Table of Contents
Department of Commerce of USA, Special Consular report
FOREIGN TRADE IN BUTTONS: 1ST APRIL 1916
In 1916 this report was released for the benefit of American manufacturers, giving them information about potential markets around the world. It included this list of Australian button dealers and importers:
Definition of ‘Distributor’
As the name suggests, the distributor is an agent who distributes products and services to various parties in the supply chain network. It is impossible for the manufacturer to reach customers directly for selling products and services, and for this purpose, they have to rely on middle agents or distributors, who exclusively store and sell the company’s products, in different locations.
The distributor is also known as a channel partner who deals with the manufacturers to promote and sell their products and services to various customers, such as retailers or final consumers. To do so, the distributor enters into an agreement with the producer and purchases the right to sell the producer’s product. However, he cannot use the producer’s trade name.
Distributors purchase non-competing goods or product lines from different manufacturers, hold stock in warehouses, transport it to various locations and resell it to various parties.
Therefore, each distributor would only accept buttons from one manufacturer (i.e. non-competing products). They may have exclusive rights to distribute a company’s products. They may have a contract that allows them to sell the buttons under the manufacturers name, or under their own name. That is why we get Demetre, Coronet, Roger Berry, Terries, etc buttons. In trying to understand the industry in Australia, I have had to grapple with who was what!
The advert below indicates that along with other products, E. Walker & Son distributed and marketed Delphi buttons, although they incorrectly spelt the name Delphi twice!
This was an import/export company headed by Albert Jules Aucher started in 1928 and based in Sydney. “Sunup Accessories” was listed in 1933 by Aucher Limited. Mr Aucher was involved in many projects; Albert “Sammy” Aucher was an indent agent, and involved in sailing, buttons, trochus shell, cork and cork products, and electrical appliances, etc. He died in 1954.
Australian Thread Pty. Ltd.
A Subsidiary company of Tootal Group. Imported Tootal brand buttons were made in the USA. This is listed as a “previous name” of Coats Australian Pty Ltd.
The Brighton Button Shop
There has been a button merchant in Bay Street, Brighton since 1914. From 1914 until around 1932 it was in the Brighton Bay Arcade, opposite the Palace Cinema. From c.1932 until c.1982 it was at 295 Bay Street and then onwards at 405 Bay Street.
Researching the Melbourne phone directories, I found it listed as ‘Brighton’ or simply ‘Btn’ in 1965 through to 1974. From 1950 to 1960 it was listed under the previous owner’s name, J. H. Nugent .This would be John Henry Nugent, draper. Earlier than 1950, I didn’t see a listing.
Could this be from the store, or is it just a brand name used by British Novelties. See http://www.austbuttonhistory.com/australian-button-history/ww2-and-onwards-including-leather-buttons-and-obscure-companies/
Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd.
Two Scotsmen, James Burns and Robert Philp, founded this company in 1870 to establish a regular shipping line between Sydney and Townsville.
They expanded along the Queensland coast and into the South Pacific, including Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa and the New Hebrides. During WW2 the company was a major trader in this region. Perhaps this was why it was able to supply pearl shell and pearl buttons. It became a major food manufacturer before de-listing in 2006.
In 1933, with the Federal Government’s encouragement, they started a new company, the ‘Australian Pearlbutton Manufacturing Co. Ltd.’ This failed to be profitable, and was merged into ‘G.Herring (Aust) Pty. Ltd.’ However, Burns Philp maintained a 50% interest in G. Herring until 1963.
Formed from the combination of two British textile firms ( Coats and Patons & Baldwins), Coats Australian Pty Ltd was established in 1959. It merged with Bonds Industries in 1969 becoming Bonds Coats Paton Ltd. They imported Tootal brand buttons made in the USA into Australia.
See also Roger Berry below.
‘Coronet Button, Buckle and Novelty Co.’ registered as selling agents in 1939. Coronet buttons were marketed as ‘Buttons of the Moment’ and also ‘Artistic Accessories’. I have not found any information about who made these buttons but it may have been Spiers & Norris (or its successor Rex Buttons), and/or O. C. Rheuben & Co (predecessor to General Plastics). They distributed a large range of impressed casein buttons, including some with hand-painted detailing, as well as novelty shaped buttons and imported glass and metal examples. Around 1946 they were taken over by Roger Berry.
