The importance of china buttons finds in Briare France
Published: February 18, 2011
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.
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products in outdated colors, and that the dump might be accessible.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
first day finds
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.
layers in the hole
two special inserted shanks
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.
special buttons at the museum
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or through the website www.bysonbuttons.com.
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