Several important firms started in this time, including those that would become Herrman & Co (that would in turn become General Plastics) and G. Herring (that would become Beutron). See the separate pages for General Plastics, G.Herring, as well as for G. J. Coles and Woolworths and pearl-shell.
The plastics industry would boom, and the pearl-shell industry bust.
World War 1
The Great War caused many disruptions to manufacturing, with various goods and materials becoming unavailable, and some factory’s outputs completely turned over to the requirements of war. In Germany, due to the lack of local supplies of brass, nickel and tin, all loose pins, hooks and eyes as well as metal buttons were confiscated for use in munition production. Only carded buttons and packets of pins and hooks could be sold. Although circumstances weren’t quite so extreme here, shortages still occurred.
Post war growth
On the 29th August 1934 this article was published in the Daily News (Perth) detailing the growth in the button manufacturing industry in Australia at that time.
Published 1st June 1935 in The Australian Women’s Weekly page 22. (NB: Herculoid was a celluloid product made by DuPonts).
Not only were buttons being manufactured here, they were being designed here too, although many designs were made under licence from British and American firms. Unfortunately, designers are not often recorded for prosperity.
Caroline (Deetje) Andriesse was born in Java in 1899 and lived in Sydney from around 1922. She studied drawing and craftwork in Paris. She worked mainly in leather, straw and metal, making dress accessories and jewellery. In 1941 she became a designer with a dress making firm. She was reportedly living in London in 1963, but I have not been able find out what became of her.
Anne Stuart Lindsay
She designed novelty buttons around 1936-7, including fish, crabs, prawns, dogs, pineapples, apples and pears. She also designed textile art. It is possible some of the G. Herring novelty designs came from her.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 24th November, 1936 page 5.
From around 1908 Australian dairy producers started exporting casein (a milk protein) to America and England for the manufacture of casein plastic products. According to ‘An insight into Plastics’ by BTR Nylex Ltd., the plastics industry started in Australia around 1917, with buttons moulded from imported phenol-formaldehyde powder being among the first products manufactured. While shell, wood, glass and metal buttons were still common, plastic became more and more dominant. This was driven by the technological developments and demands of World War 2.
As early as 1856 a form of ‘celluloid’ was developed, although it was not until the 1880-90s that celluloid buttons were produced. Many ‘pin-back’ buttons were produced and sold in Australia from circa 1900 on ‘Button Days’ for fund-raising. Collecting these is a popular hobby.
It could be a dangerous industry, due to the highly flammable nature of this plastic. Factory fires, some fatal, occurred both here and overseas. A later form called cellulose acetate was cheaper and less flammable than cellulose nitrate. It was used to make buttons in Australia by companies such as Leda in the 1950s (sometimes trademarked as ‘Permaloid’.)
According to ‘An Insight Into Plastics’ by BTR Nylex Ltd. in 1917 buttons were moulded from powdered phenol-formadehyde (a.k.a. Bakelite) imported into Australia. This was probably done by Berthold Herrman. Moulded Plastics (Australasia) Pty. Ltd. made ‘Duperite’ products from 1932. These included buttons for the Australian Military Forces between 1940-44.
Casein plastic (a.k.a. Galalith, literally meaning milk-stone ,or ‘Erinoid’) was first presented in 1900. It was an inexpensive and more humane alternative to ivory, horn and bone products. Casein was favoured for button production because it wasn’t flammable like celluloid and could be produced in many colours. It also polished up to a beautiful luster. Initially Australian-made casein was mostly exported to markets such as Canada, the USA, England and Japan where it was made into many products including buttons, buckles, and combs. Many people bemoaned the fact that, just like with so much other Australian produce, it was exported only to be re-imported as value-added objects. A newspaper report from December 1929 stated that ‘no buttons were (being) manufactured in Australia.’ However, this is incorrect, as the Herrman’s were producing casein buttons in the 1920s (see the General Plastics page). In 1935 at the North Coast National Exhibition, casein buttons, products of Norco, were displayed. In the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney is a casein formaldehyde button made in 1944 by General Plastics. Although it is claimed to be ‘one of the earliest… to be manufactured in New South Wales’ this again is a mistake as explained in a 1945 a newspaper article; ‘For many years, Australian factories have been making buttons from casein plastic; one enterprise alone makes 45 million buttons.'(Sydney Morning Herald 30th January 1945 page 2.)
