 to 1953.

Buttons Ltd/Button Manufacturing Company, Sydney and Melbourne:

Dunn’s Gazette for New South Wales, 1934.

The Sydney Morning Herald 7 September 1935.

They advertised for staff from 1947 – 1952 in Melbourne for a “small button manufacturing plant” at 115 Latrobe Street Melbourne.

 Mr Loupal and Mr Pribil were also in partnership as graziers, but their partnership was dissolved in 1953.The company was wound up in 1954.

Karl Pribil exported  82 bags of trochus shell to Kobe, Japan in 1954. He had arrived in Australia from Austria in 1927 and had been interned during the war.

 Cashall Pty. Ltd., Melbourne:

The Herald (Melbourne) 13th December 1933.

This private company was incorporated in December 1933 and continues today. The name came from the directors’ surnames, Cash and Marshall.  It was previously known  as Cashall Button Co. and also Cashall Manufacturing Co. They were located at 114 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, then later at 8 Sydney Street, Collingwood. The company was involved in button manufacturing, plastic molding and casein production.

20th October 1951

The Age (Melbourne), 20th October 1951.

6th October 1951

The Age (Melbourne), 6th October 1951.

The Riverine herald, 13th July 1937. The company mentioned is probably Cashall’s.

Published in The Australasian, 6th October 1934.

They started out manufacturing things a little larger than buttons, like the charcoal gas producer above.

Cooper & Cooke,  Glenhuntly, Melbourne:

Cooper & Cooke ceramics, in Glenhuntly, Melbourne, was set up in 1937 by Albert George Cooper and Thomas Cooke to make porcelain flowers. According to this reference https://trove.nla.gov.au/list?id=90404  “During the war years they made insulators, buttons, casseroles and coffee pots for the Army.” Afterwards they made jugs, vases, urns and dishes.  The firm moved to Long Gully in Bendigo in 1976 and closed in 1996.

see: http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab89908

I do not have an image of these buttons.

Please contact me if you have any images of their buttons.








Cushioned Heels Limited,  Carlton:

 In 1938 Sandals Pty. Ltd. converted to a public company and changed their name. As expected with a name like that, this company produced moulded heels for shoes. They operated at 15 Macarthur place, Carlton until 1951.

Commonwealth Gazette 21st January 1943.

Erinoid Products, Melbourne:

The advertisements at the bottom shows that this plastics firm became a button manufacturer. It spanned over 10 years.

Daily Commerial News and Shipping List 15th May 1926. “P.A.”Yeoman was a mining engineer, inventor and grazier who became famous for the “Keyline System” for land management, which became the basis on modern farming technique, and of permaculture.


P.A. Yeoman

P.A. Yeoman

The Sydney Morning Herald, 1st October 1927.

The Age 20th July 1936.

 E. W. Tilley, 123-131 Latrobe Street Melbourne:

E.W. Tilley, 31 March 1954 The Herald.

The Age, 12th November 1935. This building has been demolished.

Ernest Wilberforce Tilley lived from 1890-1983.

In 1935-6 this manufacturing firm was referred to as a die-shop then in 1937 as a bakelite factory. Later it was described as a plastic moulder. In 1944 the government was leasing out factories that had been used for war supplies, and ‘F. W. Tilley’ (sic) was listed as ‘producing plastic buttons and accessories for Service and civilian needs’ in an ex-ordinance component factory in Hamilton, Victoria. In 1945 the name was changed to Tilley Plastics and in 1947 it was publicly listed. It was struck off in 1982.

The Argus, 7th November 1945.

F.H. Edwards, Melbourne:

This was a plastic manufacturer that produced buttons for the military during WW2. In 1937-8 they were located at 460A Queen Street, opposite the Queen Victoria Market. Later they were located at 52 Lyndhurst Street, Richmond, until at least 1955.

Commonwealth Gazette, 1941.

H. Arendsen & Sons Pty. Ltd., Melbourne:

Henrik (Henry) Matthew Arendsen was born in Melbourne in 1914  after his parents immigrated from Holland in 1912. He was a die-sinker, and started his metalware company before 1938.  His sons would later join the business. It appears to recently been re-named  as Stormor Shelving, a tailoring trimmings and supply firm. They produced metal buttons, buckles and other goods for the military in WW2.

Commonwealth Gazette 1939.

H. & J. Metal Co:

Dun’s Gazette for NSW, 1942.

Registered in December 1941, this was a short lived business, as it was listed as in receivership in 1944. They did supply the military with steel buttons in 1942 and 1943.

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 30th September 1943.

Laughton Ltd. (Rainsford),  Sydney:

The parent company was the British company Stratton that started in 1860 producing knitting needles. It merged in 1920 with the companies Jarrett and Rainsford, makers of haberdashery and jewellery. In 1928 the company of  ‘Jarrett,  Rainsford and Laughton Ltd’  established the subsidary ‘Rainsford Ltd.’,  later ‘Rainsford Pty Ltd.’, in Sydney. Initially they were importers only,  but later set up manufacturing as well.  In  February of 1935 a large fire in an adjoining building caused an estimated 25,000 pounds damage to stock.

