Button Identification

Button identification is crucial to its dating. The state of the buttons can be misleading, as the colour can be very well preserved, and also, if unused, even brittle materials can last decades.

These buttons are from late 1950s - early 1960s.
But these were easy to date, as I knew the exact time the shop
that had acquired them was opened and closed. Actually, this was a very
interesting time for the buttons.

How to date buttons?

  • First you need to know what it is made of. Is is mother of pearl? Casein? Bakelite? Or simply acrylic or nylon? Never use a hot needle for testing, as this will damage the piece and possibly even put you in danger, as some of the vintage plastics are highly inflammable. Here are some hints: 
Identifying casein / galalith
Identifying celluloid
Identifying Vegetable Ivory / Tagua nut buttons
Identifying Bakelite
The difference between jet and black glass
Identifying mother of pearl

If your buttons are made of tagua nut and mother of pearl, they are probably dated 1920s - 1940s, though some manufacturers use this material to this day (though very, very rarely). Casein buttons were popular until 1950s, and so were celluloid buttons. They were substituted with modern plastics, which was more resistant to machine washing etc, along the 1950s and no longer produced.

Glass buttons are more difficult to identify this way because they have been produced for centuries and still are. The same for metal buttons. However, there are some clues to that too. And some glass looking buttons may have been made of jet, which only adds to their value.

  • The second most important thing is the style. Is it art deco? Or maybe your buttons are large Mod style from 1960s? 
    Victorian buttons are usually made of black glass or natural jet.
    They feature fine texture and detailed decoration. These buttons were still in vogue
    in the early 20th century, so this button may have been made in 1900s or 1910s.

Art deco pieces usually feature geometric forms in strong contrast colours.
Art deco pieces were popular until 1940s.
Art Nouveau style usually imitates nature, and includes soft, curvy lines.
These items are from early 20th century, up to 1930s.
  • The details can tell you more. Black glass buttons have different shanks and finish, depending on their age. The buttons from 1990s on can look perfectly old and stylish, but they usually have manufacturer's marks on the back. Be careful as black glass was also very popular in 1980s, when not everyone left their marks. 
This button looks antique, it has silver lustre and could be taken for a 1920s piece,
but it was actually manufactured in the 1980s. How do I know? I got it from
 a shop dead stock, which only opened in 1980s, and only
acquired new buttons. Sometimes it is where you get it from. 
  • Look at the back of the button. It may tell you a lot about the age and material.

This button has a very uneven surface, very characteristic for old casein buttons.

Early plastics were not glued but rather drilled and screwed,
like this wood and bakelite button
  • There are also a few interesting facts about the world history that may help you identify the buttons. For example, in Europe during WW2, and in Spain, during and after the civil war (Spain was not involved directly in WW2) materials like plastic, a new invention, were scarce. Wooden and metal buttons were covered in thick layer of paint, usually in very vivid colours, to imitate plastic (however hard to believe this may seem). Also, the button cards were made of poor quality paper, like these buttons below:
You may find it hard to believe, but these buttons are made of wood. I scratched the layer of paint off one button of this kind to make sure. 
These buttons are made of metal, painted green to imitate plastic, although the paper card is much better quality.
These buttons are made of plastic, but look at the card: its quality together with the design indicates that they are at least from 1940s. 

  • 1950s - 1960s  buttons featured plastic buttons in all colours an shapes, even more than they do today. 

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