Federation to WW2

Several important firms started in this time, including those that would become General Plastics Ltd and  G. Herring Pty Ltd.  See the separate pages for General Plastics, G.Herring, as well as for  G. J. Coles, Woolworths and the pearl-shell industry.

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.

The Herald (Melbourne), 28th October 1915 page 1.

The Daily News (Perth), 16th April 1917 page 6.


The Daily News (Perth),  25th January, 1919 page 6.

Evening News (Sydney) 26th October 1923 page 8.


Post war growth

Daily Standard (Brisbane) 27th April 1931 page 6.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW), 13th June 1931 page 14. See the Pearlshell page for more on this company.

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.

The Daily News (perth), 29th August 1934 page 9.

Published 1st June 1935 in The Australian Women’s Weekly page 22.  (NB: Herculoid was a casein plastic made by G. N. Raymond P/L in Melbourne).

The Daily News (Perth), 24th February 1936 page 7.

The Sun (Sydney), 13th may 1937 page 8.



 Not only were buttons being manufactured here, they were being designed here too, although many designs were made under license from British and American firms. Unfortunately, designers are not often recorded for prosperity.

Deetjie Andriesse

The Sun, 6th November 1932 page. Despite being described patronisingly as a ‘girl’, she was 33 at this time.

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.

Detail from Home magazine, 1st February 1935 page 35.

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.

Truth (Sydney) 27th June 1937 page 31.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 24th November, 1936 page 5.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 24th November, 1936 page 5.

Australian Women’s Weekly, 19th September 1936 page 56.




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.

* The first buttons were moulded in 1917 by Frederick Spencer Dalton, who made compression moulded buttons of phenolic powder for great-coat buttons during WW1.


As early as 1856 a form of ‘celluloid’ was developed,  although it was not until around 1880 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. A brand name for this was Tenite.


According to ‘An Insight Into Plastics’ by BTR Nylex Ltd. in 1917 buttons were moulded from powdered phenol-formadehyde. This was done by pioneer  Frederick Spencer Dalton in his Sydney backyard to produce buttons for army great coats. Moulded Plastics (Australasia) Pty. Ltd. made ‘Duperite’ products from 1932. These included  buttons for the Australian Military Forces between 1940-44.

Daily Mercury, 20th May 1943 page 4.


 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  buttons in the 1920s (possibly casein: see the General Plastics page or metal button blanks). In 1937 at the North Coast National Exhibition, casein buttons, reportedly (but perhaps wrongly) 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….

Portland Guardian (Vic), 6th December 1943 page 2.

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 as a result if importation of casein was made more expensive.



The Age (Melbourne), 2nd January 1934 page 5.



News (Adelaide), 25th October 1933 page 10. Mulga buttons were sold during the years 1933-48.

Advocate (Burnie, Tas) 15th May 1935 page 10.


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.

Albert Flavell, 1868-1917.

The Argus (Melbourne),  21st August 1955 page 14.








Austral Buckle Manufacturing Co., Sydney

Dun’s Gazette, 21 March 1938.

There is no further information about this one! It may have failed quickly.


Australian Buttons and Buckles Pty. Ltd., Sydney

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 28th September 1947 page 56.

See the Covered Button page. They also made casein buttons.


Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd/A.C.I. Plastics Pty. Ltd.

There is a A.C.I. trademark on the reverse side of this Australian Military Forces button.

The trademark of the ‘Australian Glass Manufacturers’ dating from ?1930.

The A.C.I. trademark was similar, with the G changing to a C, and the M replaced by an I.










Back of a black plastic RAAF button.







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.

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 25th September 1941 p. 2152


Australite Button Manufacturing Co.

Dun’s Gazette 1918.

Frederick Spencer Dalton was probably the first man to make plastic buttons in Australia. In made moulded phenolic buttons for army great coats as a “backyarder”. However, he did not make buttons for long. He soon changed to making laminates, then working for Metters Company moulding handles and knobs for kitchenware and cookware.


