Identifying glass buttons

Glass buttons are the most lovely to own.  Particularly the clear ones.  They make a particular “chink” when handled en masse.  But is it glass or is it plastic?

Glass buttons have been around since the 18th century when the material was mixed with other materials to produce a button.  It was not until the 19th century that pure glass buttons were produced.  These were made with a metal shank or post.  Glass buttons with a self (glass) shank are modern buttons, and by modern, I mean from the very early 20th century.

But how can you tell a glass button from a plastic one?  This is fairly easy if the buttons are clear.  Glass buttons sparkle, they are clear, they have a clarity that just cannot be found in plastic or synthetic buttons.  Plastic buttons have a cloudy appearance.  If the button is pressed or cut, the edges are sharp, just like cut-glass crystal.  Glass is also cold to the touch (touch it to your lips, they are more sensitive to temperature).  Tap the button on your teeth, it should be a sharp clicking sound not a dull thud!  And of course glass buttons are heavy.  Plastic buttons are very light.  If in doubt check the back.  If the button has a metal shank or post it is glass.  The metal was inserted into the glass button while still hot.

Metal shanks can also be used to date the button.

In this picture there are 4 different backs.  All of them are associated with glass buttons.

1.  Loop shank with metal backplate.  There are lots of variations and date to the nineteenth and twentieth century.

2. Metal loop shank with rosette back plate. These date from nineteenth to early twentieth century.

3.  Metal box fourway metal shank, late nineteenth, early twentieth century.

4.  Built up self-shank, twentieth century.

These were in my grandmothers collection and all date from the late 1800s early 1900s.

The same criteria apply when trying to identify coloured glass buttons.  The sound, feel and weight come more into play here.  These lemon zebra buttons are a great example of vintage 1930s glass buttons.

There are a large number of particular styles of manufacture for glass buttons …. but that’s another blog post!


Read the washing label…’s there for a reason!

Today’s buttons were on a cardigan I bought from a local high street store.  It was a beautiful cardigan, lovely shape, gorgeous colour, beautifully soft and squidgy and looked pretty damn cool.  I loved that cardigan and wore it to death.  Then the fateful day arrived.  It needed to be washed.  Handwash only, drip dry and reshape.  But I knew better didn’t I.  I had a cycle on my washing machine that says handwash woollens so in it went.  On completion it looked OK, but then I decided what possible harm could it come to if I stuck it in the tumble drier………..oops, it came out teddy size as in it would fit my teddy!!! It had shrunk and felted in the heat of the tumble dryer.  Gutted.  But entirely my own fault and I have learnt my lesson, possibly!  I still live dangerously on what to tumble dry or not.

All Aboard!

Buttons, cufflinks, brooches and other ephemera invoke memories of the past and todays button is no different.  It is a button off a uniform worn by my late mother-in-law.  She was a bus conductress on the buses for Eastern Counties covering mainly Whittlesey and Peterborough.  There were two shifts a day and she would do one shift and her Mum would do the other.  My husband remembers those days with fond affection.  He spent a lot of time being baby sat on the buses with his Mum and Nan.

The front of the button is a silver colour with the words “EASTERN COUNTIES” embossed onto it.

The reverse of the button is brass with an engraved pattern and post for attaching to the garment.

Eileen worked on the buses for over 25 years.

My husband swears he has a photo of Eileen in her uniform and next to a bus but unfortunately we can’t find it at the moment.  When we do I’ll update the post.

Update 17 Jan 2010

We’ve found a photo of Eileen in her uniform.  Still looking for others.