Monday, October 1, 2012

What are "China" Buttons?

Whistles; fluted w/Rims & hobnail, rimless.
     China buttons do not come from the Country of China, but rather, from a porcelain production method.  Imagine Bone China plates and tea cups, vases, figurines and the like.  Up until 1840 buttons of this type were made in the same way as these items: from wet clay.  It was tedious and the product was so unpredictable that the buttons that turned out well commanded a very high price.  What changed that?  An Englishman!
     Richard Prosser came up with a method that used very dry porcelain powder which was then pressed into dies that were ready to be fired immediately in the kiln.  The process was quick, inexpensive and reliable.  Now there was competition for the utility buttons of the day made from metal or shell.

Colored body (red) Fish-eye. 
 Note the back (on right) has typical rough patch.
     Richard sold a part interest of his patent to Minton's of France and they soon began producing beautiful, yet practical, china buttons.  There is a wonderful story about Minton's that I will share with you later this week!  While other countries, such as England and America, soon got in on the production market, France made a superior quality product.  In addition, the Calico patterns, which these buttons are sometimes patterned after, were produced in France, so they are typically thought of as a French product.
Fish-eye with a stencil pattern. Found in 11 colors!
     The fact that they could be mass produced and sold for reasonable prices might explain why we typically find so many china buttons among the other utilitarian shell / Mother of Pearl, metal and plastic buttons in our button boxes!  They were made in a large variety of types, shapes and patterns and I will try to introduce you to some of the more common types this week.
     The pictures you see in today's post are of my newest acquisitions from my dear friend, Sharon Onweller.  In the near future I hope to make a few display cards to show you how I store them for reference and safe keeping. Until then, Button Up!

Calicoes, glorious Calicoes!