Circa 1870 VR Buttons with Escutcheon
I mentioned yesterday that one of the NZ volunteer forces buttons I shared was actually sourced from Australia, although it is of identical design. I now have 3 variations of this types of button.
The button on the left is a smaller and tarnished version of that on the right (copper with silvered escutcheon on a brass base).
All have fixed shanks (the middle one is bent over). The left button is marked Smith & Wright Birmh, the other 2 C.R. Martin Melbourne.
C. R. Martin was a Melbourne based warehouseman/importer of military accoutrements, not a manufacturer. These buttons suggest that Smith & Wright supplied his buttons. In J. K. Cossum’s book ‘Buttons of the Defence Forces in Australia’ this design button is depicted on pages 26 (for Tasmanian Volunteer, Medical & Retired Staff 1870-1901) and on page 29 (for Western Australian Volunteer, Medical & Retired Staff 1870-1901) and according to JSMilitaria was used by some New Zealand Volunteer units from 1866 to 1909, with an example from Smith & Wright depicted on his website.
I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest that Smith & Wright supplied all buttons of this design as a universal uniform button from around 1870. They probably also produced the NSW Military Forces 1870-80 button shown in Cossum on page 5. This varies only in the addition of a banner marked ‘New South Wales’ being added to the bottom of the escutcheon.
(George) Smith & (John) Kemp were manufacturers in Birmingham in 1838 when John Skirrow Wright was employed by the firm. In 1850 he became a partner in what was now called Smith, Kemp & Wright. In 1864 Kemp left the partnership. They continued as Smith & Wright until 1888, then as Smith & Wright Ltd. Although becoming part of the Firmin House Group in the 20th century, this backmark continued to be used during WW1 at least.
Portrait of John Skirrow Wright sourced from Wikipedia.
New Zealand Volunteers
According to https://www.jsmilitaria.com/nz-vol-badges.html volunteer corps helped in the local defence of New Zealand from the early 1840s through to the second Boar War.
Backmark: Smith & Wright Birmh Although this button was purchased in Australia, the same design was used by some NZ volunteer units between 1866-1909.
1870 pattern NZ Rifle Volunteers. Backmark: Ross & Glendining, Dunedin NZ
1882 pattern NZ Rifle Volunteers. Backmark: The New Zealand Clothing Company.
Pre Federation British Uniform Buttons from NZ
14th Regiment of Foot
Backmarked P. Tait Limerick
For a better condition button, and more on this regiment, see http://www.austbuttonhistory.com/uncategorized/26th-october-2020/
I have not photographed the back as it is very worn, however, it has the same border around the shank as shown yesterday on Smith, Kemp & Wright buttons, which suggests Tait sourced his buttons from that firm.
Peter Tait opened the Limerick Clothing Company in 1853. See http://www.austbuttonhistory.com/uncategorized/6th-november-2020/
The 14th Foot were stationed in Australian colonies from 1866-1870, travelling there after a period serving in New Zealand from 1860-1866.
Backmark: Smith & Wright Birmingham. Date c.1841-1888.
Detachments of Royal Engineers were stationed in New Zealand from around 1840. to superintend the erection and control of military and convict buildings. During conflicts, they were responsible for setting up entrenchments and batteries as well as other duties.The 6th company of Royal Engineers arrived in 1847 with most finally leaving in 1866, excepting those who had retired and chose to stay.
New Zealand Herald, 29th June 1866 page 6.
Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 28th April 1860 page 3.
From a description of a expedition to Kaihihi: Wellington Independent, 6th November 1860 page 3.
Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 123th March 1866 page 3. New Zealand, like the Australian colonies, were to take over control of their own defence. Most of the Engineers left later that year.
Pre Federation British Uniform Buttons from NZ
Buttons from Smith, Kemp & Wright, Birmingham
There is a border of groups of 3 lines around the shank.
40th & 65th Regiments of Foot
Both are backmarked ‘Smith Kemp & Wright Birmingham’. This backmark dates from the 1850-61, after which Kemp left the partnership and it changed to Smith & Wright. In the early 20th century they were merged into Firmin & Sons. These regiments served in both Australia and New Zealand in the same era.
Pre Federation British Uniform Buttons from NZ
57th Regiment of Foot
Backmark: Rogers & Co, King St Covent Garden, London
Jennens & Co London (Prince of Wales plume)
“Rogers & Co” probably refer to “Hamburger, Rogers & Co” of 30 Kings Street, Covent Garden, London. They were military outfitters and suppliers from 1839. Jennens & Co used the Prince of Wales plume on the buttons from 1860.
