15th November 2021

Cut Steel Buttons

There is some controversy as to whether “cut steel” buttons were the invention of Matthew Bolton junior of Birmingham in the mid 18th Century; probably he perfected and popularised an existing style. Small studs of steel were cut into facets and highly polished to imitate the more expensive marcasite that was popular on French buttons. In turn, ‘cut steel’ was later imitated by glass pieces, or by stamping a design into metal or glass, or even metalised plastic to imitate the facets. Therefore some buttons are an imitation of an imitation! Cut steel buttons were mentioned in the Australian press from 1841 through to 1954; their popularity lasting for several centuries.

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 3rd April 1880, page 636.

The Telegraph (Brisbane), 2`1st July 1894 page 7. “Here is a smart jacket. Can be worn for afternoon tea, or for semi-dinner dress, or even for the theatre. Made in moire antique, and spotted steel chiffon or lace. Cut steel buttons are de riguer with this confection.”

Earlier examples of cut steel buttons were densely covered with the steel facets.

If this glass button had a sliver glaze rather than gilt, you can see how it would be an imitation of steel imitating marcasite.

Brisbane Telegraph, 16th August 1950, page 22.