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The importance of china buttons finds in Briare France

the shank

Briare, France, is a small town on the Loire River, south of Paris, two hours by train. Before 2004, I, as a vintage and antique (clothing) button dealer and collector, only knew of this town as the place where Jean-Felix Bapterosses had established an extensive factory and produced millions of china (the material, a simple porcelain) buttons (and mosaic tiles, and beads) for 100 years, from 1850-1950. The history of this factory and its production of buttons are described briefly at the front of the National Button Society publication entitled Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons.


In 2004, I heard a rumor through a friend of a china button collecting friend, that the Bapterosses factory had a dump where it deposited overstock, seconds, and products in outdated colors, and that the dump might be accessible. In 2005, I made my first visit to Briare, with a group of china button collectors, and we found, after a lovely visit to the small Bapterosses Museum (Musée de la mosaïque et des émaux de Briare-le-Canal), that, in fact, one can go to the dump.


Last month, in this column, Nancy Fink's article described her first encounter with the dump. In this article, I would like to further describe the Bapterosses china buttons seen in the museum, and found in the dump.


During that first visit to Briare, in May of 2005, the visit to the museum caused hundreds of "wow's" to come out of our mouths as we peered into the glass show-cases and saw exceptional buttons not previously seen, and not pictured in the Guidelines--among them, extra large size buttons with calico patterns transferred onto them, and many unknown colors and patterns of inserted two-way self-shank buttons. This latter group of buttons particularly caught my interest as I had always been fond of this type of china button, in that they have a unique structure.


In the Guidelines, the inserted two-way self-shank button is described on page 33 as being: "constructed in two parts"... "the tops vary" and the "shanks are hollow disks rounded to fit into a molded well at the back of the button top". A photograph will probably help to see what this type of shank looks like.
sample card
The Guidelines describe and picture twenty different molded patterns that made up the variety in the tops of the button. In the museum, we saw a salesman's sample card of this type of button--there were many more top patterns than we had known before, and many colors: from white to pale blue to deep red, navy, forest green--very exciting to see. A photo of a similar sample card is shown here.
first day finds
That first day in the dump, in May of 2005, we did not go prepared to dig deeply since we did not know if we would even be able to find the dump. We found some plain buttons on the surface, but nothing that rivaled the beauties in the museum.
layers in the hole
two special inserted shanks
But, a couple of years later, because of a plan to present a program on Briare buttons at the annual convention of the National Button Society, Deborah Hanson and I returned to the dump, with shovels in hand. It was March 2008, and the day was rainy and cold. But, we were eager to dive in, and proceeded to dig a good sized hole, through layers of tiles, beads, buttons, until we reached what seemed to be a fresh, untouched spot, since its dumping, at least 60 year earlier. Once there, we sat and sorted shovels full in trays, pushing aside the tiles and beads, looking just for special or unusual buttons, and we found some two-way self-shank buttons--now this was worth all the elbow grease we had expended!! We continued eagerly, and at the end of the day had 35 of them. We went back to our hotel, and carefully washed these buttons. Some buttons had patterns not in the Guidelines, but were like buttons we had seen on the sample card in the museum--the excitement mounted, and led us to return to Briare many times, sometimes digging for days. In all, we have found at least twenty previously undocumented patterns in the molded tops of the two-way inserted self-shank buttons; and, we found many colors also not seen before, save for in the museum.
special buttons at the museum
Through the kindness of  M. de Courcelles, the president of the museum, as well as the women who work there, Deborah has had the opportunity to photograph all of the sample cards held by the museum, both in their displays and in their storage area. We are in the process of organizing these photographs and compiling a list of all the previously unknown china buttons. The visits to Briare have immensely widened the scope of American button collectors’ understanding of china buttons in ways unimaginable. The process is entrancing and we will continue to dig as deep and thoroughly as our backs will allow.
Jane Quimby has been an antique and vintage button dealer and collector for 14 years. The narrow category of china buttons has consumed her in large part for the past 5 years, as a result of the buttons seen in the lovely small museum nestled next to the Bapterosses factory in Briare, France; and secondly, due to the charm and welcome of the town of Briare; and, lastly, because of the dump used by the factory for seconds and over stock and outdated colors, styles, etc., which is endlessly fascinating--it is an ongoing source of information about the chronology of the production of china buttons; it is an archeology and a history; buttons are still being found which have not been seen or documented before in the American world of china button collecting.

Jane Quimby can be reached at or through the website

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