Some helpful notes by Roger Revell:-.
that often appear on British Military, Naval,
Sporting and Livery Buttons.
‘Big Book of Buttons’,
Hughes and Lester.
‘Discovering Old Buttons’,
Primrose Peacock, Shire Publications.
‘Buttons: A Guide for the Collector’, Gwen
Squires, David and Charles.
Badge Collectors Circle
There are some notes on buttonmakers included in the page
'Brass buttons have been
made by the million and in a variety of designs that excites specialisation
within the hobby. Many of the buttons made are for military uses and represent
every individual regiment. Civilian uses include those used for uniforms for
public servants, livery, club and society, schools, colleges, hunts, shipping
lines, sporting clubs, corporation, transport and tramway together with those on
domestic blazers. Full highland dress for the Scots would be lost without the
splendid array of silver-plated buttons used on men’s coats. Collectors of
railwayana include buttons covering each of the railway companies of interest.
The most utilitarian button
was the ubiquitous brass trouser button. They have a similar date to overall
buttons - from late Victorian to the 1930’s. Trouser buttons are one-piece brass
and often have a maker’s name on the back. The fronts may have impressed names
and addresses of wholesalers and outfitters. The buttons are practically
worthless but are nevertheless an important part of our button history.
Birmingham was the centre
of the world’s button-making. There are records showing that Birmingham was
producing buttons as far back as 1166! In 1700, there were 104 button
manufacturers, at a time when men were paid 7 shillings a week (35p) and
children one shilling (5p) a week when they reached the ripe old age of ten
The main manufacturers at
the turn of the last century were probably Firmin, Gaunt, Jennens, Armfield,
Pitt, etc. Their names often appear on the backs of buttons. Collectors look for
these backmarks because the age of a button can often be determined by the
maker’s address on the back. Firmins is a well-known example. The firm’s history
goes back to the 18th century and the company had at least 15 different
addresses and backmarks. These have been researched and listed by enthusiasts,
using old trade directories.
While blazer buttons can be
flat, most others have a domed surface stamped from sheet brass using dies that
are not difficult to make. This makes personalisation economic for relatively
small numbers. The buttons may be left as manufactured and need re-polishing at
intervals or be lacquered or plated with chromium or silver. For polishing, it
makes life easier to slide buttons in to the slot of a button stick and these
are also collectible.
Apart from uniform buttons,
there are also buttons made largely from brass such as Czechoslovakian Twinkles,
Austrian Tinies, painted metal, metal-mounted, openwork buttons and so on.
These may be a little too
specialised for you but there are two categories of utilitarian brass buttons
that you might want to include. Both were produced by the billion and were the
mainstay of the Birmingham industry. The first are overall buttons for use on
work clothes. As the name suggests they were used on workmen’s jackets, tunics
and overalls. They have domed japanned tinplate backs and loop shanks. The
fronts were usually brass (later, chrome) with slogans and company names on
them. There are hundreds of different versions and these are collected, but not
There are many American
books that are about pin-buttons or lapel buttons, rather than buttons as such.
The Americans use the word “button” to refer to what we would call “lapel
badges”! The “bible” for button-collectors is “The Big Book of Buttons” by
Hughes and Lester. It’s available from one or two agents in this country and is
the best book by far. I’d also recommend two books by Gwen Squires. They were
published in the U.K. The first is “Discovering Old Buttons” published by Shire
Publications Ltd. And the other is “Buttons for the Collector”, published by
David & Charles (Newton Abbot). Both are now out of print but are much more
informative than most of the American publications. Many of the latter consist
of a profusion of glossy photographs from an inherited or recently purchased
collection of buttons, but with little information or text for the reader. The
Sally Luscombe book is the best of a the bunch.'
Manufacturers’ Names that
often appear on British Military, Naval, Sporting and Livery Buttons.
and Lester book)
Moore, Birmingham. 1855-1870.
Edward. (also William.) Armfield & Co. Ltd. Birmingham 1763 to date. (Listed as
a button maker from 1783.)
George. St. Martin’s Lane. London. 1824-35.
& William. 1835-1838.
Bogget & Co.
George & William Bogget & Co. 1838-1842.
