As is usual over Christmas I have gained quite a few pounds and as is usual for January I am dieting. Things, however, are not going as well as in previous years and I have had to resort to moving the button which fastens my work trousers by a number of centimetres. This in addition to causing me heartache has made me ponder the button.

Buttons have always been used for fastening and decoration. They have been discovered in Egyptian tombs and over 15,000 have been found on a Court costume belonging to Henry VIII. However button making took on a new dimension in the 18th century with Dandies sporting ornamental buttons up to 4cm in diameter and handmade buttons produced in anything even fine porcelain.

The 19th century saw the growth of mechanisation and Birmingham became the centre of the industry and exported buttons all over the globe. Metal buttons were popular for uniforms and servants’ liveries while better buttons like silver and enamelled examples were enjoyed by the upper classes. These better buttons were often detachable for laundry purposes and some came in handsome cases.

Victorian and Edwardian fashions stimulated button demand leading to special examples being made for boots, gloves and even underwear. Queen Victoria’s grief at the death of her beloved Albert stimulated the demand for mourning dress and black buttons.

The development of colourful plastic buttons happened in the 20th century.Those produced were often large with strong colours and geometric shapes common in Art Deco design. Sadly for the button producers the introduction of the zip and other boring but effective fasteners saw a decline in the demand for the button. Hold this space though as I am reliably informed by the large and vocal female side of my family that once again the button is the height of fashion. What better time to start a collection.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Floral Enamelled Buttons

Valuable curiosities can crop up when you least expect them!

Jewellery Specialist Sarah Clark writes….

Having set myself the task of ‘learning something new today’ – information that I could perhaps pass on to someone else or store up and bring to the fore, should something similar cross my path in the future, I unfortunately realised that today was not going to be that day… The priority of seeing visiting Clients, valuing items and preparing for our forthcoming auction was clearly going to keep me busy for much of the time.

However, whilst carrying out a valuation with a Client, another lady came in. I noticed she had a picture and a plate (not my area of expertise) but she also had a small wooden box. Similar boxes I have seen contain pens or small mathematical instruments… nothing unusual there, but intriguing nonetheless. The lady was seen by a colleague and her items we consigned for auction.

On further inspection the box was very light, a bit tired, the small fastening catch didn’t fit properly and appeared to me to be of no particular value. To my astonishment when opening the box, I was amazed to see a set of six beautifully enamelled buttons. Each depicting flowers, highlighted in pinks and purples, with vivid green stems and leaves. Not what I was expecting from such an unassuming case!

Set of Six beautifully enamelled buttons
Set of Six beautifully enamelled buttons

The buttons date from the late 19th/early 20th Century and are decorated using a technique called Gin Bari or Gin Bari Foil. Developed in Japan, it involves using a colour tinted enamel over a sheet of embossed foil. Similar in appearance to Cloisonné enamel, the decoration can be found on vases and ornaments, novelties and collectors pieces, much produced throughout the 20th Century.

You just never know what is going to come through the Auction Gallery door!

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Written by Specialist Valuer Sarah Clark, B.A.(Hons.)