Demetre Buttons/ J. Demetre & Co. Pty. Ltd.
This company was established in 1964 as Demetre Buttons, and possibly still runs from Marrickville, NSW (the ABN was last updated in 2015). I’ve photographed a Demetre branded card along side a Leda-Beauclaire card from the late 1950s/early 1960s. The Demetre cards are identical to those used by Terries (see below) and similar to the Leda-Beauclaire. I suspect that General Plastics (by 1964 being absorbed into Beutron Australia) supplied all of them.
The cardboard is different, and the size slightly different, but there are enough similarities to suggest that the Demetre branded buttons were supplied by General Plastics, and that Demetre were distributors rather than manufacturers. Both cards state ‘Dry cleans perfectly’ with the same rounded-cornered rectangle in the right bottom corner for the price. They have an identical faint cream coloured grid printed in the middle of the card to guide the placement of the buttons.
Consistency was not a requirement for this distributor. In the time frame of only 3 years (1964-7) there were at least 5 printed variations of the cards used, then a later version that was printed “Demetre Buttons & Buckles”.
E. C. Birch Pty. Ltd.
A family owned wholesale haberdashery distributing company started in 1926 by Edgar Charles Birch, in Melbourne. They were located at 210 Flinders Lane for many years. it know trades as ‘Birch Creative’.
E. Walker & Son Pty. Ltd./Walkers
Ernest Richard Walker was described as a fancy goods manufacturer under the name ‘Ernie Walker’ in Sydney, from 1919 until 1923. Then in 1923 a new company, ‘Walker and Darling’, was established.
In 1936 they were described as haberdashery warehousemen. In 1947 the company was reinvented as E. Walker & Son, warehousemen. So the origins of this firm may have been in manufacturing, but graduated to distribution.
This company was listed on the stock exchange on 23rd December,1954 and traded under this name until 1982. Around 1954 they may have started to distribute Delphi buttons under the name ‘Walkers’. Other registered names associated with this company include ‘Walkers Fashion Accessories’ (c.1984-5), ‘Walkers BHS’ (1986 onwards), and ‘Bertram Fabrics’ (1979-1991). From 1991 they have traded as Bertram Pacific Pty. Ltd. They did not manufacture buttons themselves, but imported and distributed buttons. In 1981 it was noted that they were selling costume jewellery, handkerchiefs, belts, buckles, buttons and sewing accessories.
The above card has a style of button produced by General Plastics.
E. Whiteway & Co., Melbourne
From 1912 until 1924 “E. Whiteway & Co., England” were importing cases of drapery from England into Australia. In 1922 they applied for a trademark of a ‘head or horse within a horseshoe and the word “Thorobred”‘. The owners were listed as Edward George Lang Whiteway, John Stephen Lang Whiteway, Edward Dudley Carpenter and George Stanley Proud. The plastic buttons on the trade card have flaked and chipped. They were available in sizes of 26, 44 and 60 lines.
Fashion Buttons Pty. Ltd.
Thanks to Mark Neighbour, the 3rd generation managing director of this family owned company, for this short biography:
‘Fashion Buttons’ was established in 1940 by Mark’s grandfather, and taken over by his father in 1961. Mark worked for Beutron around 1976-1978. He joined the family business in 1988. As well as being wholesale suppliers they cover, dye and engrave buttons. Mark tells me that “In the old days, Sydney and Melbourne worked their own markets with little overlap”.
Fashion Pfeiffer/ R.A. Pfeiffer
From the Australian Women’s Weekly
These were two associated clothing manufacturing companies. Mr Pfeiffer was Rudolf Alfons Pfeiffer, who was born in Berlin in 1902 and fled to Australia in 1939. He was naturalised, and enlisted to serve in WW2. He died in 1957 with his company in liquidation by 1964. In 1948 R.A. Pfeiffer was listed as a button distributor at 250 Pitt Street, Sydney.
