Button Terms, part 1
Published: October 10, 2009
A to Z: Part one
Three-hole wood with backmark "Made in Czechoslovakia"
Vintage aluminum with backmark "H POMERANTZ"
Every hobby has a language all its own, including button collecting. As in any hobby, some of the terms used in the button world can mystify new collectors. When I started thinking about what terms to include in a basic button glossary, my brain balked at the sheer number of possibilities. After talking with other collectors, I decided to begin with these:
A backmark is written and/or pictorial information original to the back of a button. A backmark can show the maker's name and location, the quality of the material ("925" for sterling, for example), and even patent dates. Most buttons do not have backmarks.
Bubble tops are celluloid buttons that have space between the top of the button and its base. Bubble tops can be celluloid, celluloid with a metal back, or celluloid over a cardboard back. Bubble tops can be sew-throughs or have shanks of metal or celluloid.
Top view of bubble top celluloid
Side view of bubble top celluloid
Classification of buttons is based on attributes such as age, size, material, face design, and construction type. The National Button Society publishes a classification guide, often referred to by collectors as "The Blue Book."
National Button Society "Blue Book"
Decorative finishes on buttons include lacquers, paints, dyes, lusters, gilding, and so on. A "DF" -- collector shorthand for decorative finish -- can cover the entire surface of a button or accent just part of the button, such as the edge. Some decorative finishes are merely washed onto the button and wear off easily. Others, such as lusters, are fired onto the button and can be very durable.
Decorative painted finish on antique black glass
Diminutives are the smallest buttons, measuring less than 3/8 in. (1 cm) in diameter.
Diminutives in assorted materials
Drums are buttons with straight sides that measure at least 3/16 in. (5 mm) in height. Most drums are made of metal with a center of contrasting material such as glass or shell.
Drum with design under glass center
A frame is a button of one material that evenly surrounds, or frames, a center of another material.
Vegetable ivory frame surrounds fabric center
Golden Age buttons refer to gilded or plated metal buttons made by American manufacturers between 1820 and 1850. Some Golden Age buttons have plain faces but most have pictorial or conventional designs, often enhanced with hand tooling. Golden Age buttons typically include backmarks with the manufacturers' names, a word or phrase describing the quality of the gilding, or both.
Golden Age button with backmark
Goofy is a term for mass-produced buttons having realistic shapes. Their heyday was the middle years of the 20th century. Most were made of plastic and they were usually sold in inexpensive sets of five or six related shapes derived from the pop culture of the era.
Plastic buttons from the mid 1900's
Habitat buttons were made by tucking insects, dried flowers, or other real objects inside buttons with clear glass or plastic faces. Habitat buttons were popular in the late 18th century. A few were manufactured during the Victorian era. Several 20th-century studio artists also made habitat buttons.
18th-century button enclosing natural materials
Igloo buttons have a flat base with a high, half-dome center pierced with a particularly impractical arrangement of sew-through holes. The term usually refers to 19th-century China buttons, but the igloo form is occasionally found in other materials. The style was short-lived, most likely because of the difficulty in sewing the buttons onto a garment, and the buttons are therefore scarce.
Top view of banded igloo
Lacy glass refers to late 19th-century and early 20th-century molded glass buttons with delicately textured face designs. Made mostly in the Czech city of Jablonec, lacy glass buttons were produced primarily in black glass and colorless glass. Those made of colorless glass often had gilded or painted backs that produced a subtle glow. Black glass lacy buttons were often finished with shiny metallic lusters.
Colorless lacy glass with painted design on back
Lustered black glass with lacy designs
Livery buttons were worn on servants' uniforms. Livery button designs typically include various elements from the employer's coat of arms. Although usually made of metal, livery buttons of pearl, horn, glass, and other materials are found, but they are scarce. Livery buttons were especially popular from the late 18th century into the Edwardian era.
Horn button featuring coat of arms details
Metal livery backmarked "W DOWLER BIRMINGHAM"
Lusters are metallic finishes fired onto glass and ceramic buttons. The most popular colors were gold luster, silver or platinum luster, and multihued iridescent luster.
Modern black glass with lusters
|Mary Weinberg lives in Centerville, Ohio, and is a member of the Dayton and Columbus button clubs, the Buckeye State Button Society, and the National Button Society. She is currently the editor of the Buckeye State Button Society Ohio Bulletin, and her husband, Jim, is Webmaster of the Buckeye State Button Society Web site. While Mary loves the hunt for buttons and button competitions, she believes friendships are the best part of button collecting. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about buttons can be found at ohiobuttons.org.||
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