The history of buttons is ancient. They have existed for centuries and have been made, over the years, with many materials. In the beginning precious materials, such as carved glass, clay, porcelain and hand decorations were common. Today, it’s mostly plastic and metal buttons. In ancient times clothes were closed with buckles, pins, knots and laces. Indeed Romans or Greeks fastened, indeed, robes with a belt, or a brooch. So there was not much difference between feminine and the masculine dress and the garments were generally looser.
In the thirteen century, however, the use of the button finally arrived. It seems that the Crusaders returning from Middle East introduced the use of buttons. In the a later period, when tighter clothes were the fashion, the role of buttons became more important.
Buttons in modern times
The button industry was then again revolutionized at the beginning of the twentieth century thanks to a new material, the “galalite”. This was invented in 1897 by Friedrich Adolph Spitteler from the casein, a milk protein. The product, able to imitate different types of material such as horn or ivory, was one of the favourite materials for buttons in the 1920s and 30s. In the 40’s bakelite became very popular and buttons were made in many different colours and shapes.
Today, collectors of buttons are mostly American. There are dozens of clubs in the US, some with more than 3,000 collectors. There are also many collectors in France, England, Italy, Belgium, Japan. As for value, everything depends on the historical period and the material. The seventeenth-century French buttons were embellished with enamels and paintings. Others were made with old ceramics. The buttons of the American Civil War uniform are very sought after. Or even the buttons worn by movie stars or famous sportsmen. Every collector in the US would like the button to possess that depicts Roosevelt during a hunt in 1904.