NB: The subject of military/livery/uniform buttons is a study in its own right. This is not meant to be an exhaustive look at this subject, rather just to highlight Australian manufacturers. Please refer to specialty books/websites/clubs for more information on this topic. See also ‘Buttons in the News” page and http://www.stokesbadges.com.au/about/ for further information and pictures.
If you do Facebook (I don’t) there is an ‘Australian Military Button Collectors’ group.
The Early Years
Thomas Stokes, 1831-1910.
Thomas William Stokes (1831-1910) came from Birmingham to Victoria to look for gold, arriving on New Year’s Day, 1854. Unsuccessful, he returned to his former trade and set up business as a die-sinker. He produced medals, tokens (unofficial pennies and half-pennies used due to a shortage of official coinage), buttons and silverware in Mincing Lane. This lane no longer exists, but ran between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane in the block between Queen and William Streets, probably continuing down to near Queens Wharf. He then moved to 115 Flinders Lane east.
The Argus, 28th August 1854 page 5. Possibly the first reference to Stokes die-sinking, although he’s not named.
The Argus (Melbourne) 4th October 1855 page 7. The Mincing Lane address consisted of one room. At this stage Thomas worked alone.
The Argus (Melbourne), 31st March1856 page 3. In May he advertised as ‘cutting wood letters for large posters’, and wanting an apprentice.
The Argus (Melbourne), 10th November, 1856 page 3.
The Age (Melbourne), 18th February 1857 page 4. The Age writer was attributing the start of the industry to the tailor, which annoyed Thomas; see below!
Published in The Age (Melbourne), 19th February 1857 page 4.
Williamstown Chronicle, 21st February 1857 page 3.
From Stokes Badges website.
The Thomas Stokes, (later Stokes and Martin), business at 100 Collins Street East, Melbourne from circa 1858-1881. This building was sold in 1881and he had moved to 29 Little Collins Street by July and remained there until around July 1888 when the firm moved to Caledonian Lane/Post Office Place.
“Collins Street east dates this token (made into a cuff-link) from1858. “Thomas Stokes maker” dates this as prior to his partnership with George Martin from 1867.
Advertising token made by Stokes & Martin, 29 Lt. Collins Street.
The Age, 16th May 1859 page 6. This is likely to be Thomas Stokes, although he’s not named.
The Colonial Mining Journal, Railway and Share Gazette and Illustrated Record (Victoria), 6th September 1860 page 1.
The Colonial Mining Journal, Railway and Share Gazette and Illustrated Record (Victoria), 7th February 1861 page 1.
The Argus, 3rd November 1862 page 6: Thomas Stokes had been criticised for his production of traders’ tokens that were used as unofficial currency in British colonies due to a lack of pennies and half-pennies. They were made illegal in 1863 in Victoria.
Around June of 1868 his business was declared insolvent. His tools, stock and plant were advertised for auction as well as land and a timber dwelling. He must have been able to trade out of trouble, as by December he was applying for the ‘certificate of discharge’ of his debts. The business would continue at the same address as before the insolvency.
Victorian Almanac for 1875.
Victorian Almanac for 1884.
Stokes and Martin
Stokes was in partnership with George Frederick Martin from about 1867, the time of his insolvency, until some time after 1891 when a fire destroyed the business premises in Caledonian Lane. ( The building ran between Little Bourke Street a.k.a ‘Post Office Place’ and Bourke Street. The address was referred to as 246 1/2 Post Office Place) . They were not insured, and suffered losses estimated around £15,000. According to differing sources, either because Martin had not renewed the fire insurance, or because of the recession that occurred in Melbourne in the 1890’s, the partnership was dissolved. According to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney this was in 1893. This could be correct as in July 1893 Stokes and Martin advertised that they had signed all their estate over to trustees for their creditors. It 1892, there was a report of a trial connected with fraud conducted against a bank of which Martin’s brother, Charles R. Martin was a director. In that, it was revealed that Stokes & Martin had owed that bank 4,000 pounds, and Charles had personally loaned the firm money. Although mention of a robbery at the premise of ‘Stokes and Martin’ was reported in 1898 in multiple newspapers, this was presumably in error.
