New Zealand Button History

New Zealand Button History


Information for this page were in large part sourced from New Zealand’s National Library’s resource, ‘Papers Past’:

I also found these useful:—plastics-new-zealand

The history of button manufacturing in New Zealand followed a similar course to that in Australia. Total reliance on imports gave way to local manufacturing and even exporting.  Finding value from the waste products of the county’s growing meat and diary industry,  buttons were made from teeth and bones, and casein was exported.

Published 25th Mar 1881 in The Star.

Published Auckland Star, 20th December 1919.

Wanted ads for two button factories, in the Auckland Star, 1920.

In 1939 in the suburb of Petone, Lower Hutt, a company called the  American Button Company started manufacturing fashion buttons. Reportedly, before this factory opened there had not been a significant local production. From the article below  it seems likely that the ‘American Button Company’ was making covered buttons:

Auckland Star, 23rd December 1919.

Published in The Queenslander, 14th May 1931, a collection of New Zealand Helmet and Hat badges and buttons.

How you gonna keep them down on the farm? Well, it wasn’t just Broadway pulling the young folk away, there was also the chance to sew buttons!

Published in the Evening Advocate (Queensland), 10th November 1941.

Daily Mercury( Mackay, Qld), 4th October 1943 page 4.

Major world events had local impacts. The New Zealand plastics industry made major contributions during WW2, producing large quantities of buttons for uniforms as well as millions of toothbrushes! In 1945 it was reported that the entry of Japan into the war had meant the loss of New Zealand’s main supply of pearl buttons. The  local fresh-water mussels and trochus shells were of no commercial use, and supply from India was insufficient. This changed demand from pearl to plastic buttons, locally made as well as imported from the USA and Canada. Post war, world-wide shortages of supplies prompted charity efforts like that below;

Published in the Auckland Star, 21st March 1945.

There were  two major plastic button producers, described following:


British Buttons and Buckles/General Plastics: Pluckett Avenue, Petone



Initial shareholders included A.G. Griffiths, O. C. Rheuben and N. R.  Rheuben, who were involved in button manufacturing in Australia (O.C. Rheuben & Co, which would become ‘General Plastics’ in 1941). This New Zealand company  was also renamed General Plastics around 1946. Headed by Jack Quinn, it produced Beauclaire branded buttons. The buttons were made by compression molding, pressing of slugs, and later injection molding. At one stage the company employed 70-80 people and was exporting container loads of buttons.

Evening Post, 31st July 1939.

The factory started production at the end of August 1939. In November it was reported in the Evening Post that “The new factory already employs 50 hands and it is expected that the staff will increase to 70 when full production is attained. Already the company has delivered nearly 10,000 gross of buttons and it is contended that it can produce 1000,000 gross per annum”. It was not making men’s buttons or pearl buttons, rather women’s fashion buttons.

Part of the same news report. It shows that O. C. Rheuben had at that stage a 50% interest in the company.

Unmarked, however these are definitely GP designs.










Probably pre-Beauclaire branding. This “Modern Miss” graphic varies from the Australian versions.

Post 1945 (GP branding). This design appears on Coronet cards in Australia. They date around 1949, as seen in the advert below.

Otago Daily Times, 29th November 1949 page 11.

‘Pearl Sheen’ branding (not seen in Australia). The name Beauclaire appears in a leaf shape (also not seen in Australia). Some, but not all, button designs were in common with the Australian branch of the company.

‘Pearl-Glo’; a term not seen in Australia.

From the designs of cards and buttons it is evident that there was some sharing of design and marketing strategies, and some independence. It is possible the name Beauclaire originated in New Zealand, before a standardising of the marketing in the two countries, and was actually Belle-claire before it became Beauclaire (see below). Ads for ‘Pearl Sheen’ buttons appeared in 1949-50 newspapers.

Note the change from “Belleclaire” to “Beauclaire”.

Beauclaire 1950s

As in Australia, at first the pale blue Beauclaire cards had no text in the lower oval, and the backs were completely blank.

Then printing at the bottom, and on the back occurred (identical wording except for the country’s name).

Press, 15th February 1955 page 16. Note the button on the bottom left is seen on the above card.

A bit of a mystery: Beauclaire cards, but the G. Herring concept of cardigan buttons with a backing disk and a different brand name, Astoria. Who had copied whom?

