Antiques Column with Michael Dowse
As is usual over Christmas I have gained quite a few pounds and as is usual for January I am dieting.
Things, however, are not going as well as in previous years and I have had to resort to moving the button which fastens my work trousers by a number of centimetres. This in addition to causing me heartache has made me ponder the button.
Buttons have always been used for fastening and decoration. They have been discovered in Egyptian tombs and over 15,000 have been found on a Court costume belonging to Henry VIII.
However button making took on a new dimension in the 18th century with Dandies sporting ornamental buttons up to 4cm in diameter and handmade buttons produced in anything even fine porcelain.
The 19th century saw the growth of mechanisation and Birmingham became the centre of the industry and exported buttons all over the globe. Metal buttons were popular for uniforms and servants' liveries while better buttons like silver and enamelled examples were enjoyed by the upper classes. These better buttons were often detachable for laundry purposes and some came in handsome cases.
Victorian and Edwardian fashions stimulated button demand leading to special examples being made for boots, gloves and even underwear. Queen Victoria's grief at the death of her beloved Albert stimulated the demand for mourning dress and black buttons.
The development of colourful plastic buttons happened in the 20th century.Those produced were often large with strong colours and geometric shapes common in Art Deco design. Sadly for the button producers the introduction of the zip and other boring but effective fasteners saw a decline in the demand for the button. Hold this space though as I am reliably informed by the large and vocal female side of my family that once again the button is the height of fashion. What better time to start a collection.