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Sewing Up the Holes in Button History

October 09, 1986|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: In button collecting, is there a way to determine the manufacturer in an effort to date the buttons? --S.W.

Answer: Collectors say this is difficult. However, we're told that buttons that are a century or more old have what are known as backmarks, which can identify the manufacturer.

Apparently, buttons this old still are plentiful on the market and are very popular with collectors.

Collectors have generally categorized buttons by subject, material and age. And the National Button Society (Box 39, Eastwood, Ky. 40018) has selected the year 1918 as a kind of dividing line for classifying "old" versus "new" buttons.

What's more, given the millions of buttons produced, made of glass, metal, ceramic and other materials, the society also has sections and categories for old buttons, thus providing a systematic way of organizing collections.

There are thousands of button collectors and a multitude of books on the subject. It would be wise for the beginning collector to read up on the subject before spending any cash on "historical" buttons that turn out to be fakes or reproductions.

Prices range all over the lot, according to catalogues we have--from a few dollars to above $500 for rare examples of a particular craftsman, for examples of a particular era or from the clothing of a famous person.

Most collectible buttons appear to have been made in the United States, France or Great Britain, but a number of Asian buttons also are found in many collections.

Colonial records show that buttons were produced in this country as far back as the mid-18th Century. Among the wealthy, wearing several buttons on one's coat was considered a kind of status symbol.

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