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Button Makers And Their Backmarks

Introduction

During the second half of the eighteenth century, manufacturers of metal buttons began to ‘brand’ their products by marking the backs with their names and often their addresses. These ‘backmarks’ can provide useful information for dating the buttons, as details of the various companies, and when they were operating, can be found in contemporary trade directories and other documentary sources. The marking is almost invariably produced by die stamping, which is an inherent part of the manufacturing process, and backmarks produced in this way continue to be used to the present day. However, a very small number of earlier cast buttons are likewise marked with the maker's name, but moulded in relief rather than stamped. Silver buttons are occasionally stamped with their maker's initials, sometimes as an element of the hallmarking process.

The list that follows identifies British manufacturers and the backmarks they used from the earliest ones recorded until about the middle of the twentieth century. They have been collated from a large number of sources over a long period of time, both documentary and from the buttons themselves, most of which have been recovered by metal detectorists. In general, dates should be regarded as approximate, and not exclusive unless the context indicates otherwise. It is also the case that there are some differences in respect of dating between the secondary sources that have been consulted. Where it has not been possible to reconcile such differences, the various dates and date ranges encountered are all shown in the applicable ‘Date’ field.

The listing is in alphabetical order, by company name. During the period concerned, this is invariably the surname(s) of the founder(s). Where various members or generations of the same family worked for the business, they are listed under the common surname. Where double or multiple names apply, each name is listed separately, but cross-referenced back to the main company name. This has been done to facilitate faster tracing of a company when backmarks are partially illegible, as they often are on buttons recovered from the ground.

In addition to listing backmarks, any relevant information concerning the button makers is shown in summary form. This typically includes dates when the companies were established, taken over or ceased trading. Known button types, associated with the maker, or with particular backmarks, are also noted where it is considered that they might be helpful. The backmarks consist of the company’s name (or initials) alone, or the name and address together. They also occasionally include a pictorial trademark, such as the Prince of Wales plume found on Jennens’ buttons from 1860. In the list, the backmark is always the combination of the ‘Name’ and ‘Address’ fields. If the address is not part of the backmark, the ‘Address’ field will be empty.

It is not always clear from the sources whether the name and address are actual backmarks used by the companies, or simply their details, as obtained from trade directories and other primary sources. For this reason, those backmarks that have actually been seen by the writer - either by viewing the buttons directly, or photographs of them - are shown in an emboldened blue font. It is the intention that the list will be periodically updated, as more of the backmarks are confirmed. It should be noted that confirmation of a backmark does not imply confirmation of any dates associated with them.

It is also inevitable that the list will contain errors, both as a result of transcribing the information, and because of the use of secondary sources, which, as indicated above, are sometimes at variance with each other. Similarly, there will be omissions from the list, both in respect of the names of companies, and the backmarks for those that are listed. It is intended that the periodic updates will also include amendments and additions, as more information becomes available.

If details seem rather sparse in some cases, it should be borne in mind that the information shown might have been gleaned from a single button or a single documentary reference. In other cases, of course, there is a wealth of published information, and further details are often available from the sources cited. It should also be noted that some backmarks will be the names of the outfitters on whose clothing products the buttons were fitted, rather than the actual makers of the button. Where this is known to be the case, it will be indicated in the listings.

An effort has been made to provide an illustrated example of a button from each maker, wherever possible. These can be viewed individually while perusing the lists by clicking the applicable (see example) link, or collectively by clicking the Images button on the menu bar to see all the images together, displayed in alphabetical order.

Many of the images used to illustrate this article are from records on the UK Detector Finds database (UKDFD). I am grateful to recorders for making them available in this way, and also to other detectorists and collectors who have independently granted permission to use their images. All images can be clicked to provide an enlarged view.

Article Status

This issue dated:

13 November 2019

(Revision History)