Some controversy occurred when it was claimed that weevils had been eating English-made casein buttons. Mr Riddle, manager of Milk Industries, denied this. ‘I can set your mind at rest regarding the fears that beetles and mice eat into the buttons. This does not occur at all with casein buttons, but is a common complaint with vegetable ivory nut buttons. Casein buttons are not attacked by any pest, and will keep indefinitely unless they are immersed in water. This information will probably enable you to set the minds of yours friends at rest, and also to recommend them to use the casein button instead of the inferior imported ivory nut.’ (Northern Star, Lismore, 5 July 1934). I’m not sure he was a disinterested party if the following article was true….
At various times during the 1930s submissions were made to the Tariff Board about imposing duties onto imported casein sheets. Some wanted the local casein production to be encouraged and local button production increased. Others in the fashion industry were concerned that not enough colours could be made locally, and that the fashion industry would suffer if importation of casein was made more expensive.
Manufacturers established in this era
Some of these manufacturers remain a mystery as only brief mentions of them exist.
A. Favell Pty.Ltd., Melbourne
This Melbourne company started in 1910, producing buttons for the military between 1933 to 1940.
Austral Buckle Manufacturing Co., Sydney
There is no further information about this one!
Australian Buttons and Buckles Pty. Ltd., Sydney
See the Covered Button page. They also made casein buttons.
Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd/A.C.I. Plastics Pty Ltd.
An article published in ‘The Labor Daily’ on 9th April 1936 page 11, stated that “included in this great glass industry are various other subsidiary factories, including metal spinning, lamp making, metal stamping, plastic moulding, corrugated box making, refractory and crucible works.” In February 1939 A.G.M. Ltd reformed with with a glass making subsidiary (Australian Glass Manufacturers Co Pty. Ltd.) and a plastic and moulding subsidiary (Australian Consolidated Industries Ltd). Post 1939, A.C.I. Plastics Pty Ltd was located at Booker St, Spotswood and Spencer St, Melbourne. The company still exists today as A.C.I. Plastics, Inc. It supplied black and khaki plastic buttons for the military between 1940 to 1953.
Buttons Ltd/Button Manufacturing Company, Sydney and Melbourne
Lupal, who worked for the Pearl Button Company of Sydney, and his friend Pribil decided to form a button manufacturing business of their own. They advertised for staff from 1947 – 1952 in Melbourne for a “small button manufacturing plant” at 115 Latrobe Street Melbourne. Mr Loupal and Mr Pribil were also in partnership as graziers, but their partnership was dissolved in 1953. The company was wound up in 1954. Karl Pribil exported 82 bags of trochus shell to Kobe, Japan in 1954. He had arrived in Australia from Austria in 1927 and had been interned during the war.
Australite Button Manufacturing Co.
Cashall Pty. Ltd., Melbourne
This private company was incorporated in December 1933 and continued until 2019. The name came from the directors’ surnames, Cash and Marshall. It was previously known as Cashall Button Co. and also Cashall Manufacturing Co. They were located at 114 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, then later at 8 Sydney Street, Collingwood. The company was involved in button manufacturing, plastic molding and casein production.
Cooper & Cooke, Glenhuntly, Melbourne
Cooper & Cooke ceramics, in Glenhuntly, Melbourne, was set up in 1937 by Albert George Cooper and Thomas Cooke to make porcelain flowers. According to this reference https://trove.nla.gov.au/list?id=90404 “During the war years they made insulators, buttons, casseroles and coffee pots for the Army.” Afterwards they made jugs, vases, urns and dishes. The firm moved to Long Gully in Bendigo in 1976 and closed in 1996.
Cushioned Heels Limited, Carlton
In 1938 Sandals Pty. Ltd. converted to a public company and changed their name. As expected with a name like that, this company produced moulded heels for shoes. They operated at 15 Macarthur place, Carlton until 1951.
Erinoid Products, Melbourne
The advertisements at the bottom shows that this plastics firm became a button manufacturer. It spanned over 10 years.
