How to Buy Vintage Buttons

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How to Buy Vintage Buttons

Buying and collecting vintage buttons can be a fun and rewarding hobby. In the past, buttons of all types were considerably more ornate and attractive than buttons today. They were also more likely to be made from noble metals and real stones. Vintage buttons should not be confused with vintage pins or vintage brooches. Buttons are clasps of a sort that slip through a buttonhole to fasten a garment. Many of these buttons from the past are ornate and are collected just for their value, while some people sometimes collect a set to add to an existing garment.

When choosing to collect vintage buttons, which are available anywhere from car boot sales to eBay, deciding which type to collect is generally the first consideration to be made. Some vintage buttons can be quite valuable, so it is a good idea to know about the different colours, materials, how they were made, and how they were used. In order to be considered vintage, the buttons have to be between 20 and 90 years old.

Colours and Materials

Very often, the materials used to make buttons dictate the colour of the button. There are about as many colours as there are types of materials and types of buttons, but there are a few main types that are seen specifically in vintage buttons. Very often, the age of a button can be identified by the materials and colours used. Most modern buttons are plastic or plate metal. Vintage buttons are usually made of genuine metal or a form of ceramic, bone, precious and semiprecious stones, glass, or an older form of plastic, such as bakelite or paste. There are several common types of vintage buttons.

Vintage Button Material

Colour or Description

Silver or silver-plated

Silver or painted

Gold or gold-plated

Gold or painted


Reddish gold or painted


Copper-coloured or painted

Ferrous metal

Iron type buttons

May be an alloy


Any colour

Lightweight compared to all metal buttons


Any colour

May have facets

May have unusual shapes


Mostly off-white or pink in colour but may be painted or carved

Fabric or rope

Any colour

Obviously fabric or knotted rope



Illegal to produce currently in many countries

Most are vintage or antique


Lighter weight than most buttons

May be carved

Variety of colours, but usually white, off white, or brown.


Any colour, but usually black

Sometimes have a business or company logo

Synthetics or early plastics



Paste glass

Any colour

This is by far not an exhaustive list of colours and materials. These are, however, the main types of buttons that are found to be vintage. Most vintage buttons have a specific look and feel to them, which a collector gets to know as they become more familiar with collecting them.

How Vintage Buttons Were Made

How a vintage button was made, carved, or manufactured gives a collector a big clue as to when they were made. There are many different manufacturing processes used from which vintage buttons could be made. Just as with material and colour, there are a few main types of manufacturing processes.

Made by Hand

Buttons that are made by hand, or handmade, are more likely to be antique than vintage. Vintage began to be manufactured around the time when manufacturing processes were improving. Despite technological improvements, some vintage buttons were carved or made by hand. If a collector is concerned with collecting only vintage buttons, a professional dealer needs to be consulted about handmade buttons since they could be considered vintage or antique.


Metal buttons were often made by stamping. This is a process by which a button shape is stamped out of a sheet of metal. These were then sometimes left the way that they were or changed. They were changed by placing cloth, celluloid, or bakelite over them to make a pattern. The eye attachment on stamped buttons was often attached to the back to make it easier to attach a button onto a garment. Most military buttons were stamped, and then had the military logo or insignia stamped onto them.


For many, vintage button moulds were used. These moulds were used to make bakelite, celluloid, and ceramic buttons, and were usually made by moulding. Very few metal vintage buttons were also made by moulding. In this process, a mould of a button's shape is to create an inside out replica, and then the material was poured into it, allowing it to harden into a desired shape.


Often, buttons made of bone, antler, wood, ivory, and other natural materials are carved into buttons. These are often very distinguishable and show wear easily. Carved buttons are the easiest to tell their age or if they are new, not only by the material from which they are made, but by the wear that they show. Most carved materials wear quickly. A carved button can be vintage or antique, and like handmade buttons, the exact age needs to be established by a professional.

How Vintage Buttons Were Used

There are a few ways to establish a vintage button by its use. For example, military buttons can be verified as vintage by their emblem or design.

Military Buttons

Vintage military buttons, particularly those used around the time of different wars, had very obvious differences in the emblem than those currently used, and those used during peacetime. When trying to identify a military button, it is helpful to have a book that details vintage military emblems.

Overcoat Buttons

Another use that vintage buttons are often identified by is the type of garment for which they were used. Overcoat buttons are usually very obvious, either vintage or not. Since they are larger, vintage buttons were more likely to have a design, coloured stone, or be made from a metal. Now, most overcoats have zippers instead of buttons.

Garment Buttons

When looking at garments that are worn under coats, such as blouses, shirts, and skirts, a person can tell if a button is vintage by how it is made and sometimes its size. As more modern methods of making buttons evolved, smaller buttons became popular. Also, the material of which they are made helps to identify a vintage button from a modern button.

Formal Garment Buttons

Looking at a button from a dress or formal garment, both modern and vintage buttons are usually ornate. It is difficult to tell whether or not they come from a modern factory or were made years ago. Most formal garments, such as wedding dresses, contain vintage buttons that are made from pearls, precious, or semiprecious stones, or other identifiable materials. In the case of stones, a person can tell if something is made from celluloid, paste, or rhinestone by looking at the back of it. Modern versions of these often have a silver-coated back, which indicates that it is modern. The silver-coated back was not added much later to give the rhinestone or other stones more of a realistic look.

Yet, another way to tell if a button is vintage on a formal garment is how it is hooked. Many of the buttons that are vintage used a button loop, rather than a buttonhole, particularly on a formal garment, such as a party or wedding dress. If a buyer has access to the garment from which the button came, which is rare, it is sometimes easier to date the garment than it is to date the button.

Buttons on Shoes

Sometimes buttons were used for shoes. This is a rare practice in modern times, and most buttons used for shoes were used over 20 years ago. This is also a button that may need to be authenticated because there are a lot of reproductions on the market.

Buying Vintage Buttons on eBay

A good place to find vintage buttons is on the popular auction website, eBay. To search for them on eBay, all you have to do is type the kind of button for which you are looking into the search box, and click on search. Once this is done, a list is populated of all of the entries matching your search terms. You can browse through this list to find the button that you want.

If you find one that you like, then simply click on the listing link. This produces a detailed description of the button, usually an approximate year it was made, and information about the seller. After reading the product description carefully, if you find that it is one of the buttons that you want to purchase, read the shipping and return terms for this particular seller to make sure that they are agreeable to you.

Also, take a look at the seller's rating and status. The seller should be highly rated, and should be in good standing with the eBay community. Look at the seller's feedback, because a seller with a lot of positive feedback is better than one without it.


There are many vintage clothing buttons available at car boot sales, antique shops, and on eBay. When purchasing a vintage button, it is important to be able to make sure that the button is, in fact, vintage. This is done by carefully examining the button for its material, colour, size, manufacturer, and its use. Each of these factors help to determine the age of a button. There are occasions where an expert may be consulted to identify if a button is vintage or not. This is not always the case, but it is good to have a second opinion while button collecting. There are also books related to collecting buttons, such as "The National Button Societies' Beginner's Booklet".

Many people collect vintage buttons, and it can be a fun and, in the case of button sets, useful hobby. They are generally inexpensive and can be found easily in a variety of places. Many seamstresses and tailors collect vintage buttons for sewing onto new garments to make them appear vintage or just to decorate them.

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