Reynolds. William Bogget & Joseph Reynolds. 1843-1861.
Noakes. Fenchurch St. London 1840-45.
Robert. St. Martin’s Lane, London. About 1800-1824. Successor to 1. Williams.
Birmingham. Crossed swords trademark. 1907. Formed from a merger of three
smaller factories, and now a division of Francis Sumner Engineering Co.
Cairns & Co.
Birmingham. Tentatively. 1795-1810. Also Cairns & Frear, 1782-1820, merchants,
and Cairns, Frear& Kirmikell. Circa mid 1790’s-18l0.
Charles, Dublin. 1817-1847.
William. & Sons. Founded 1774. Amalgamated with Firmin in 1969.
Firmin & Sons.
The firm was founded in 1677. Backmark changes as follows:
(S.F.); near Somerset House. 1770’s to early 1790’s.
Strand. London. 1793-1796...
Firmin & Co.
Firmin & Sons,
Firmin & King,
Firmin & Sons,
& Samuel. 1841
Firmin & Sons.
In the early 1850’s, about 1852-3 there was another reorganization, although
Firmins themselves do not make any note of the change in backmark in the
pamphlet they issued in the 1950’s. Buttons made from the 1850’s to 1875,
however, bear the backmark of Firmin & Sons.
Firmin & Sons
Firmin & Sons
Ltd., established 1677, 108, 109 St. Martin’s Lane. London, 1894. The company
has been based in Birmingham since 1882. Their current address is 82-86
New Town Row, Birmingham B6 4HU.
Ltd. Birmingham 1870 to 1973. Manufacturer of military and uniform buttons.
& Dickenson. Birmingham. circa 1790-1823. Predecessor to Hammond, Turner & Sons.
& Sons Ltd., Birmingham. Founded in 1717 and in business until c. 1955. Noted
especially for tine sporting buttons. c. 1840-50.
Elijah. St. Martins le Grand. London. 1853-1855.
Jennens & Co.
London. Maker of military and uniform buttons, early 1800’s to 1924. Backmarks
Charles. Early 1800’s to about 1825.
Jennens & Co.
Jennens & Co.
Ltd. c. 1912-1924. The firm amalgamated with Gaunt & Son in 1924.
Broughton, Thomas Nortzell & Henry Broughton. Bouverie St. London. 1825-1838.
Nutting, I &
Son. later Nutting & Co. Circa 1800-1840. Combined with Sherlock & Co. in 1840.
Made Other Ranks pewter buttons.
Birmingham. Circa 1800-1843.
London. Early 1800’s.
Littlewood & Co. (M.L. & Co.) Sheffield. Early 1800’s to about 1810.
Moore, 1. &
Co. Birmingham. 1790’s to late l82(Ys.
Pitt & Co.,
Charles. St. Martin’s Lane. London. 1875-1895.
Pitt & Co., C.
Maddox St. from 1895-1973. The firm was bought by J. R. Gaunt of London in
l973, just before Gaunt itself was taken over by the Birmingham Mint.
Joseph William. 50 St. Martin’s Lane. London 1861-1870.
Reynolds & Co.
50 St. Martin’s Lane. London. 1871-1873.
Sherlock & Co.
London. Fine military and uniform buttons, about 1840’s-80’s.
Smith, Kemp &
Wright Ltd. Birmingham. founded in 1840s. they made Other Ranks brass buttons of
the pre-1871 patterns. They became part of Firmin & Sons in the early 20th
Wright. See above.
Limerick. Makers of Other Ranks brass buttons.
Twigg, W. &
Co. Birmingham. Produced livery, military and uniform buttons. Had been in
existence from early 19th century.
William. Birmingham merchant. Late 1790’s to late 1820’s. Distributor only.
Weldon, C. &
J. Charles & Jeremiah. Cheapside, London. 1851-early 1900’s.
or mo (John) St. Martin’s Lane. London. 179 1-1800.
Backmark found on top quality, late 18th and early 19th century livery and
Hyde & Co. Birmingham. Probably distributor, 1820’s.
Some of the makers marks most commonly found:
Some Buttonmakers outside Birmingham and