Fabric covered buttons have been a part of the button story from the early days of Australian history. The first newspaper was the ‘The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser’ published from the 5th March 1803. In May 1803, among goods for sale imported aboard the ship Rolla, were ‘shirt and other button moulds’.
Moulds have been made of wood, metal, bone, horn, linen and plastic. They have been covered with fabric, crocheted over or painted. Fabric covered button moulds have been embroidered and beaded. (Many articles about covering and decorating your own buttons can be found on the ‘Make your Own’ page of this blog.) Tailors, dressmakers, sewing machine stores and department stores offered button and buckle covering services, especially once efficient button covering machinery was developed.
Australian Buttons and Buckles Pty. Ltd., Dawson Street, Sydney
Godfrey Norman Shead was born in 1907. He served overseas in WW2 and returned, wounded, in 1941. He died the following year, aged only 34 years.
He had been involved in several button manufacturing partnerships before the war. The first was in in 1934 with James E. Campbell and George R. Sheidow in Whistler Street, Manly.
This did not last long as the next year he was part of ‘Shead, Frost & Co’, whilst James Campbell continued alone.
The new partnership dissolved in 12 months, when yet another version of the business was formed.
They produced ‘Jiffy’ recoverable button molds. There was also the ‘Jiffy de Lux’ in gold or silver, which showed a ring of metal around the outside of the covered button. They also made casein buttons, but I am unaware of the branding of these. This company existed from 1936 until 1951, when they went into receivership. All the plant and stock were auctioned, including button presses, embossers, drills, cutters, tumblers, lathes, blanking machines as well as brass, zinc and casein, moulds and dies.
A new company, ‘Jiffy Buttons P/L” formed in March 1951. One of the subscribers from 1936, George L. Bourne, had been involved with the original firm. It appears to have folded in 1958.
Beutron advertised these moulds from 1968-70.
They were wholesale distrubuters who sold button moulds.
A button press branded “Leda” as in the line of buttons has been seen online.
Many people and firms were involved in making covered buttons and buckles; this is just a sample of those involved.
Kate bought a button Business in the Nicholas building around 1995 to sell imported, vintage and Australian craft buttons. A large part of her business was making bespoke buttons, buckles and belts, using an antique button covering machine. With this she supplied buttons for ballet and opera costumes as well as for exclusive fashion houses and design students. She sold the business in 2016 and it has moved to Highett where the tradition of covered buttons and buckles continues.
G. Marish: Sydney
Herrman, Hatfield and Co: Darlinghurst
This company pre-dated the Herrman Company, which would eventually become General Plastic Pty. Ltd. Berthold Herrman was a pioneer of the plastic industry in Australia.
R. Pankhurt & Co/Pankys’ Pty. Ltd: Sydney
Apart from listings of British importers, the first button merchant (not manufacturer) listed within a Sydney directory was R. Pankhurst & Co in 1918.
Robert Pankhurst had been importing buttons from Japan since at least 1915. In 1921 the company became a limited firm, however by 1928 the firm was in liquidation.
In 1930 they reinvented themselves as “Panky’s”, who sold button covering and eyeletting machines.
Tailors could make their own buttons using equipment such as this advertised by Pankys’. They advertised from around 1946 and went into liquidation in 1974.
R. J. Forbes Pty Ltd: 49 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
This company advertised from 1947 until at least 1965.
Wyeth,Besemeres & Co: South Melbourne
In 1924 a fire destroyed the single story factory in Little Street, Middle Park, Melbourne. The company was described as manufacturers of buttons and bottle-seals, and had a workforce of about 50 ‘men and girls’. The fire was caused by an explosion of gas in a seal-making machine and caused an estimated £10,000 damage.
But worse was yet to come…. In 1927 Calvert William Wyeth, aged 30, petitioned for divorce of his wife, Dorothy who was secretary to the company. While Mr Wyeth was in America on business, his wife had become too friendly with Basil Besmeres, who was the married director and salesman for the company, as well as one of Wyeth’s closest friends.
Calvert Wyeth had served in WW1. He remarried in 1928 and from around 1938 was operating a private hotel in Inverloch, Victoria. He was nominated for the Victorian Parliament in 1940 and died in 1983.
At the time of the divorce, Basil Besmeres had already moved to Sydney, becoming an indent merchant, then a factory representative, then company manager. He was born in Ballarat and like Calvert, had served in WW1. He married Dorothy in 1930 but would later marry again. He died in Sydney in 1976.
W. Lesser & Co, Sydney
Whilst there would be many button and buckle coverers, large and small, around Australia for many years, this firm had longevity, lasting until 1991.