A counter-top display box of Astoria buttons:

The artwork changed, circa 1953. Boilproof and Moonglow branding appears.

These ducks have been sold in Australia and NZ for decades.











Mid 1950s partial card.

On the back of the above card.


Late 1950s-1960s

Different artwork appeared in the late 1950s, when the branding became linked with Leda.

Press, 16th May 1958 page 15. The brand “Beauclaire lasted in NZ at least 1967.


Small cards

A “innovation” that was patented here was to punch out holes in the cards, and attach the buttons with sticky tape. I don’t feel this was a great idea! This method was mentioned in the news in 1954.

The Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW), 3rd December 1954 page 2.


Large cards




























Mystery branding on Beauclaire cards








Sample Cards


1965 onwards

On 13th April, 1965, an electrical short circuit initiated an exposition of plastic dust which had accumulated below floor boards in the factory in Masterton. The explosions was so massive that a 300kg piece of machinery was thrown onto the roof. Four people were killed, six were injured, and it would have been worse had not most of the staff been on a tea break.

From Archives New Zealand. 13th April 1965.

The company  became New Zealand Casein Plastics Ltd in 1969. In 1988 a joint venture was formed with New Zealand Dairy Co. and a Japanese company, Nissei Kyoeki, to manufacture casein buttons for the Japanese market. This venture only lasted two years. The company wound up in 2004/5 as competition with cheaper polyester buttons as well as a rising NZ dollar against a sluggish Japanese economy took its toll. The final seven workers were laid off.


Buttons (N.Z.) Ltd./Falcon Plastics, Newmarket, Auckland

Joseph Henry Faulconbridge (1800 – 1955) was involved in clothing production. In 1934, working from his backyard and with only a few pounds capital, he started a button factory producing wood and pearl buttons. In 1936 he listed Buttons (New Zealand) Limited with his sons Roy and Ian and expanded production to cast resin, casein and compression molded plastic buttons in Auckland. The company became Falcon Plastics after 1945, with Ian as production manager and Roy as managing director. They produced items such as kitchen ware as well as buttons.

Auckland Star 30th December 1936.

Auckland Star, 18th December 1940.

Auckland Star, 3rd November 1945.









Duraware manufactured by Falcon Plastics. The Falcon trademark  Seen below) appears on one of the button cards.


G. Herring/Beutron(Australia)


Around 1956 G.Herring opened a factory. For some reason the names ‘Titan’ and ‘Beauty Buttons’ and ‘Vogue’ were used before changing over to Beutron. The larger Titan cards are direct copies of Australian Beutron cards. Perhaps G. Herring exported to New Zealand under these names before manufacturing locally?

Identical to “British Made Beutron Wash buttons”.

Identical to Beutron Tub buttons.





The buttons are the same as Beutron Tub or Wash buttons of the era.


Note that ‘Beauty buttons’ were ‘another Titan button’.

On ‘boil tested white’ cards!








The card style below was not seen in Australia.

Press, 30th October 1961 page 7.


Re-order cards


Minor Manufacturers/ Tailors Buttons/Distributors

A. Levy Ltd., Wellington

Abraham Levy (1861-1918), tailor, was supplying uniforms from at least 1913. In 1916 he was in trouble.  Apparently he used cotton instead of linen thread!

Evening Star 25th August 1916.

Otago Daily Times, 25th January 1927. This may date the above NZ Rail button.

The Levin Building c.1969, built 1936. Credit: “Horowhenua Historical Society Inc.”


Ballantyne & Co, Christchurch

John Ballantyne was born in Scotland in 1825.  He traveled to Australia in 1852 then to New Zealand in 1871.   Arriving in Christchurch in 1872 he was encouraged to take over a drapery firm,  Dunstable House that had been established in 1854.  The business became J. Ballantyne & Co. in 1920.  The company trades today as Ballantynes.

Credit: Ballantyne & Company Ltd building, Christchurch. Ref: 1/1-009721-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/29946497 Dunstable House c.1920. It was destroyed in a fire in 1947.


Charles Parsons (NZ)/Corozo

Charles Parsons (NZ) limited was known as Corozo Button Company Limited from 18 March 1955 til 23 February 1966, then Ackmead Holdings Limited from then until 14 June 1993. As this card is marked with both Corozo and Ackmead Holdings trademarks, it perhaps dates to around 1966?