E. W. Tilley, 123-131 Latrobe Street Melbourne
In 1935-6 this manufacturing firm was referred to as a die-shop then in 1937 as a bakelite factory. Later it was described as a plastic moulder. In 1944 the government was leasing out factories that had been used for war supplies, and ‘F. W. Tilley’ (sic) was listed as ‘producing plastic buttons and accessories for Service and civilian needs’ in an ex-ordinance component factory in Hamilton, Victoria. In 1945 the name was changed to Tilley Plastics and in 1947 it was publicly listed. It was struck off in 1982.
F.H. Edwards, Melbourne
This was a plastic manufacturer that produced buttons for the military during WW2. In 1937-8 they were located at 460A Queen Street, opposite the Queen Victoria Market. Later they were located at 52 Lyndhurst Street, Richmond, until at least 1955.
Hardy Brothers Limited
Although the company started in colonial days, the buttons seem to be all post federation. Please correct me if this is wrong.
Hardy Bros. are specialty jewellers ,silversmiths, watch and clock makers, founded in Sydney in 1856 by English jeweller, John Hardy, and his brother Samuel who ran the London end of the the business and died there in 1865. Samuel’s son (Samuel 1876-1919) and grandson (Samuel Houston 1871-1949) were also part of the family business, as were John’s sons Arthur Morley (1862-1931), John (1872-1949) and Walter Houston (1864-1919). Unfortunately Walter, overworked perhaps and depressed, took both his own life and that of his beloved son Alan in 1919.
In 1894 they expanded to Brisbane, and in 1918 a store opened in Melbourne. They are the only Australian Jeweller to have a Royal Warrant bestowed, which occurred in 1929. The firm remained in family ownership until 1970. It was bought by Wallace Bishop in 1997.
H. Arendsen & Sons Pty. Ltd., Melbourne
Henrik (Henry) Matthew Arendsen was born in Melbourne in 1914 after his parents immigrated from Holland in 1912. He was a die-sinker, and started his metalware company before 1938. His sons would later join the business. It appears in recent years to have been re-named as Stormor Shelving, a tailoring trimmings and supply firm. They produced metal buttons, buckles and other goods for the military in WW2.
H. & J. Metal Co.
Registered in December 1941, this was a short lived business, as it was listed as in receivership in 1944. They did supply the military with steel buttons in 1942 and 1943.
Freeman & Co, North Footscray
In December 1929 ‘Freeman & Co’ were granted permission to start a factory for production of bone buttons. They were still in operation in 1931.
Laughton Ltd. (Rainsford), Sydney
The parent company was the British company Stratton that started in 1860 producing knitting needles. It merged in 1920 with the companies Jarrett and Rainsford, makers of haberdashery and jewellery. In 1921 the company of ‘Jarrett, Rainsford and Laughton Ltd’ established in Sydney the subsidary ‘Rainsford Ltd.’, becoming ‘Rainsford Pty Ltd.’ in 1928. Initially they were importers only, but later set up manufacturing. In February of 1935 a large fire in an adjoining building caused an estimated 25,000 pounds damage to stock.
This company also produced uniform buttons during WW2.
The Lightning Button Company
This company made covered buttons. It expanded into pleating and then clothing manufacturing. In 1918 the company was registered by Elizabeth Viola Marduel. She was divorcing her husband and may have needed to support herself.
It changed ownership in May 1920, but only several months later the owners dissolved their partnership, with Salah George Saleh continuing as sole proprietor.
In 1928 the firm became the Lightning Button and Pleating Company Ltd, and by 1937 it was a propriety limited company.
It found work during WW2 making khaki clothing for the Government, and in 1943 opened a clothing factory in Kiama.
In 1950 Cladders Limited, a clothing company, bought shares in the company, so that it became a subsidiary of Cladders. This company was deregistered in 1992.
McMonnies & Geary, Manly
All I have found out is that John David McMonnies (1909-1967) and Patrick Leo Geary were both listed as clerks in the electoral rolls. Many small “button manufacturers” covered button moulds only; perhaps this is one of them.
Melbourne Button Pty. Ltd.
This company started in 1935 at 38 Yarra St, Abbortsford, Melbourne. They were supplying jute webbing for the Department of supply in 1954. They also advertised for a machinist for ‘fancy leather work’. A company of this name was deregistered in 1974.
