Find of the Month: English Silver-Gilt Button
February 6, 2014
I’m a little late posting this Find of the Month, so I thought about skipping January and just do one at the end of February. However, this little guy is super cute! I felt bad passing him over…
I wouldn’t consider myself a button collector. In fact, I usually find myself short a few buttons! I’m a sucker for antique buttons, though. After the thrill of finding my own Stuart Crystal breeches button, I was hooked.
Breeches button, circa 1690-1715
Buttons are survivors! Since they’re made out of hardy materials and are always useful, they usually outlast the fashions they are attached to. They were frequently recycled into newer fashions, so you will find lots of Victorian bodices that have been robbed of their many front buttons. Buttons also tend to get lost easily. While that may seem like a terrible thing, in the long run, it means you have a treasure hunt on your hands!
Lots of people like to go metal detecting for such tiny lost objects. Buttons that popped off a coat years ago are common finds. I like to browse through antiquities, mostly out of curiosity rather than a want to buy. It’s exceptionally simple to fake antiquities by just burying things in damp soil for a few years and letting them gather a little age before selling them to less-informed buyers. I was always told that buying such trinkets from anyone but licensed dealers was a fool’s mistake. That’s sage advice, but when I stumbled across this particular button, my heart did a little jig in excitement:
The seller cautiously dated it to the 18th century(?), and the shape looked right. Buttons hold their value well and even now, buttons are one of the biggest expenses in most of my projects. A button of this size and style made of metal can cost 6 or 7 dollars new, sometimes much more. As I waited for my button to journey across the Atlantic, I used that fact to comfort myself that, even if this button was the phoniest of phonies, I had only paid the fair, modern market value for the button itself.
I actually ordered this little fellow back in mid-December, but air post from Britain often takes a month or so to arrive, so it didn’t arrive until the first week of January, making excellent time, considering that it had to wriggle its way through the holiday mail rush. So even though I technically “found” it in December, I’m using it for January’s Find of the Month since I didn’t even get to hold it until King’s Day! It was well worth the wait: I was not disappointed! After some gentle cleaning and taking off much more dirt than it appeared to be coated with (I swear the back is actually a dust portal and that there is now a good-sized hole somewhere in the English countryside where it all ported from), I discovered that under all the grey was a light layer of silvery gilt:
I do not know if it is silver or silvery tin. It’s laid over a base made of a copper alloy (pewter, perhaps?) which is darker and rough, but responds to neither metal polish nor a magnet. Judging by the shape, it’s entirely possible that this button is from the 18th century–the golden age of buttons before the late Victorian period–but buttons in this style have been made since ancient times. It could very well be 19th century or 17th century, or an Indian-made button from a 1970s vest. I really cannot tell, but I love it nonetheless! I’m thinking it would go very well on a hat bow or maybe sewn to a velvet choker. I haven’t quite decided yet.