H.B. Craighead Ltd., Wellington

The Craighead family were tailors in New Zealand for several generations. Hugh Clark, Edwin George and his brother William Bruce Craighead were tailors and outfitters in Ashburton on the South Island. It appears W.B moved to Wellington and continued as a tailor. Huia Bruce Craighead was born in Wellington in 1897 so presumably was William’s son. H.B. would also become a tailor and from around 1932 traded as H.B. Craighead Ltd.


Horn Buttons and Accessories Ltd.,  Wellington

This company started in 1940 and was still advertising for staff in 1945. I don’t know when it folded.

Evening Post, 30th September 1940.


Kawali Island Industries

Matipo,Manuka and Puriaj wood.


Kawau Island lies in the Hauraki Gulf off the north Eastern coast of New Zealand. It is approximately 8×5 km. Ten percent of the Island is under control of the Department of Conservation, including an historical mansion and the remains of  a copper mine. Considerable damage has been done to the environment due to introduced species, particularly wallabies. A trust is working to reverse some of this damage. The wooden buttons may be tourist or perhaps fundraising items.


Korbond Industries Pty. Ltd.

See also the Distributors page. Korbond Industries Limited started as manufacturers, but changed over to distribution. As Korbond was located in Auckland, the buttons may have been supplied by Falcon Plastics of the same city.

These two cards are marked ‘made in NZ’


New Zealand Clothing Factory (Hallenstein Brothers), Dunedin

Wanganui Highlanders 1900

1885 pattern New Zealand Rifle Volunteers button.

Other Ranks Volunteer button 1870s

Artillery Volunteers 1870s.

New Zealand Territorials Artillery, 1911.





















In 1873 The New Zealand Clothing Factory was established in Dunedin to supply the Hallenstein Brothers clothing stores. By 1900 there were 30 “HB” clothing stores across the country. A grand new headquarters was built in 1882-3 which housed up to 300 employees. The opening was celebrated with a ball for 500-600 people. The company continues today, but now most of the clothing is made in China.

The factory must have regularly tendered to supply uniforms, as I have received several backmarked “The New Zealand Clothing Factory”, although the buttons were most likely sourced from England. Some are generic patterns used by multiple forces throughout the Empire.

Founder Bendix Hallenstein (1835-1905) : Image courtesy of Toitū Otago Settlers Museum.

The Hallenstein Brothers New Zealand Clothing Factory store in Queen Street, 1903. Image from Auckland Weekly News 12 November 1903, courtesy of Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19031112-15-1.

Otago Daily Times, 15th April 1890.


Ross & Glendining, Dunedin

In August 1862 two Scotsmen, John Ross and Robert Glendining, took over a drapery store in Dunedin. It was the start of a business that would last until 1966. They changed from retail drapery to wholesale and importing when they opened a warehouse in 1865.

By the 1900’s over 500 people were employed at the mill. The business changed from a partnership to a Limited company.  John Ross remained involved in the company until the 1920’s, and his sons continued after that. The number of factories increased producing clothes and shoes under various fashion labels. In the 1960s the firm struggled, finally being sold and broken up after over a century of trading in 1966. The mill continued under new ownership until 1980.

Northern Advocate, 22nd June 1922 page 2.

Ross & Glendining’s first clothing factory was initially equipped with 21 new and second-hand sewing machines. Photo from 1902 courtesy of Hocken Collections, Dunedin, S09-529c.

This lithograph, dated 1910, depicts the Roslyn Worsted and Woollen Mills in Dunedin. Image from Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/1-009178-G. Image © unknown.


Van Staveren, Wellington






In Wellington the name of van Staveren was well known.  Herman van Steveren (1849-1930) was the Rabbi of Wellington from 1877 until his death.  He was very active in the community,  serving on charitable and hospital boards.  Three of his sons (out of 13 children) opened Van Staveren Bros. Limited in 1905 as general traders and importers.  The firm finally closed in the 1980’s.

As merchants rather than tailors,  they must have been involved in the supply of  of soldiers’ uniforms.  As 4 sons volunteered in WW1, the family was obviously proud to contribute.

Rabbi Herman van Staveren, wife Miriam with children and grandchildren c.1925


The Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Company, Limited.