Frank Henry Cowper was a director of various companies. The family had moved from New Zealand to New South Wales, then around 1929 to Melbourne. His son Denis Lawson ‘Dave’ Cowper was an athlete, cricketer and rugby player. As a member of the Wallabies he toured South Africa in 1933.
Moulded Products (Australasia) Pty.Ltd. Melbourne
In 1927 in North Melbourne John W. Derham formed the Australian Moulding Corporation. This Company produced ‘Saxon’ and ‘Harlequin’ kitchenware. To survive the Great Depression in 1932 the company merged with Moulded Products (a company started in 1931 producing gramaphone records) to become Moulded Products (Australasia) Pty. Ltd.
Dunlop Perdiau had a controlling interest in this firm from 1934 until 1937. During the war the company was obliged to produce only military requirements, which included plastic and vegetable ivory buttons. (see above)
The company became the largest producer of moulded plastic products in Australia. In 1944 a new factory was built in Mentone were new products such as garden hoses were made. In 1966 the company was renamed Nylex Pty Ltd. The factory employed many people at the Mentone factory until its closure in 2006.
Nally Ltd., Sydney
In 1927 an electrical engineer, Herbert Anthony Marshall, started a company called Nally Products Limited that produced plastic products including ‘Nally Ware’, plastic kitchenware made from phenol resin. The company was in liquidation in 1930 but re-born as ‘Nally Limited’ and continued until bought out in 1990. They produced plastic buttons for the military in WW2.
Norco (North Coast Co-operative), New South Wales
In 1935 Norco purchased a casein factory at Lismore from S.M. Cottee and Sons. Its main use in Australia at that stage was for glue used in the plywood industry. However, at an exhibition that year, Norco had displays of casein products, including ‘buttons of many attractive shapes and colours’. Later they would also include items such as buckles and dolls heads. Local people bemoaned the fact that overseas manufacturers were using Australian casein to make products to sell back to us, and that more should be made of the industry.
Perfection Plate, Sydney
This was another business whose primary business was not button manufacturing but who produced uniform buttons during WW2. It was established by ‘Silverbrite Electroplating Company’ in 1925. The company continues today as Perfection Plate Holdings, and includes Stokes Badges, the remaining part of the business started in 1853 by Thomas Stokes.
Raynors Pty. Ltd., NSW
Raynors were engravers who expanded into die-casting and general metal engineering. They operated from at least 1932 and were deregistered in 1996.
Rider and Bell, Sydney
Rider and Bell is a light engineering firm established in 1920. It is now located in Peakhurst, but in the 1940-50s was in Rhodes, Sydney.
Sheridans Badges is a family firm started in 1913 in Perth by Victorian born Charles Sheridan. It had large military contracts in both WW1 and WW2. See http://museum.wa.gov.au/research/research-areas/history/sheridans-badges for more on the history of this company. The buttons below are backmarked ‘Sheridan Perth’.
An old Sheridan Badges factory in Perth was demolished in 2019, and some metal detectorists got permission to search the site. I have received some buttons/badges, possibly rejects, that were dug up there.
Stewart Dawson & Co (Aust) Ltd.
David Stewart Dawson (1849-1932) was born in Aberdeen. He had a successful jewellery business in Liverpool from 1871. In 1886 he emigrated to Australia and continued his successful business. He sold it in 1931 and returned to London, where he died the following year. The firm closed in 1935.
T. H. Cheese, Sydney
Vogue Button Company
Nothing else is known about this firm. it may not have lasted long.
Mr Bishop was a British migrant who came to Australia in 1908 from Birmingham. He stated a jewellery store in 1920 in Adelaide Street, Brisbane. He had come to Australia to become a farmer, which he also did around 1932. His son, Carl, and grandson Wallace would also join the firm. The firm continues in family control.
W. Newton Pty. Ltd., East Richmond
William Simon Newton (1902-1957) was a manufacturer of “leather fancy goods” in a two-storey factory in Adolph Street, East Richmond from before 1929. He diversified into metal goods and also button and buckles.
I don’t think he stayed with casein buttons, as future ads only mentions leather and metal. In 1935 he registered his business as W. Newton P/L.