George Martin had come to Australia in 1852 and died in 1912, aged 82 years. He was a member for the Malvern Shire Council from 1882-8.
The Argus (Melbourne), 22nd October 1870 page 4.
The Ballarat Star (Victoria), 11th October 1871 page 2.
The Herald, 8th March 1912 page 6.
The Brighton Yacht Club, which started in 1875.
N.S.W. Military Forces uniform button.
Victorian permanent artillery 1893. Note the P.O.P. which stands for Post Office Place, the address of the form from around 1888-1934.
Victorian Volunteer Cadets Corps.
South Australia Fire Brigade.
NSW Military Forces
Examples of the partners’ work as illustrated in newspapers: Unless otherwise noted, these illustrations come from a series of articles entitled ‘A Numismatic History of Australia’ that ran in The Queenslander newspaper in 1895.
Token issued in the 1860s for use in the Atheneum Club, Melbourne.
Trade token, around 1858-1862.
Medallion of Sir Hercules Robinson, Governor of N. S.Wales dated 1877-8
Design of Medals awarded at the 1881 Melbourne International Exhibition. (Published in Illustrated Australian News 6th April 1881 page 77)
Wesleyan Methodist Jubilee 1886.
Jubilee medal, “Town Hall Perth W.A.”
Jubilee medal, ” Ballaarat Savings Bank”
Badge of the Australian Federation league. (Published in Weekly Times, 21st may 1898)
Thomas and his wife Ellen had 9 children, 8 of whom survived into adulthood. Of these, Henry Richmond (1861-1919), Frederick Percy (1863-1939), Thomas William (1871-1913) and Edgar Vincent (1878-1932) were involved with the firm. Another son, Charles Sydney (1874-1939) was a shipping agent, but not part of the firm as far as I can tell. In 1893, after the partnership with Martin had dissolved, the firm was renamed ‘Stokes and Son’ ( Ed: not confirmed), and then ‘Stokes and Sons’.
The Age, 21st November 1893. The first record in Trove of ‘Stokes and Sons’.
The name changed again in 1911 to ‘Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd.’ (However, note that the mark ‘Stokes & Sons’ appeared on the back of buttons until 1962.) Another fire considerably damaged the premises in Caledonian Lane (off Little Bourke Street) in 1901.
An article in The Advertiser (Adelaide), 23rd March 1905 about the tariff commission. Despite being described as “late”, Thomas did not die until the 13th June 1910. Perhaps the newspaper meant ‘retired’. His sons Henry, Frederick, Thomas and Edgar followed in the business, as did Henry’s son Russell. Henry died of influenza in 1919, only 9 years after his father.
From ‘Round about the world on bicycles : the pleasure tour of G.W. Burston and H.R. Stokes, Melbourne Bicycle Club, Australia’.
George W. Burston’ courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.
The gentleman on the right is Henry Richmond Stokes (1869-1919), who was a renown cyclist, as was his brother Fred (below).
Sportsman, 9th July 1884 page 1.
The Age, 21st October 1939 page 28.
Transcription of Obituary of Vincent Edgar Stokes, The Herald 27th September 1932 page 7.
“The death took place yesterday at his home of Mr Vincent Edgar Stokes, principal in Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd., near Post Office Place. Mr Stokes was widely known among sporting and other clubs as a maker of medals and metal badges. For a long period, he had been contractor to the Victorian Racing Club, the Victoria Amateur Turf Club, the Defence and other Government departments, and was formerly the contractor for the supply of badges to the Melbourne Cricket Club. He has left a widow and family.”
Dungog Chronicle, Durham and Gloucester Advertiser, 31st July 1900 page 2.
By 1900 a branch had been opened in Clarence Street, Sydney. On the 1st February 1913 Mr. Francis Henry Muller became a partner.
