According to an article in the August 1951 Just Buttons magazine, produced in America, various early photographic processes were used to make buttons; particularly daguerreotypes (named after its inventor Louis Daguerre in 1839) and the ferrotype, also known as tintype (invented in 1884 by Robert Hunt, or alternatively by Hamilton L. Smith). Tintypes were much easier to produce, but did not wear well. “It became a fad for the men going off to (the Civil) war to have a row of these buttons, containing pictures of their wives, babies, or sweethearts on their waistcoats, and many a mother’s portrait went to war in this manner or else graced the lapel of her soldier boy’s coat. Soon after ladies took up the hobby and had their basques and dresses adorned with full length rows of these picture buttons – often of their war heroes or some friend or relation.” The tintype images were produced in a sheet of multiple images, then cut and shaped to be placed in button frames, often with a tin back and brass rim. Most were small, around 10-20mm, but occasionally larger examples are found, perhaps made as souvenirs at carnivals and holiday resorts.
Tintypes were used from 1860 to make politicians’ campaign medallions and lapel pins. From 1868 photographs of candidates backed by cardboard replaced tintypes as this was faster and cheaper although even less durable than the tintypes. In 1896 the celluloid pin-back (badge) button was introduced. This kind of patriotic “button” was made and sold in large quantities in Australia for fundraising throughout World War 1 and beyond. The use of the word button to refer to pin-back fundraising buttons has made it confusing for me to investigate if there were photographic buttons made in Australia, but I think the answer is yes, as it offered another opportunity for photographers to make sales.
For comparison: The pinback buttons
Turning things upsidedown: buttons as the camera!