Buttons Ltd/Button Manufacturing Company, Sydney and Melbourne

Dunn’s Gazette for New South Wales, 1934.

The Sydney Morning Herald 7 September 1935.

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.


Cashall Pty. Ltd., Melbourne

The Herald (Melbourne) 13th December 1933 page 27.

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.

The Age (Melbourne), 20th October 1951 page 31.

The Age (Melbourne), 6th October 1951 page 31.

The Riverine herald, 13th July 1937 page 3. The company mentioned is probably Cashall’s.

Published in The Australasian, 6th October 1934 page 38.They had started out manufacturing things a little larger than buttons, like the charcoal gas producer above.


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.

see: http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/pictoria/gid/slv-pic-aab89908

Please contact me if you have any images of their buttons.


Cumpstons, Perth

Backmark seen on back of WA Gaol Department uniform button. This may date from 1982-87.

As early as 1895, Richard Stanley Cumpston (1869-1940) was working as an engraver in Melbourne. By 1895 he had moved to Perth. In 1910 the first advertisement for Cumpston’s Engraving Works appeared. ( (Also from 1902 known he ran the the City Electric Engraving Works).  They engraved brassplates, stamps, made stencils and badges, etc. The firm was finally delisted in 1992. They had held many government contracts.

Sunday Times (Perth), 1st May 1910 page 2.

The Daily News (Perth), 27th October 1930 page 4.


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.

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 21st January 1943.


Erinoid Products, Melbourne

The advertisements at the bottom shows that this plastics firm became a button manufacturer. It spanned over 10 years.

Daily Commerial News and Shipping List 15th May 1926 page 4.

“P.A.”Yeoman was a mining engineer, inventor and grazier who became famous for the “Keyline System” for land management, which became the basis on modern farming technique, and of permaculture.










The Sydney Morning Herald, 1st October 1927 page 26.

The Age 20th July 1936.


E. W. Tilley, 123-131 Latrobe Street Melbourne

31 March 1954 The Herald, 31 March 1954 page 1.  Ernest Wilberforce Tilley (1890-1983)

The Age, 12th November 1935 page 16. This building has been demolished.

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.

The Argus, 7th November 1945 page 22.


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.

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 1941.


Freeman & Co, North Footscray

In December 1929 ‘Freeman & Co’ were granted permission to start a factory for production of bone buttons in Hopkins Street, Footscray.  They remodeled a building into a factory and started with a staff of 30 men. They were still in operation in 1931, but I have not found out anymore more about this firm.

Daily Standard (Brisbane) 27th April 1931 page 6.


G. N. Raymond, Melbourne

This company had its origins in a boot & shoe maker dating from the 1860s. As early as 1934 G. N. Raymond was producing casein sheets (under the name ‘Herculoid’) and prepared button blanks for button manufacturers. It also produced or sold trinkets, jewellery, board games, footwear components and equipment, cartons, cardboard, etc.

The Age (Melbourne), 6th September 1934 page 7.

The Age (Melbourne), 31st May 1950 page 6.


Hardy Brothers Limited

Although the company started in the colonial days, the buttons seem to be all post federation. Please correct me if this is wrong.

Image courtesy of Carter’s Publication.

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 16th September 1908, page 756.

The Methodist (Sydney) 12th December 1914 page 5.

The Sydney Stock and Station Journal, 12th December 1916, page 8.

Hardy Bros. are specialty jewellers, silversmiths, watch and clock makers, founded in Sydney in 1856 by English jeweller, John Hardy (1831-1909), 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.

State Library NSW, #IE1637702. Hardy Bros store in Hunter St, Sydney.

The Herald (Melbourne), 26th July 1933. The new Collins Street store.














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(see below).


H. Arendsen & Sons Pty. Ltd., Melbourne

Henrik (Henry) Matthew Arendsen was born in Melbourne in 1914 after his parents immigrated from Holland in 1912. His father Henrik senior was a die-sinker, and started his metalware company in 1912.  His sons and grandsons would later join the business. The original firm has been liquidated, but business continues under the entity of Stomcor Shelving.

