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The broadest definition of this term relates it to objects made by soldiers (including returned or convalescent soldiers), POWs, and civilians as souvenirs, momentos or gifts, to while away time, to make money, to aid in rehabilitation, and to try to make sense of the experience of war. i.e. where the manufacture is directly linked to armed conflict or its consequences. Although the term ‘trench’ relates to WW1, such objects have been made since the Napoleonic wars, if not for as long as there have been wars.
The book ‘Buttons & Sundries’ by Vittoria de Buzzaccarini and Isabella Zotti Miniciin 1990, referring to WW1; ‘Soldiers on all fronts were the involuntary “creators” of small objects, including aluminium or leather buttons, those most prized being ornamented with bits of stained glass fro burnt-out cathedrals, the sad keepsakes of a sorrowful period.’
Some have used uniform buttons, like the example below where a button and casing have been assembled into a cigarette lighter. A fellow club member has an identical item, so that he feels it may be an example of manufacturing work provided for returned soldiers.
Uniform buttons and badges were collected, gifted, swapped, made into trench art, sweetheart brooches and sewn onto belts. The following story from 1915 was supposedly related by a French reporter describing how both French and British troops made collections of buttons.
The Australian War Memorial has some photos of a soldier making buttons and costume jewellery from cowrie shells. This presumably gave them something useful to do during quite periods.
Sweetheart jewellery was/is a piece such as a hatpin, brooch or ring worn as a momento of a loved one serving in a theatre of war, or otherwise away from home. They could be home-made or bought from a professional jeweller. Uniform buttons were very suitable for making into these tokens.
New South Wales Forces brooch.
Some examples designed “to cultivate a national spirit, and help in a small way to build our great Australian Commonwealth ” (Watchman, 25th September 1913) are shown:
Similar to sweetheart jewellery, but not as personal, were buttons or jewellery professionally made to show your patriotism, and your general support of the troops/war efforts. A picture of a wonderful set found in Idaho was shared with the Victorian Button Collectors’ Club, with the owners wondering if they were made here.
For the record, I don’t think it is, as the construction (celluloid with embedded steel loop shank) is not something I have seen made by any Australian manufacturer. However, the set is fascinating. The card they were sewn on was labelled as “Allied Forces of WWII” and depicts the USA, Britain, China, Australia and Russia. This dates the buttons as 1941 or after, as that is when Russia joined the Allies.
It was described in a 1907 story that during a souvenir collecting craze in America girls were “collecting” (stealing) uniform buttons and that “many of them show proudly a collection of hat pins made from the uniform buttons “. Therefore not all “sweetheart jewellery” was actually owned by a bonafide sweetheart!
These could be made as a momentos by returned or retired soldiers and sailors.
Buttons made from coins
This button is made from a mint condition silver 1910 King Edward VII threepence. I wondered at that, as it is illegal to deface/alter current Australian currency. However, this was the year the King died. I presume there were some un-issued coins that could legitimately be made into commemorative waistcoat buttons.
This button is from the XVIII Games that were held in Melbourne in 2006. The button come from clothing sold as merchandising for the Games.
Feves/King Cake Charms
Feves (French for “bean”) are tiny figurines that are made to be put inside a “King’s Cake” for the “Epiphany” Holiday, which is celebrated every year on January 6th, known as the 12th day of Christmas. Tradition states that this is the day that the three wise men or “Three Kings” came to Bethlehem to honor the birth of Christ. Traditionally it was a fava bean (Ed: known here as broad beans) that was placed inside the cake. Whoever finds the feve in his or her slice of cake, is King for the day. Since it was good luck to get the feve/fava in your cake these little items were saved and treasured.
In the 1870s the bean was replaced with small porcelain figurines; good luck charms, religious figures, saints etc, and a collecting craze began! The oldest feves were porcelain. As the years sped by, designs became more elaborate. Different glazes were used. They could be hand painted or gilded. The tradition of feve production and collecting has been completely commercialized, and there is a vast assortment of porcelain, plastic and metal figures made. A lot of the newest feves are sold in series – more for collecting than for actually placing in cakes. Designs include everything from Harry Potter and Disney to the high fashion shoes and purses. Collecting feves is very popular in France. The series are generally only produced for a single year.”
Slouch Hat buttons/badges
Although Carol has labelled these as a fund raiser from WW2, I suspect they may be post WW2 as I can find no WW2 era newspaper article about them, and fundraising “Button Days” were well covered in the media.
The slouch hat rests on a disk, with the ‘rising sun’ badge visible. On the back of the above brown example the shank has a pin through it, and this may have been the designed purpose. (Perhaps it could be used both as a badge or as a button with the pin removed.)
These may have been similar fundraising items as the “tin hat” badges sold by the Returned Soldiers League from 1929-1970. Another alternative is that they are ‘patriotic’ fashion buttons.
The slouch hat was first worn by the Victorian Volunteer Rifles in 1885. One side of the brim slouched down slightly, whilst the other side was cocked up and held in place with what became known as the Rising Sun badge. This kept the brim out of the way when shouldering a rifle.
Unofficial Uniform Buttons:
Versions of the ‘Rising Sun’ design have been used for the Army’s badge since 1904, although the rising sun element appears as early as 1858 on tokens, and even earlier as a symbol used by Australian organisations. See these links for more information.
However, it has not been used on official button i.e. Government approved designs. The demand for uniforms, buttons and the like were so urgent and overwhelming at the start of some conflicts that a market for such unofficial mechandise must have existed. My buttons is rather battered, including a soldered repair on the back. It was probably clamped to enable the repair, which dented the top and bottom edges! It has no makers back-mark. The crown shows considerable wear from polishing, so it was well used.
Whale tooth button:
With permission from the Australian National Maritime Museum: a whale tooth button: check out https://www.sea.museum/ ;there is a lot to browse online.
According to the museum : “A whale tooth button most likely made from a whale caught in waters off South Australia. Whalebone was a popular medium used to make decorative and functional items as it was both strong and yet able to be polished and carved.” Note that the museum uses both the terms tooth and bone, which is a little confusing. If they are from teeth then they may be from sperm whales, which are the largest of the toothed whales in Australian waters.