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 the history of this Australian manufacturer. Please refer to specialty books/websites/clubs for more information on this topic. More Stokes buttons appear to the daily posts. See also http://www.stokesbadges.com.au/about/
If you do Facebook (I don’t) there is an ‘Australian Military Button Collectors’ group.
The Early Years
Thomas Stokes (1831-1910) came from Birmingham to Victoria, presumably to look for gold, arriving on 2nd January, 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 Elizabeth Streets. He moved to 115 Flinders Lane east by March 1856.
Above: The Thomas Stokes (later Stokes and Martin) business was at 100 Collins Street East, Melbourne from around May 1858 until 1881. This building was sold in 1881.
The firm moved to 29 Little Collins Street before July and remained there until around June 1888 when the firm moved to the corner of Caledonian Lane and Post Office Place.
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.
‘Stokes Maker’ buttons
Stokes and Martin
Stokes was in partnership with George Frederick Martin from around 1867 (see the medallion below), around the period of his insolvency, until some time (perhaps in 1893) after 1891 when a fire originating in their machinery department 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. In 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 that Charles had personally loaned the firm money, showing the financial difficulties they were experiencing. Although mention of a robbery at the premise of ‘Stokes and Martin’ was reported in 1898 in multiple newspapers, this was presumably in error, using the firm’s old name.
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.
Stokes & Martin Buttons
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.
Thomas and his wife Ellen had 12 children, 9 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. Henry (Harry) joined in 1875, Thomas Jnr in 1886 and Edgar in 1895. Another son, Charles Sydney (1874-1939) was a shipping agent, but not part of the firm as far as I can tell. In late 1893, after the partnership with Martin had dissolved, the firm was renamed ‘Stokes and Son’ (with son Harry as partner) and then the next year as ‘Stokes and Sons’ (Thomas junior also becoming a partner) although the name did not change officially until 1903.
Another fire considerably damaged the premises in Caledonian Lane (off Little Bourke Street) in 1901. Fortunately, this time they were insured! In 1910 ‘Stokes and Sons’ purchased this building.
The gentleman on the right is Henry Richmond Stokes (1869-1919), who was a renown cyclist, as was his brother Fred (below).
Transcription of Obituary of Vincent Edgar Stokes (for some reason his name was sometimes quoted this instead of Edgar Vincent), 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.”
Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd.
The name of the form changed again in 1911 (after Thomas’s death) to ‘Stokes and Sons Pty. Ltd.’ The mark ‘Stokes & Sons’ appeared on the back of buttons until 1962.
By 1900 a branch had been opened in Clarence Street, Sydney. It was managed by Thomas Junior. On the 1st February 1913 Mr. Francis Henry Muller became a partner.
After Thomas’s death that year, this branch was offered for sale in December 1913, with Muller becoming the sole operator.
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.
The Firm moves to Brunswick
In 1935 the firm moved to new premises in Brunswick (although they maintained a depot in Caledonian Lane until 1953 at least). Several grandsons, Russell, Harry, Eric and Tom, would join the firm.
In 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.
This article was originally printed in the magazine ‘Factory and Plant”, September 1956, and reprinted in the National Button Magazine in the July-August, 1973 issue. It explained that the firm had outgrown the facilities in Brunswick, and had moved to Ringwood.
“T.V. Stokes” quoted in the article from 1973 was Thomas Vincent Stokes (b.1916), son of Edgar Vincent Stokes, and grandson of Thomas.
1958 Tariff Report
If you wish to access the complete report: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-2772284962/view?partId=nla.obj-2775492965#page/n0/mode/1up
Details regarding Stokes & Sons from the report:
Stokes (Australasia) Ltd./Stokes Badges
The name changed to ‘Stokes (Australasia) Ltd’ in 1962, with the public listing of the firm on the stock exchange. 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 in 2013 (Perfection Plate Holdings) and continued as Stokes Badges. This name is no longer registered by Perfection Plate, but Stokes Badges is still trading, presumably under new ownership.
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.
Stokes & Sons/Stokes Buttons
Note that the backmarking of buttons was variable even in a given era. Whilst ‘Stokes & Sons’ indicates pre-1962, some buttons of this era are just marked ‘Stokes’, probably due to size constraints. The use of anodised aluminium and /or two holes punched into the back plate indicates 1953 onwards.
This is by no means a complete collection. Other examples appear in the posts of the website, and more are always coming to light.
Please see the Uniform pages for the many, many, Staybrite aluminium military/cadet buttons produced by Stokes from around 1953 onwards.
A ‘Melbourne Harbour Trust’ cuff link.
Backmarks/Dating Stokes buttons
Over the years backmarks have been variable, even inconsistent. They have included:
1854-1867: Stokes Maker, T. Stokes
1867-1893: Stokes & Martin, Stokes & Martin Maker
?1893: Stokes Maker, Stokes & Son (unconfirmed)
1893-1935: Stokes & Sons P.O.P. Melb (for Post Office Place)
1900-1915: Stokes & Sons Sydney
c1893-1962: Stokes & Sons
1962-2013: Stokes(A’asia) Ltd, Stokes
Note that anodised aluminum buttons (Staybrite) were produced by Stokes from 1952 according to an article written in 1956. While “& Sons” must date before 1962, on small buttons this was left off due to lack of room even before that date.