The pearl and plastic tricorne example was used in an article suggesting the use of buttons to make earrings!
Grotjan & Co
Grotjan & Co were once the sole agents for G. Herring, and Burns, Philp & Co. This firm were agents for various firms with offices in Melbourne and Sydney since 1903, and listed as button merchants from 1935.
F.C. Grotjan (on the card) was Frederick Campbell Grotjan, son of the founding partner, Emil Grotjan, a merchant born in Hamburg who came to Melbourne in 1903. The company originally described themselves as cork merchants and indenters. They would import and distribute quite a variety of goods including foodstuffs, metal scrap and ores, horse hair and artificial limbs. In the 1930s increased tariffs on imported pearl buttons were being debated in parliament, to protect the fledgling local industry. Emil, as spokesman for pearl button importers spoke against increased tariffs. By the 1950s they were describing themselves as a wholesale hardware firm. Frederick retired from the firm in 1952.
Haberdashery Sales Pty. Ltd.
A private company started in 1963, it has distributed “Dressmaker” brand buttons. Located in Richmond then Heidelberg West, Victoria, closed 2017. At least some of their buttons came from Beutron.
Haffendon & Jackson Pty. Ltd.
This company registered in 1938 as general merchants, However, buttons became their focus. They were deregistered in 1985.
Hooper & Harrison Pty. Ltd.
Hooper and Harrison were operating from Sydney from 1889. The original partners were Alfred Harrison and Thomas Hooper. Starting in Sydney, they would expand to have warehouses/outlets in Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne and Brisbane, London and New Zealand. The company owned the Invicta trademark. They were primarily wholesale suppliers of woollen products and tailors’ trimmings, but did employee tailors and so probably produced clothing as well. They imported cases of buttons. At one stage the company seemed to have been a subsidiary of the Australian Woollen Mills Ltd.
Isherwood & Bartlett
Charles Henry Isherwood (1883-1941) and Walter Charles Milward Bartlett were smallgoods traders and warehousemen, with outlets in Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide from at least 1900 until 1950.
This is a large craft firm that was started in 1891 in Brisbane, Queensland by Swiss immigrant, Jacques Leutenegger. In 2001 it took over Beutron, and some of the cards were marked “Packed in Australia by J. Leutenegger Pty Ltd”.
Printed on the back is “Packed for Beutron. A division of Leutenegger Pty Ltd”
On the back of these cards is printed:
David Kennedy, Merchant, lived in North Melbourne according to the 1931 electoral rolls. He must have traded with Grace Brothers, as a travelling salesman called Mr A. Camfield represented him at the funeral of Mr E.P. Norrie, manager and director of Grace Brothers in 1933. Also, he supplied vegetable ivory buttons for Ordnance Stores in 1940.
David Kennedy was a distributor/wholesaler. He was listed as a button merchant at a warehouse at 118 Flinders Lane in the 1935 and 1940 phone directories. The prices indicated these buttons were sold from the late 1950s to mid 1960s. Some of the buttons are the same as those sold on Leda cards.
They used 6 varieties of colours on the cards, even with identical buttons. It makes for a nice display.
Korbond Industries Pty. Ltd.
This company was established in 1955 by Henry Korski and his wife, a chemist, to develop and manufacture haberdashery products for the clothing and shoe trades. Over the years they have shifted to become a wholesale distributor of piece goods. They are located in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The following Korbond branded buttons appear to be supplied by Astor.
Lincraft Australia Pty. Ltd.
Lincraft sells buttons packed in Australia on Lincraft branded cards. Also sells Sullivan and Birch buttons.
Moderne Accessories (NSW) Pty. Ltd.
This company was first registered in 1949, adding (NSW) to the name later. The company was defunct before 1990, and delisted in 1992.
M. Recht Accessories Pty. Ltd.
Started in 1950 by Michael Recht in Melbourne, to supply accessories and trims to the clothing industry.
M.T. Sullivan & Co. /Sullivans International Pty. Ltd.
An Australian manufacturer and distributor of trimmings, sewing and craft accessories, established in 1982, and changing name in around 2001.
