Give swirlbacks a whorl
Published: March 15, 2010
|Glass swirlback buttons are often found on Victorian charm strings. These buttons are quite small, ranging from 11/32 to 5/8 in. The more common swirlbacks are uncommonly beautiful and reasonably priced.|
To identify a swirlback button, you need to look at the back of the button for a swirl that radiates from the loop shank. In the photograph I've included by Steve Chan, you can see the backs of a yellow and a blue swirlback button. Note that the swirls are not merely concentric circles. As defined in the National Button Society Official Classification Guide, swirlbacks are "recognized by the cord-like winding off of the glass around a metal shank. Any portion of a swirl is acceptable. Although most have a wire shank, a plate and loop are acceptable if a swirl is evident."
As you develop an eye for swirlbacks, you will notice multiple characteristics that catch your fancy. Look for interesting techniques, shapes, and colors. The colors are brilliant. They can be opaque, transparent, or black. For fun, pick your favorite color and collect those. I started with autumn yellow and topaz because autumn is my favorite season and topaz is my birthstone. Also watch for less common colors or the very rare orange and pink.
Color, construction, embellishment, shape, and subject matter vary greatly among swirlbacks. For example, berry tops look like berries and pudding molds look like old-fashioned pudding. Realistics mimic the shape and look of animals, plant life, or objects. Realistic swirlback buttons include a scallop shell, an owl's head, a dog's head, and human skulls. My favorites are the ones with dots and swirl patterns.
While they are sturdy, you do need to handle glass buttons with care. Also, look for chips in the glass.
Swirlbacks are so whimsical that they are bound to find their way into your heart. What a contemporary look for buttons that were made from the 1840s-1870s! Give swirlbacks a whorl.
Elaine K. Baur volunteers for the National Button Society and enjoys making creative cards for her buttons. She started collecting buttons by buying one here and there at flea markets. Elaine lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the U.S., with her husband and two black-and-white cats. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.