Guide to Vintage Buttons

Transforming your outfit does not have to be a major project. It’s the little details that can dramatically change a vintage look and the simplest way to do that is with vintage buttons. Vintage buttons are tiny art pieces that can carry huge historical value. Whether you’re a button collector or just need help to alter a garment, you’ll find thousands of buttons of every type of material and size to suit your needs at Isa’s.

We even carry vintage designer buttons from Saint Laurent, Chanel, and Valentino that can help bring new life to your favorite piece of clothing. It’s important to understand why these tiny pieces can be so valuable.

Why Collect Valuable Buttons?

Button collectors take simple, utilitarian objects taken for granted by millions of people each day and group them into delightful displays that make you stop and think. If you have a bakelite, celluloid, art deco style, or ivory button, it suggests that it’s vintage. But, since women’s fashions in the 19th century regularly included buttons, these are common and not necessarily valuable. Vintage Buttons that are worth anything are typically from the 18th century and earlier as they are considered rare and valuable.

How to Identify Antique Vintage Buttons

Antique buttons can be made out of just about anything, from antlers and bone to glass and ceramics to metals and stone. Military buttons are in a class by themselves, with categories for flat buttons made of lead or pewter, two-part convex buttons, and buttons produced for officers. But whatever their material, size, age, or lineage, buttons are fascinating little objects, items that are so utilitarian yet so varied, they just about beg to be collected.

  • “Diminutive” buttons (less than 3/8″ across)
  • “Large” buttons (greater than 1 1/4″ wide)
  • “Old” buttons (pre-1918)
  • “Modern/Vintage” buttons (post-1918)

Have you ever considered the different ways buttons are made? There is the face of the button, of course, which can be painted, embroidered, or carved. Then there’s the back, which is home to the button’s shank. This is the loop that allows you to attach a button to an article of clothing. Some shanks are built into the button—these are called self shanks.

Others have shanks made out of small loops of metal, which are attached to the button in any number of ways. Some buttons have no shanks at all—instead, the button is pierced with two, three, or four holes so it can be sewn directly onto a garment.

What Makes A Button Valuable?

In general, clothing button prices can range from a few cents to a few hundred dollars each. Only rare examples in stellar condition bring high dollar values though. Embellishments like hand painting and enameling on antique French or Victorian buttons can lead them to be worth $200 or more. Old pottery buttons crafted and hand-painted by American Indians can also sell in that price range. And, unusual motifs like dancing frogs on an old metal button can bring in $150 to $200 as well.

Different Types of Collectible Buttons

Celluloid Buttons

This rare material is the very first man-made plastic. They can be opaque, transparent or both and come in all shapes and sizes. These buttons were popular in the early 1900s. The downfall of celluloid is that it is highly flammable.

Bakelite Buttons

Bakelite buttons are highly sought after. It was the first completely synthetic plastic. They are heavier than Celluloid buttons and tend to be more opaque than clear. Today any pieces that were clear and have turned very yellow, they refer to like apple juice Bakelite and opaque buttons which have turned very yellow, are referred to as cream corn Bakelite.

Lucite Buttons

Lucite has a low density but was stronger than previous plastics. Like some of the other type plastics, old Lucite buttons could be colorful with glitter embedded in them or rhinestones mounted on them. They were also made into shapes like flowers or animals. Lucite buttons and jewelry was most popular from the 1930s on through the 1960s.

Victorian Glass Buttons

Many black glass buttons were made during the Victorian era. These black colored glass buttons were made to imitate the true jet buttons that Queen Victoria wore during her time of mourning her husband’s death. The majority of glass buttons were made in Czechoslovakia in the 20th century.

Old Metal Buttons

Most vintage metal buttons were made from brass or copper. Sterling, Gold or Pewter buttons were much less common. Some metal buttons were ornamental and some were embossed with patterns or pictures. One of the most sought after metal buttons is any brass picture button from the Victorian era. There are metal buttons from the revolutionary war through the civil war era that were on military uniforms. Many of these have military symbols on them. There are actually many of these metal “picture” type buttons with writing on the back that will help identify them.

See More From Isa Couture Fabrics

Can’t get enough of the beautifies found in vintage designer buttons, metal buttons, or victorian glass buttons? Then see some of our other guides on gorgeous couture we have in stock – Lace and Velvet. Add some unique flair to outfit or come into our showroom in the Wynwood / Miami Design District area and create something utterly yours to be ready for this holiday, gala, and event season.

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