This company was incorporated in 1882 and commenced manufacturing in 1886.  The head office, warehouse and clothing factory were situated in a three/four story brick building in Petone, near Wellington.  The mills were also in Petone.       

The Head Office, corner of Willeston and Victoria Streets, Petone.



Paua Shell












Paua is the Maori name for several species of sea-snail, known elsewhere as abalone.


Sweetheart brooches

Items such as this, made from 3 uniform buttons, were bought or made as a gift for a sweetheart, wife or mother to wear whilst her boy served overseas.


Uniform buttons

Civilian Uniforms

Airways of New Zealand

Established in 1935 by  the shipping company Union Steamship Co (see , Union Airways of New Zealand was the first major airline in the country. The first scheduled flight took place in January 1936. They used de Havialland DH86  and Lockheed Electra aircraft.

The Sun (Sydney), 11th April 1935 page 22.

News (Adelaide), 15th February 1936 page 8.

In 1938 the East Coast Airways Ltd., (which had been the first licensed passenger service in NZ in 1935) was merged with Union. After a prolonged negotiation, a trans-Tasman service was established in April 1940 under the control of the Australian, New Zealand and British governments, as well as Qantas, Imperial, and Union Airways (19% share), using Empire flying boats. It was called the Tasman Empire Airways Ltd. (TEAL)

Tasman Empire Airways Limited. Uniform Button [Teal], 2004.452.15. The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

Post WW2 the New Zealand government nationalised the airline, with the general manager of Union transferring to the new corporation. The aircraft, timetables and most personnel were also transferred to the new National Airways Corporation.

National Airways Corporation. Button [National Airways Corporation], 2016.187.2. The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

Labour Call (Melbourne), 29th August 1946 page 7.

In 1978 the N.A.C. merged with Air New Zealand.


Auckland Electric Tramway: 1902-1956.

Item #2014.256. The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

I love the design; a wheel, a giant magnet and bolts of electricity.


Allied Mutual Insurance (AMI)

No maker’s mark.







The logo as seen on the buttons was changed in 2018.

This company started in 1926 as the South Island Motor Union. Problems with finance post the 2010-11 Christchurch earthquakes led to the sale of this company. In 2020 it was announced that the remaining branches were to be phased out.


Christchurch Boys High School







This is a school in Christchurch, New Zealand, opened in 1881, originally on the site of the (now) University of Canterbury, but moving to Straven Road in 1926.

The Press, 25th January 1881 page 2.

New Zealand Herald, 8th February 1926 page 11. Official opening of new school buildings.


New Zealand Shipping Co.

Backmark: Gardiner & Co. London

Businessmen in Christchurch started this shipping company in late 1872 to run passenger and cargo services between New Zealand and Great Britain. In 1882 their ships were fitted with refrigeration to allow the shipping of frozen meat from New Zealand.

From the Australian National maritime Museum: SS Remuera 1911-1940

NB: There were similarly named, but unconnected, companies named ‘Forth and New Zealand Shipping Company’ in 1863-4 and ‘Panama and New Zealand Steamship Company” in 1866-8.

See also


Union Steam Ship Co.

Stokes & Sons

Stokes & Sons Melbourne














Formed in Dunedin in 1875 by James Mills from the Harbour Steam Company of his deceased  boss. With a growing fleet of  modern ships, and by taking over smaller concerns, the firm prospered. By 1877 it started trading between New Zealand and Australia, and by further acquisitions, including the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Co., came to dominate the trans-Tasman and Bass Strait trade. It extended to Pacific, trans-pacific, Asian routes and also to Britain. In 1917 Mills sold the line to P&O. This turned out very well for P&O as they secretly over many years, pulled profits out of the firm to prop up less profitable parts of its business.

In 1971 P&O sold Union off to a consortium including  Thomas Nationwide Transport (TNT). Its services were reduced to concentrate on Tasman trade, reducing the company’s scope, then competition would further reduce profitability. Sadly, the once extensive and profitable firm ceased trading in 2000, after 125 years.


Defence Force Uniforms

Backmark: J.R. Gaunt & Son Ltd. 1902-1952

WW2 NZ Airforce. Backmark: MP

?Generic airforce button. No backmark. Bought in same batch of buttons as the other.

NZ Rifle Brigade. The New Zealand Rifle Brigade was raised in April 1915, becoming the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade in January 1916. Auckland museum has a set of them, but without the letters RB on the front.