How to Buy Antique Buttons

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How to Buy Antique Buttons

Antique buttons are often used for restoring vintage pieces of clothing and they are also popular antique collectibles. Collecting antique buttons is a hobby enjoyed by many people because some of these accessories are rather inexpensive items and can offer someone the thrill of collecting without having to invest large amounts of money. However, the price of antique buttons depends on the material they are made of. Many of the buttons produced in the past were made from a wide range of materials, from glass and pearls to black sapphires.

Often made of precious materials such as ivory, mother of pearl, and even gold, antique buttons may be quite expensive. Their value increases with age and rare pieces can cost more than several hundred pounds. When shopping for antique buttons, buyers should make sure the item they are looking to buy is authentic and in good condition. By learning more about the history and characteristics of antique buttons, buyers can make sure they are able to quickly spot a rare item and pay the right price for it.

A Short History of Buttons

The history of buttons goes back to prehistory, and in the beginning they were simply used for decorative purposes. Buttons were invented somewhere in the Bronze Age, approximately 3,000 years ago, and they were first made from horn, bone, metal, seashells, and wood. It was a time when people used pins, belts, or brooches to fasten their clothes, so ancient people did not feel the need for buttonholes. Buttons were used as decorations by Greeks and Romans and throughout the Middle Ages, and began to be mass-produced and used in a practical way in the nineteenth century.

In Britain, the first buttons were manufactured in Dorset at the beginning of the seventeenth century and they were decorative pieces covered with fabric and embroidered. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Britain was successfully exporting buttons to Europe and America. Most antique buttons that are part of collections today date back to that period. The introduction of plastics made buttons less precious and contemporary buttons are often used for their fastening function instead of their appearance.

What to Look for in Antique Buttons

The wide variety of buttons created over the last centuries may make it difficult to identify a rare gem from a pile of old buttons, especially when it comes to someone with an untrained eye. Fortunately, there are several things that one can learn to look for in antique buttons. These may help buyers identify precious antique buttons even though they may lack experience. Important factors to consider are material, function, and the way a button was manufactured.

Antique Buttons Materials

Identifying the material of a button is the first step in determining whether the item is an antique or not. Some of the most common materials used for buttons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries include ceramic, silver-plated metals, brass, glass, shell, bone, fabric, and thread. Composite and Bakelite, which are both plastic-type materials, began to be used around the turn of the twentieth century. Another common material for buttons made at the beginning of the twentieth century includes hard rubber. Celluloid buttons became popular in this period as well and in most cases they were made in a way that imitated ivory. These buttons were popular mostly because they could be either opaque or transparent and they came in a wide variety of colours, just like contemporary plastic buttons.

Antique Buttons Function

The type and function of an antique button is a factor that is quite important for any collector. The main distinction is between buttons used for civilian and those used for military outfits. Buyers can also pay attention to the type of garment the button was intended for, as for example buttons used for various types of coats are often different from those used for shirts, dresses, or trousers. In the vast majority of cases, antique military buttons are made from metal, particularly pewter and brass. The value of antique military buttons increases with their age. Thus, a military button from the First World War is typically less valuable than one from the Victorian period. Other types of antique buttons include porcelain Prosser buttons and silver-plated or brass Tombac buttons.

Antique Buttons Manufacturing Process

A good way to identify an antique button is determining whether it is handmade. Most handmade buttons are antique or at least vintage. Multiple procedures were employed for manufacturing handmade buttons. Metal buttons were often cast in moulds, whereas ceramic and porcelain ones could be either handmade or moulded. Fabric buttons were usually handmade, while those made from composite materials such as Bakelite and celluloid were typically mass-produced.

When shopping for antique buttons, buyers should make sure they look for the manufacturer's mark. Antique buttons often feature the manufacturer's mark printed or stamped on the reverse side. This can be of help when trying to determine the period in which the button was produced as well as essential information about the way it was manufactured. Buyers can use a guide to button-back marks in order to be able to date an antique button.

Antique Button Size

Buttons come in a wide range of sizes and antique ones are no exception to the rule. The size of an antique button can provide a buyer with information regarding the function of a button. For example, a very large military button was probably used for an outer coat, while an identical, but smaller button may have been used for the sleeves of a coat. A button's size is often referred to as 'ligne', a French word that began to be used as a standard reference in the eighteenth century. The chart below may help buyers determine the size of an antique button before buying it.

Button Size (ligne)

Metric Size (mm)

Inch Size































Buyers should remember that the sizes above are not standard for all manufacturers. They should give buyers a good idea about the size of a button, but buyers should keep in mind that sizes may also vary from one period to another. The chart is particularly useful to those who buy buttons online and wish to convert imperial sizes to metric ones.

Buying Single Antique Buttons vs. Buying Antique Buttons in Bulk

Antique buttons can be purchased separately or in bulk, and each option comes with advantages and disadvantages. For example, when choosing to buy a single button, a buyer can focus on the button's characteristics and easily determine the actual value of the item. On the other hand, buying in bulk may offer a better price per piece, but this comes with the inconvenience of not being able to pay the same amount of attention to each piece before buying. Buying multiple antique buttons at once does not always come with the guarantee that all the items were manufactured in the same period.

How to Find Antique Buttons on eBay

If you are a collector or are simply looking for antique buttons to create a vintage-style for your sewing project, it is important to look at as many items as possible before making a purchase. It goes without saying that you need to make sure the antique buttons you decide to buy are truly antiques, so a wise thing to do is buy from a reputable seller. An excellent place to shop for antique buttons is eBay, as the website offers a large selection of buttons from many periods.

The good thing about shopping for antique buttons on eBay is that you can quickly locate a suitable item. All you need to do is perform a search by typing the words 'antique buttons' into eBay's search bar. You can then start to browse through the results you get until you find the right antique button for your collection or for a project. You should always make sure you read the product description carefully, especially when buying antique buttons in bulk. The photos provided by the seller can also be of help when it comes to determining the condition of the buttons.


Antique buttons are small, but beautiful accessories that hold a legacy of the past and, for this reason, they are collected and used to add an interesting touch to various pieces of clothing. One of the good things about collecting buttons is the fact that they are generally affordable, which means anyone can start a collection as a hobby. Many antique buttons are unmarked, which may lead to problems when it comes to identifying and dating them.

Antique buttons can be bought in numerous places, including antique shops, thrift stores, and the Internet. Shopping for antique buttons on eBay provides buyers with an extensive selection of such items available from sellers from all around the world. Whether buyers are looking for antique buttons to add an interesting vintage touch to a sewing project or intend to start or complete a collection, eBay is the right place to start browsing for these kinds of buttons.

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