This company also produced uniform buttons during WW2.

Published in The West Australian, 4th July 1934.

Published 14th July, 1934 in the News (Adelaide).








As the company had its origins in knitting needles, this needle sizing tool is a nice item.


McMonnies & Geary, Manly:

Dun’s Gazette for NSW, 1934.

All I have found out is that John David McMonnies (1909-1967) and Patrick Leo Geary were both listed as clerks in the electoral rolls.

Melbourne Button Pty Ltd:

This company started in 1935 at 38 Yarra St, Abbortsford, Melbourne. They were supplying jute webbing for the Department of supply in 1954. They also advertised for a machinist for ‘fancy leather work’. A company of this name was degregistered in 1974.

The Herald, 28th May 1935.

Frank Henry Cowper was a director of various companies. They had moved from New Zealand to New South Wales, then around 1929 to Melbourne. His son Denis Lawson ‘Dave’ Cowper was an athlete, cricketer and rugby player. As a member of the Wallabies he toured South Africa in 1933.

From his Wikipedia entry.

Moulded Products (Australasia) Pty.Ltd.  Melbourne:

News (Adelaide), 5th April 1951.

Detail from a 1957 photo in the State Library of Victoria’s collection: The Bourke Street office of Moulded Products is visible in the centre of these buildings.

In 1927 in North Melbourne  John W. Derham formed the Australian Moulding Corporation.  This Company produced ‘Saxon’ and ‘Harlequin’ ware. To survive the Great Depression in 1932  the company merged with Moulded Products  (a company  started in 1931 producing gramphone records) to become Moulded Products (Australasia) Pty. Ltd. 

Dunlop Perdiau had a controlling interest in this firm from 1934 until 1937. During the war required the company was obliged to produce only military requirements, which included plastic and vegetable ivory buttons.

The Dandenong Journal (Melbourne), 21 Aug 1940.

Government Gazette, 19 December 1940.

The company became the largest producer of moulded plastic products in Australia. In 1944 a new factory was built in Mentone. New products such as garden hoses were made. In 1966 the company was renamed Nylex Pty Ltd. The factory employed many people at the Mentone factory until its closure in 2006.

Nally Ltd., Sydney:

In 1927 an electrical engineer, Herbert Anthony Marshall, started a company called Nally Products Limited that produced plastic products including ‘Nally Ware’,  plastic kitchenware made from phenol resin. The company was in liquidation in 1930 but re-born as ‘Nally Limited’ and continued until bought out in 1990. They produced plastic buttons for the military in WW2.

Commonwealth Gazettes, 1944.

Norco (North Coast Co-operative),  New South Wales:


 In 1935 Norco purchased a casein factory at Lismore from S.M. Cottee and Sons. Its main use in Australia at that stage  was for glue used in the plywood industry. However, at an exhibition that year, Norco had displays of casein products, including ‘buttons of  many attractive shapes and colours’.  Later they would also include items such as buckles and dolls heads!  Local people bemoaned the fact that overseas manufacturers were using Australian casein to make products to sell back to us, and that more should be made of the industry.


Perfection Plate,  Sydney:

This was another business whose primary business was not button manufacturing but who produced uniform buttons during WW2. It was established by ‘Silverbrite Electroplating Company’ in 1925. The company continues today as Perfection Plate Holdings, and includes Stokes Badges, the remaining part of the business started in 1853 by Thomas Stokes.

Published 2nd June 1932, in the Farmer and Settler (Sydney).







Department of Supply tenders in Commonwealth Gazette: 15th October 1942.

Raynors Pty. Ltd., NSW:

Commonwealth gazette 9th April 1953.

Raynors were engravers who expanded into die-casting and general metal engineering.  They operated from at least 1932 and were deregistered in 1996.

Rider and Bell, Sydney:

Rider and Bell is a light engineering firm established in 1920. It is now located in Peakhurst, but in the 1940-50s was in Rhodes, Sydney. The Library of N.S.W. has some photos of the manufacture of fireman’s brass helmets at Rider and Bell in 1958, which is nice as I now have a bunch of Fire Brigade buttons.






Sheridan’s,  Perth,  West Australia:







Sheridans Badges is a family firm started in 1913 in Perth by  Victorian born Charles Sheridan.  It had large military contracts in both WW1 and WW2. See http://museum.wa.gov.au/research/research-areas/history/sheridans-badges and http://wanumismatica.org.au/medalists-badge-makers/sheridans for more on the history of this company. The buttons below are backmarked ‘Sheridan Perth’.

Charles Sheridan c. 1918.

Mr Charles Sheridan, circa 1932.

 c. 1932.














Previously WA police buttons were imported from England. Published in The Daily News (Perth), 27th June 1934.

T. H. Cheese, Sydney:

Screen shot 2017-04-14 at 4.11.07 PM

Trent Hirst Cheese 1907-1986.

The Sun (Sydney) 14th Aug 1936. The company was struck off in 1943.

Vogue Button Company:

The Age, 20th November 1935.