They produced metal buttons, buckles and other goods for the military in WW2.

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 16th November 1939 page 2488.

1960 Pink Pages directory, page 122.

Buckle production, under the brand name Aros, was a major export focus for the company. ‘Aros’ was trademarked in Australia in 1946 and America in 1978, but was cancelled in 2001.















‘Overseas Trading’ magazine, 31st March 1978 page194.


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.

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 30th September 1943.

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 subsidiary ‘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 West Australian, 4th July 1934 page 14.

As the company had its origins in knitting needles, this needle sizing tool is a nice item.

The News, 14th July 1934 page 2.



McMonnies & Geary, Manly

Dun’s Gazette for NSW, 1934.

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” produced 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.

The Herald, 28th May 1935 page 21.

Frank Henry Cowper was a director of various companies. The family had moved from New Zealand to New South Wales, then  to Melbourne in about 1929. 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

News (Adelaide), 5th April 1951 page 8.

Detail from a 1957 photo in the State Library of Victoria’s collection: The Bourke Street office of Moulded Products is visible in the centre of these buildings.   https://viewer.slv.vic.gov.au/?entity=IE1894310&mode=browse

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.

The Dandenong Journal (Melbourne), 21 Aug 1940 page 7.

Commonwealth Government Gazette, 19 December 1940, page 2749.

The company became the largest producer of moulded plastic products in Australia. In 1944 a new factory was built in Mentone where 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

Herbert Marshall.

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.

Commonwealth Government Gazettes, 1944.


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’. It is possible that these buttons were made elsewhere and only exhibited to show what casein could be used for. However, the photo below claims to show buttons, buckles, dolls heads and artificial wool produced at the factory.

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.

Northern Star, 16th January 1947, page 6.


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, part of the business started in 1853 by Thomas Stokes, renamed Perfection Badges and then Action Badges.

The Farmer & Settler (Sydney), 2nd June 1932 page 6.

Commonwealth Government Gazette: 15th October 1942.


Raynors Pty. Ltd., NSW

Commonwealth Government Gazette 9th April 1953.

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.

NSW Prisons Department

NSW Fire Brigade.


Sheridan’s,  Perth

Sunday Times (Perth), 1st April 1923 page 16.

Mirror (Perth), 16th January 1932 page 1.









Victorian born Charles James Sheridan (1879-1941) set up an importing business in Hay Street, Perth, in 1906. In 1913 he set up the workshops of ‘Austral Engravers’ in Florence Street and started manufacturing metal tags and badges. Around 1924 the name of the firm was changed to ‘Sheridan’s Engraving & Metal Stamping Company’. The workshops were still in Florence Street, but an office and showroom was set up in Hay Street. They may have started making buttons around 1934. 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 Southern Districts Advocate (Katanning, WA), 2nd July 1934 page 2.

His son joined the firm. Sunday Times (Perth), 17th July 1938 page 9.

The buttons below are backmarked ‘Sheridan Perth‘.

WA Fire brigade

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.

USA and West Australian buttons.


Stewart Dawson & Co (Aust) Ltd.

Sunday Times (Perth) 3rd May 1908 page 5.

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.

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 2nd December 1926 page 1.


T. H. Cheese, Sydney

Trent Hirst Cheese 1907-1986.

The Sun (Sydney) 14th Aug 1936 page 8. The company was struck off in 1943.


Vogue Button Company

The Age, 19th November 1935 page 4.

Nothing else is known about this firm. it may not have lasted long.


Wallace Bishop

Cam Smith

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.

Wallace Bishop

Brisbane Telegraph, 23rd November 1954 page 20. Carl Bishop

The Telegraph (Brisbane), 25th September 1939 page 15.The Wallace Bishop Arcade, opened in 1939.


W. Newton Pty. Ltd., East Richmond

William Simon Newton (1902-1957) was a manufacturer of “leather fancy goods” in a two-story factory in Adolph Street, East Richmond from before 1929. He diversified into metal goods and also button and buckles.

The Age, 4th November 1936, page 5.

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.