In the Czech Republic, the fall of communism causes the breakup of the state-directed factory and distribution system. Craftsmen once again set up small shops, using molds and equipment obtained from the breakup of the large state factories. Special orders of buttons are commissioned by Americans for the collector market; old molds are used and a few new designs are introduced. Most old-stock Czech buttons of collectible quality disappear from the market, either through sales to foreign bulk buyers or to collectors. In Germany, the rapid decline in the number of button manufacturers continues. Old German stock also disappears, primarily through bulk sales to the Middle East and Africa. The decline of both German and Czech production is driven by garment industry preference for metal and plastic buttons; the passing of the old guard of button makers; and environmental regulations that limit or ban the manufacture of certain chemicals needed for many types of glass and glass finishes, such as auroras and black moonglows.
Today, only a handful of Czech and German glass button makers practice the craft, selling their limited output to a small market of collectors and specialty retailers. Original mid-century button molds are still used; serviceable button molds turn up in factory basements and in antique stores. Buttons pressed from rediscovered molds can be indistinguishable from those pressed decades ago, but many of the newer buttons are made from glass types or decorated in styles not prevalent or available when the mold was first used.
The countless millions of vintage glass buttons produced in Germany and Czechoslovakia -- most of them made one at a time by hand -- offer a collecting opportunity that is virtually unique. Few decorative objects are as infinite in variety, as visually exciting, and as affordable as the beautiful glass buttons made in central Europe during the 20th century.Jane Johnson is a life member of both the National Button Society and the California State Button Society. Her passionate interest is glass buttons, and many times in the last decade she has visited the button-making region of Bohemia in the Czech Republic and the town of Neugablonz in southern Bavaria. Jane and her husband, Myron, are proprietors of Antique & Modern Buttons. You can reach Jane at email@example.com, or visit her Web site, buttonfun.com.