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A Journey of Button Trims From Inception to Present 

The Mohenjo-daro area of the Indus Valley has the earliest known trims – button, dating back over 5000 years (modern day Pakistan). It’s largely shaped like a curving shell, and it has a decorative flat face that slides into a loop. This button, writes Ian McNeil in An Encyclopaedia of the History of Technology, “was initially employed more as an adornment than as a fastener.”

The Ancient Romans were also big fans of buttons. Heavy buttons fashioned of sturdy materials like handmade wooden buttons, trims, horn, and copper were necessary for their billowing clothes. Those quickly went out of style among Ancient Roman tailors because of the enormous, ugly holes they made in clothing. In addition to the button, the Romans created the fibula. This was an early iteration of the safety pin; the concept was forgotten until the United States entered the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

It’s difficult to conceive of a modern era before buttons were put to the many functions for which they are now recognised. However, it wasn’t until the 1300s in Germany that buttons with its most essential counterpart, buttonholes, were employed to attach shoes, tunics, surcoats, hoods, and other items of clothing. European nobility and monarchy popularised snug-fitting clothing with the use of buttons, which also contributed to the trend. Buttons quickly became popular in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, namely the 13th and 14th centuries.

The history and Its Context

The first guilds of button producers emerged in 16th-century France. These guilds established rules for the manufacturing and distribution of buttons and legislated their appropriate usage. Buttons were a sign of wealth and status in the Middle Ages, despite their practicality.

What follows is a brief history of buttons, with an emphasis on the “button-fastener age”. It all began with the 13th-century creation of the buttonhole. 

Although embroidered buttons continued to be fashionable, silver and ivory buttons took their position as the go-to for most high-end clothing in the 18th century. Yet, wooden buttons were also in demand. You could blend them with different colour patterns such as brown colour fabric would go with wooden buttons. 

Buttons were usually made from pewter, a prevalent metal at the period, and were either cast or stamped. Ornamental buttons made of cast brass, especially calamine brass, were commonplace on military and civilian clothing alike.

In the midst of the 18th century, English industrialist Matthew Boulton invented the brilliant and pricey cut-steel button. More affordable stamped steel buttons with an openwork design were produced in the early nineteenth century. In addition, buttons made of brass that had been dipped in a combination of mercury and gold were often used.

Later that year

Around the same time as stamped-steel buttons, a Danish manufacturer in England produced a new style of button. These buttons made of two pieces of metal joined together. The edges of the two metal discs that formed the shells. It was by pinched together to secure a little piece of fabric or pasteboard within. The canvas shank was first produced by the same company. It was not until the 1830s when buttons with fabric coverings were produced mechanically. Buttons were also being produced from horns and hooves of animals. Owing to they could be heated to a pliable state and then shaped, coloured, and dyed as desired.

Expanding the Button Manufacturing Sector

In 1859, around 2,000 tonnes of shells were shipped to England from the East, marking the zenith of the pearl shell trade in the middle of the Victorian period. Over 200 companies could be found in London by the 1890s, and between 4,000 and 5,000 people were working in Birmingham’s button industry.

It was around this time that American manufacturer John F. Boepple (who had relocated from Germany to the United States to avoid tariffs and find a steady source of shell) discovered that the Mississippi River’s bend in the vicinity of Muscatine. Its Iowa created ideal conditions for the production of mother-of-pearl buttons. Instead of using the more rare and valuable iridescent shells. He started using the more plentiful freshwater mussel shells from the Mississippi River and its tributaries. At its heyday, this region’s freshwater mollusks provided shells for more than a third of the world’s pearl shell buttons.

Overfishing of the pearl shell itself, the cessation of imports of pearl shells during the two world wars and the years that followed. Thus, the arrival of inexpensive, mass-produced plastic alternatives all contributed to the near-extinction of the pearl shell button business in the 20th century.

Manufacturing of Buttons

Initially, large production of pearl buttons was hindered by a lack of automated manufacturing equipment. The problem was solved when the Barrys’ Plumbing Company created a machine to mass-produce high-quality buttons.This machine was able to work with far less human labour. In 1895, they narrowed the company’s focus to making machines specifically for the button industry. These machines were used in the cutting, sorting, hand facing, and drilling processes.

Production increased dramatically with the introduction of the “Barry Double Automatic” button finishing machine in the same year. Therefore, by the end of the decade, the button industry employed more than half of Muscatine’s working population. The Barry Double Automatic quickly became the workhorse of the pearl button industry. Since it could simultaneously carve the pattern into the button’s face and drill the button’s two or four holes.

Every one of those button factories has rows and rows of them Double Automatic Machines. Only one Double Automatic, which could crank out around 21,600 buttons each day, was fed by seven shell cutting machines. The Double Automatic revolutionised the button business by allowing for the mass production. This production was of consistently sized pearl buttons at a fraction of their previous cost. Muscatine, Iowa, became known as the “Pearl Button Capital of the World” because of this machine. Many Double Automatics become to plastic in that year, in part because of the superior quality of the Barry machines.

End product button 

Buttons needed to be made by machines, but first the raw materials for the shells had to be collected and processed. In order to achieve this goal, many people spent their time in the well-known Muscatine bend of the Mississippi River collecting the mollusks, steaming them, and cracking open their shells. Still others worked in the factories, punching blank discs from the shiny interiors of the shells to be sent out, while still more worked in the factories themselves, using the double automated machines that drilled the buttonholes and carved the button patterns. Some families even sewed buttons and cards for manufacturers from their homes.


From handmade wooden buttons to designer buttons, these trims have their own voyage into the modern world. And even today button trims are high in demand for designer outfits. If you are a fashionista or fashion designer, you can buy such trims from the fabriclore online store. We have a large variety of trims that would make your craft project successful. 

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