Dun’s Gazette 7th April 1913.
This branch was offered for sale in December 1913, with Muller becoming the sole operator.
Dun’s Gazette 15th December 1913.
Dun’s Gazette 2nd February 1914.
The name was changed to Sterling Plating & Manufacturing Company on the 3rd February 1915.
In 1906 the firm won a tender for military buttons for Tasmanian and New South Wales forces. The prices ranged from 25 shillings per gross for gilt buttons, to 2 shillings, 3 pence per gross for brass buttons. Thomas Stokes died on the 13th June, 1910. Below is one of the many contracts for military buttons to be found in the Commonwealth Government Gazettes.
https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/2475 A medal and coin press in use at Stokes & Sons, Melbourne, circa 1907. This press had originally been brought to Australia in 1853 by Reginald Scaife for the Kangaroo Office venture (Australia’s first private mint) and had been used to mint the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition medals. Thomas Stokes purchased the press from Scaife in 1857, using it until it was scrapped in the 1930s.
Thomas and Ellen Stokes. According to the website, this photo dates c.1880s. This is probably incorrect, as that would date Thomas only in his fifties. I would hazard that it was taken in the 1900s by his white beard and hair. See http://heritage.darebinlibraries.vic.gov.au/article/692
The Argus (Melbourne), 14th June 1910 page 1.
The Australasian, 18th September 1915 page 25.
The Age, 25th January 1927 page 10.
The Firm moves to Brunswick:
In 1935 the firm moved to Brunswick. Several grandsons would join the firm.
This year there was a Parliamentary Inquiry into lowering certain tariffs, including metal badges, and buttons. Russell H. Stokes protested that the relevant tariff should actually be increased by 10%, rather than lowered. He stated that even with the current levels of protection local firms found competition ‘keen’ with imports, as labour costs were higher than in the United Kingdom and the Continent. The board were not persuaded, as the local trade was ‘only a minor industry’. The firm employed 280 people by 1939.
Journal of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects., v.33, no.6, 1936
From the Federation University Australia Historical Collection.
Stokes (Australasia) Ltd.
The name changed to ‘Stokes (Australasia) Ltd’ in 1962. In 2015 the manufacturing plant (purchased in 1956 and located in Ringwood, Victoria) was closed. However, the button and badge making division had been sold to a N.S.W. company (Perfection Plate Holdings) and continues as Stokes Badges.
The Age, 25th May 1939 page 15. “These are the expert employes (sic) of Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd., manufactures of Georgian silver ware, badges and medals, and die sinkers, who have a modern factory in Albert Street , Brunswick.
The Argus (Melbourne), 13th September 1946 page 9.
Russell Stokes, grandson of Thomas.
The Argus, 22nd December 1956 page 6.
Medallion struck for the company’s centenary.
In The Bulletin, 10th October 1964 page 79, Stokes (A’asia) ran an article spruiking their issue of shares at that time. They were then selling the Brunswick foundry to consolidate at their Ringwood factory. Part of the article is reproduced below.
For the whole article, see https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-685328214/view?partId=nla.obj-685391560#page/n78/mode/1up
The article states that whilst the company produced buttons during WW1, it did not do so during WW2 as it was too busy with other items.
Another article was published on 16th March 1974, page 53.
Buttons backmarked ‘Stokes & Sons’. Top row: pre-1901 Victorian Police Force (Queen Victoria crown), Qantas Empire Airways,1934-1967. Note that there is a ‘rising sun’ symbol above the coat of arms. Bottom row: 1903-10 Australian Commonwealth Military Forces and Victorian Railways (VR) pre 1953.
Centre: Australian Military Forces, backmarked ‘Stokes’, i.e. post 1962.
Victoria Police (King’s crown)
Victoria Police Force (Queen’s crown, post 1952)
Left: Victoria Country Fire Brigades (1891-1945).
Centre: State Electricity Commission 1921 tramways uniform button.
Right: Scottish style diamond button with thistle for band uniform. Backmarked ‘Stokes’ ( this dates it 1962 onwards).
