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How to Identify Material of Antique Buttons

Are you a passionate button collector or do you by chance possess a button you suspect is worth a lot? SBS Zipper is here to show you different methods to identify various buttons that are considered antique. With the knowledge you obtain from this article, you will be able to better assess the true worth of your buttons or improve the organization of your button collection.

The worth of antique buttons depends on their material, certain unique features, and rarity. The following are some tips and tricks to identify the button material. All these are rare button materials, and should therefore substantially increase a button’s value.

The most valuable metal buttons are the ones made of precious metals. They will often have a hallmark or a maker’s mark on the backside. For example, sterling silver buttons will have the number “925” or the word “Sterling”. Also, an important metal alloy to look for is pewter. A pewter button will leave a mark if scraped across a white paper.

sterling sliver buttons-antique-silver-buttons
pewter buttons

Mother of pearl buttons can also be identified using an interesting method. A mother of pearl button will be very cold if you press it against your cheek. These buttons also tend to be heavier than others.

Mother of pearl buttons

Another great trick for determining the button material is running it under hot water, and then smelling it. When run under hot water, celluloid buttons will smell like mothballs or Vicks Vapor, bakelite buttons will smell of formaldehyde, and lucite buttons won’t have any smell.

celluloid-bakelite-lucite buttons
from left to right: celluloid buttons/ bakelite buttons/ lucite buttons

Antique china buttons come in various colors, shapes, and sizes. Some even have beautiful paintings on them. These buttons were all made to be sew-through. China buttons will have a smooth and pleasant feel when touched.

China buttons

Glass buttons were also made in many different colors. A lot of black glass buttons come from the Victorian era. They were produced to imitate the jet buttons Queen Victoria wore while mourning her husband. To identify a glass button, softly bump it against a glass table or your tooth. If it clinks, it is made from real glass.

glass button
black glass button

If you suspect you have an antique bone button on your hands, we recommend you to weigh it. It should be heavier than the plastic ones and weigh approximately the same as a glass button.

Bone buttons

Leather buttons will typically have a metal shank pushed or drilled into the back. If it looks like leather but has a plastic shank, it’s most likely just a good imitation.

leather buttons

We hope these tips helped you identify the material of most buttons in your collection. Keep in mind that material is not the only factor in determining a button’s worth. Be on the lookout for handmade buttons, buttons belonging to Art Nouveau or Art Deco style, buttons with unique artwork, and pretty much anything that would add to a button’s singularity.

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