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Sally’s button saga continues

17th Century Spanish metal buttons as featured on Wikipedia

Thanks for all the comments about my button columns.  I too am enjoying learning so much about their history.  So I will continue on my button quest.

I thought this week I would pick up where I left off. Leather buttons have been made since the Middle Ages, when, according to some, they were made by bookbinders.

Snuggles out the window

Sally Cowan

In early America leather buttons were made in the workshops of harnessmakers and shoemakers.

Throughout history, metal has been the most common button material.  The earliest metal “buttons” may have been used on belts and other leather objects in the Bavarian Alps during the Bronze Age.  Not buttons in the current sense of the word, these ancient metal fastenings are similar to metal studs often used on modern leather garments.  Late in the 19th century, German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found golden buttons from about 1500 B.C. at Mycenae in Greece, but there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that they were used as buttons today.

Metal buttons used as fasteners probably first appeared in the 13th and 14th centuries.  They were first manufactured from less-centuries.  They were first manufactured from less-precious metal but jewelers soon began turning out buttons of silver and gold.  Scottish warriors reportedly wore heavy silver buttons on their kilts, which were used to pay for their funerals. (now, how many knew that little fact?)

During the Renaissance gold buttons set with jewels often were made by goldsmiths working in monasteries.  For years these fancy buttons were the rage of European royalty.  Mass-produced die-stamped metal buttons, such as those used on uniforms, were first made in the early part of the nineteenth century in England (mostly in Birmingham).

In the early days of America, buttons made from coins were worn on men’s clothing and traded with Native Americans.  Brass buttons were manufactured By Casper Wister of Philadelphia as early as 1750. Silversmith Paul Revere is believed to have made silver buttons in his workshop.


About Sally Cowan (51 Articles)
After Keeping You in Stitches for over 45 years, Sally enjoys her memories of events that happened on her way to retirement. Author of 6 books, lectures, teaching, and TV host on PBS and now has time for her many cats and Snuggles, the dog. She also loves playing trumpet in the Anastasia Baptist Church orchestra.

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