The 57th were stationed in New Zealand from 1861 until 1867. Therefore these buttons date from the regiment’s time stationed in New Zealand during the Land Wars (previously referred to as the Maori Wars), which was later than their time in Australia in 1825-32, but the design is the same.
18th Regiment of Foot
This button has been repaired, possibly because it was a ‘dug’ item and the back was too corroded.
This regiment travelled and served in Australia briefly in 1870 after returning from New Zealand and before sailing for Britain. This button therefore is contemporaneous with the regiment’s time in Australia.
No sewing of buttons on cards with this packaging!
Woolworths: mid 1970s
Beutron Boil Tested Whites: 1952-4.
Frederick Spencer Dalton: An Australian Plastics Pioneer
Frederick Spencer Dalton (1888-1939), made the first bakelite moulding powder to be produced in Australia in his backyard. He had left school aged 13, but returned to Sydney technical college in 1916 to do a chemistry course. In 1917 he began producing plastic buttons for haberdashery shops and for army great coats from a small factory in Pennell Lane, Marrickville. He listed two companies in quick succession.
Dun’s Gazette for New South Wales. – 12th August 1918.
Dun’s Gazette for New South Wales. – 14th October 1918.
From a larger article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 23rd May 1949 page 2.
He then experimented with producing phenolic laminates in 1920. Later he worked for Metters Company moulding bakelite plastic items such as knobs for pots and pans. In 1928, Spence Dalton again ‘went out on his own’ to form the company H. Dalton & Co, still moulding plastic products.
Collectors of vintage plastics, whether buttons or other items, are curious and/or puzzled as to what plastic materials are in their collections. Unfortunately, without destructive testing such as hot needle testing, burn testing or specialised testing such as spectrometry, it can be hard to tell. Unfortunately, some plastics are excellent for mimicking both non-plastics and other plastic materials.
Recently I have described a couple of the plastics used in Australia; casein ( http://www.austbuttonhistory.com/?p=12876 ) and Lucite ( http://www.austbuttonhistory.com/?p=12748 ).
The 1958 Tariff Report into buttons stated that, as of 1957, General Plastics were making buttons from casein, acrylics (a.k.a. Lucite), polyester and metal. Bijou mainly produced casein and acrylic buttons. G. Herring were making casein and polyester buttons.Therefore, if you have Australian plastic buttons they are likely to be made of casein, acrylic or polyester. The manufacture of casein buttons was increasingly replaced by synthetic from the late 1950s.
Polystyrene may have been used, but before 1954 it had been abandoned for use by Australian button manufacturers as it melted upon drycleaning. Some Beauclaire cards from the early 1950s mention that phenol (a.k.a. Bakelite or Catalin) and urea (a.k.a. Beetle, Amino or Plaskon) were used in their buttons of the time.
In 1954 an advertisement mentioned that cellulose acetate was produced in Australia for General Plastics.
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 20th August 1954 page 28.
Bone has been used to make buttons since the 17th century, and probably earlier, for it provided a material for rural people to make their own crude buttons. It was in great use in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but was gradually replaced by other materials. The buttons ranged from very plain underwear and trouser buttons to ornately carved, inlaid and painted. Chinese and Japanese were still exporting fancy bone buttons to America up until WW2. On the down-side, they were susceptible to abrasion and heat, and could not be die-stamped.
The bones used were mostly from cattle, but also from pigs, camels, whales, antlers from deer, and even feral dogs!
The bones were cleaned, boiled to soften, then sawn open, scraped and pressed flat. Button blanks were then sawn from this by hand or lathe. They were then covered with material or drilled: centrally for a pin-shank, or with several ( 2 to 5) holes for a sew-through type button. Disks of bone were veneered with other materials.
Evidence of bone button making has been uncovered at the site on a convict hospital (see the Convict page). “White polished bone buttons” were advertised for sale in Hobart in 1826. It was reported that bone buttons were eaten by mice during a plague of the rodents in 1917. A Melbourne based factory, Frpermission to start a factory for production of bone buttons in Hopkins Street, Footscray in December 1929. 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.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 21st April 1932 page 3.
Australian Women’s Weekly, 14th November 1936 page 9. A summer suit with 3 large bone buttons.
Australian Women’s Weekly, 10th January 1942 page 22. A linen dress with white bone buttons.