From their website; “Established for over thirty years, Sullivans is an Australian manufacturer and wholesaler, distributing a wide range of fabrics, decorative trimmings, curtain accessories, curtain tracking and a comprehensive range of sewing accessories and craft products.
Sullivans employs in excess of 100 staff, manufacturing, packaging and stocking a wide range of products ensuring a high level of customer service, both domestically and internationally. Sullivans is able to offer a larger variety of products at very competitive prices. Sullivans headquarters is based in Brisbane, Australia.
Sullivans also owns a company in the USA, servicing both domestic and export markets. Our company manufactures and warehouses large stocks and therefore welcomes your product enquiries. We are always eager to service any special purchasing requirements.”
My Lady’s Button Boutique
The store was listed in Royal Arcade in 1965. It was successful enough for a My Lady’s Button Centre in Little Collins Street and Mylady’s Button Bar in the (now demolished) Port Phillip Arcade, Flinders Street to open by 1970.
Oz Works Pty. Ltd.
The card above is printed with Oz Works Pty. Ltd., and a pre-1995 Richmond (Melbourne) telephone number. This company was listed as employing 5 people and is variously described as dealing with finance, “durable goods”, “mass consumption goods”, plastic products, wholesaling, and market consultancy. Although the card the buttons on was printed in Australia, who knows where the buttons came from? Cute ducks though.
P. F. Davies Pty. Ltd.
“P. F. Davies Novelty Co” were warehousemen at 308 Flinders Lane from around 1949. They became “P. F. Davies Pty. Ltd.” in 1950. Between 1950-1965 they supplied bullion embroidery wire as well as gold and silver lace to the Department of Supply.
Polyfield Pty. Ltd.
Established in Sydney in 1985. A supplier, distributor and wholesaler of fashion trims including buttons.
R. J. Harvey & Co.
Reuben John Harvey (1869-1946) had been the senior partner of this company of tailors’ trimmings importers, started around 1895.
His business moved from Queens Walk to 210 Swanston Street around 1923 then to the Nicholas Building in 1983. The company was deregistered in 2012. For a photo of the business in the 1950s, see https://viewer.slv.vic.gov.au/?entity=IE7239218&mode=browse
R. Pankhurt & Co
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 propriety limited.
By 1928 the firm was in liquidation. In 1930 they reinvented themselves as “Panky’s”, who sold button covering and eyeletting machines.
Roger Berry Pty. Ltd.
‘Roger Berry and Co.’ advertised in 1945 then ‘Roger Berry Pty. Ltd.’ was incorporated in New South Wales on 18/07/1946. From at least 1947 until 1956 they advertised in newspapers and magazines as a wholesaler and distributor of haberdashery, but not as a manufacturer. Roger Berry Pty. Ltd. wound up on 21/1/1975. Sometime in the late 1940s – to early 1950s there was a change of branding from ‘Coronet’ to ‘Roger Berry’, although the coronet logo was retained on the cards. Either the company re-named itself, or Roger Berry bought out Coronet.
(See also the Coronet above.)
The style below is found also on Cygnet branded cards: Were they supplied by D. C. Quinn or General Plastics?
The card of Roger Berry buttons shows a design sold on Beauclaire branded cards. In a 1960 telephone directory General Plastics is listed as the manufacturer of Leda brand buttons and Buckl;es, and Roger Berry the distributor.
Terries Pty. Ltd.
Started in 1955, Terries Pty. Ltd. is a private firm in New South Wales. Terries distributed Korbond products in the 1950s. They had an office in Bentleigh, Melbourne.
Thomas Brown & Sons Ltd.
Started in 1898 from existing Brown’s family businesses as a Queensland company involved in drapery, grocery and general merchanise. See also http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brown-david-laughland-3073
Established in 1962 as manufacturers and importers to supply the clothing industry. It was in brinswick, and now is in Coburg North, Melbourne.
Vincona Pty. Ltd.
Based in Marrickvale, NSW, and started in 1985, this company were distributors of apparel and footwear (including buttons). They have changed name to All Gifts Online, and do not appear to sell buttons anymore!