The Country Fire Brigade button above would date from 1890-1944. The Country Fire Authority buttons from 1945.
Left to Right: 3 Australian Navy buttons (note the different backs; hollow back and loop), Melbourne Fire Bureau, Artillery.
Staff of the Government House, Hobart. .
This ‘Yellow Cab’ button came a 3/4 inch and 1 inch sizes.
Commonwealth Oil Refinery
Small (approx.13mm) plain gold buttons
South Australian Police. The one on the left has no lettering, the other, ‘SA’.
Metropolitan Abattoirs (Adelaide)
Trans Australian Airlines
Queen Victoria Crown navy button
Tasmanian Police Services. The Staybrite coating wears off.
Tasmania Police 1902-1952)
City of Melbourne
Shell Merchant Naval button.
Royal Australian Artillery and a ‘Flaming grenade” style artillery button.
Campaigners for Christ Volunteers
Royal Australian Army Nursing Crops. If you rub the lamp, a nurse appears.
Naval and Military Club (Victoria)
Australian National Airways
Merchant Navy, WW2 era
South Australian Rifles (pre 1901), Merchant Navy, Tramways board.
RAAF pre 1952
Papua New Guinea.
Maritime Services Board of New South Wales. Date 1937-1952
South Australian Fire Brigade. QV crown
South Australian Rifles, Queen Victoria Crown
South Australian Mounted Rifles; SA Police.
R.A.A.M.C. This is a ‘rose gold’ anodised Staybrite type button, post 1951.
NSW Fire Brigade
St John’s Ambulance Brigade
Another St John’s
Netherlands East Indies Government in Exile.
Australian National Airways.
The Royal Army Service Corps.
Army Apprentices School.
Officer Cadet School, Portsea.
Another version of the Officer Cadet School.
Adelaide Universities Regiment.
Women’s Royal Australian Army Service.
Possible State Electricity Commision.
Naval Dockyard Police.
British Petroleum post 1961.
Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.
West Australian Government Railway.
Royal Australian Artillery.
Stokes & Sons Melbourne 1953-62.
Commonwealth Peace Officer.
WA fire services (Staybrite).
WA fire services (very worn from polishing).
Northern Territory Police.
Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club.
Royal Motor Yacht Club.
Tasmanian Fire Brigade Commission.
Qantas Empire Airlines (1934-1962).
Royal Australian Engineers.
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME).
N. S. Wales Railways (sic). Note the birdcage shank.
Top Row L to R: Royal Australian Army Service Corps, Australian Army Catering Corps, Australian Army Armoured Corps.Bottom Row L to R: Australian Army, Royal Australian Army medical Corps.
Australasian United Steam Navigation Company.
Livery button for Marquess of Lansdowne , probably presented by/bought from Stokes in 1956 when the Marquess visited.
Metropolitan Tramways Trust (South Australia).
Government uniform button with George VI cypher.
Young Australia League.
Stokes & Sons.
Auckland Transport Board by Stokes & Sons.
This article is from the July-August 1973 issue of the National Button Bulletin. Love the photos of Thomas and his grandson Russell. “T.V. Stokes” quoted in the article from 1973 was Thomas Vincent Stokes (b.1916), son of Edgar Vincent Stokes, grandson of Thomas.
For this image, and other:
Over the years backmarks have included:
STOKES MAKER, STOKES MAKER MELBOURNE, STOKES MELBOURNE
STOKES & MARTIN, STOKES & MARTIN MELBOURNE, STOKES & MARTIN MAKERS MELBOURNE
STOKES & SON MELB ( not confirmed), STOKES & SONS, STOKES & SONS MELBOURNE, STOKES & SONS MELB, STOKES & SONS P.O.P. MELB, STOKES & SONS VICTORIA
STOKES & SONS SYDNEY
STOKES, STOKES VIC, STOKES MELB, STOKES(A’ASIA)LTD MELB, STOKES AUSTRALIA