History in Buttons

I never dreamed buttons could be so fascinating!

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A backmark is written or pictorial information on the back of a button that can show the maker’s name and location, the quality of the material (i.e. “925” for sterling), and even patent dates. (Bead & Button Magazine)

We acquired bags of old brass military buttons when we opened our shop. Upon first glance at them, I said, “These are very old and very cool! I bet they are worth something.”

So, I recently started a little research. Each button contains its own story of where it was made and how it was used. Soon, I discovered lists of dates of back-marks, information on when some short-lived button and clothing makers were in business, and started recognizing patterns in the myriad of variations of buttons with eagles on them.

We’re finding that many people many people love buttons: from button collectors, special-interest collectors such as railroad and military enthusiasts, to re-enactors and costume historians and even those who just appreciate the history of great craftsmanship involved in a lovely utilitarian item.

To purchase, click the pictures or check out our Etsy store. Contact us at 360-819-4296 or email us if you have any questions.

 

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Ontario & Western Railroad, Backmark Jas. N. Petrie Chicago ILL, Approximately 1890s

Ontario and Western Railway in existence between 1889 and 1925 and Jas. N Petrie shows up in Chicago Records in 1889. These seem to be early in the railway’s short life. I have seen nothing like it searching other railway buttons of the era.

 

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Backmark P. Tait & Co. Limerick, 1850-1871

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Canadian Militia

 

Previous to 1871 the Canada Militia was a local organization which became country wide when the colony organized under Great Britain. P. Tait originally from Scotland, moved to Limerick Ireland and began a clothiers shop. Tait was a supplier of clothing and buttons for the Confederate army and other organizations needing uniforms. He went out of business in 1875. The button is in good condition for its age on the front but the shank is crushed.

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Civil War Confederate Army Artillery

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5/8”

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Unmarked Pewter-7/8”

 

Civil War Confederate buttons identified the wearer’s troop: C for Cavalry, I for Infantry, E for Engineer and A for Artillery. These buttons are unmarked but are solid pewter which was common for the Civil War Era and the lathe marks and drilled hole rather than a shank help verify its antiquity. These buttons are in excellent shape and are non-dug.

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Russian Imperial Army 1880-1914, 5/8” Uniform Cuff Buttons. Backmark Sig. Eisner Red Bank, N.J.

The double eagle and crown are a dead giveaway of the provenance of these buttons. The double eagle has long been a Tsarist symbol of Russia and the crown indicates that it is of the Imperial era, prior to WWI. The Sigmund Eisner Company specialized in uniforms in Red Bank, New Jersey, the company handled contracts for the United States government as well as several foreign governments.

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Backmark John F. Boylan N.Y., S.N.Y, 1864-1890

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New York State “Excelsior Eagle” 22.5 mm Officer Staff Button

 

This button shows the New York State Seal with the eagle over a shield with a rising sun and the stars and stripes. This was intended for New York units. This was a post-Civil War manufacture and buttons marked by Boylan date from between 1864 through the 1880’s. The shank is bent but usable.

 

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Backmark – Waterbury Scovill MF’G. Co. 1850-1865, $45.00

 

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New York State “Excelsior Eagle”, 22.5 Officer Staff Button

 

This button, also an Excelsior Eagle of New York State is slightly earlier, possibly towards the end of the Civil War and made by the Waterbury Scovill Manufacturers. Waterbury is still in existence today and its backmarks can be dated by the variations in the marks. This can be solidly dated between 1850-1865 because of the star and apostrophe on the mark.

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Madison St. Cable R.Y.C.O.

 

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Backmark – Henry Newman & Co. N.Y.

 

 

This button represents a bit of Seattle history. In 1891, a cable car connected the ferry terminal on Puget Sound to Madison Park on Lake Washington that ran the entire length of Madison Street. The cable car ran for nearly 50 year and was replaced by buses in 1940. This button is quite rare and I have found no other examples of it. References to Henry Newman Co date him to the late 1800’s

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US Naval Reserves, Backmark – B. Pasqale S. Fran., 1915-1940, 7/8” and 5’8”

Started in 1854 in San Francisco, B. PASQUALE COMPANY (Benoit Pasquale) was the only manufacturers of “Army and Navy Equipment and Uniforms” on the pacific coast. U.S. Naval reserves began in 1915 and still exists today. Chances are this is an early 20thcentury button as evidence of the B. Pasquale Company disappears from records after WWII. This button shows an earlier version of the backmark.

 

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GAR Grand Army of the Republic 7/8”, 1866-1900, No Backmark

 

The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization which began in 1866 for veteran Union soldiers of the Civil War. There is no backmark and the maker is unknown but we know they are made between 1866 and 1900 as those are the dates of existence of the organization. These buttons are in good condition with varying patina, all have shanks, some are soldered and some are loose but all are intact and usable.

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Northern Pacific Railroad Button Covers, No backmark, Approx. 1880-1930 5/8”

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7/8”

 

 

Two Unmarked 7/8″  and 28 5/8″ brass button covers Northern Pacific Railroad. Good condition. These seem to be unusual as we have been unable to find other examples of these specific button covers. Being that there is no back mark, we can only estimate a date and by comparing with other button covers and feel confident that they are likely from late 1800’s to early 20th century. Northern Pacific Railroad was in existence from the 1880’s until the 1970’s.

 

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Replica Confederate States of America, Standard issue buttons, Backmark Waterbury Co’s Inc. Conn. Post 1965 7/8”

 

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5/8”

 

The Waterbury Button company has been in business since the early 1800’s and has been producing military buttons all through its lifetime. These buttons were manufactured post 1965 for Civil War re-enactors and film purposes.

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Cumner & Jones Co. Boston 1890-1950 Corps of Engineers Officer Black Button

 

Officers black buttons with an eagle holding in his beak a scroll with the word ‘Essayons,’a bastion with embrasures in the distance, surrounded by water, and rising sun. “ Essayons” means “Let’s Try” in French. This style button is seen as far back as the Revolutionary war but these are made by Cumner & Jones of Boston so they are either WWI or WW2 vintage.

Before Opening Weekend, A Little History Lesson

We are in the midst of planning our opening weekend out and about talking to our new neighbors, making outfits for our first commissions, and receiving our first walk-in customers. When they see our vintage interior, customers ask about the history of the building to which we say, “We’re working on it!”

Well here it is people. The start of a great story about the history of our building. Here’s a helpful map:

This is our lovely little neighborhood in 1879.

This is our lovely little neighborhood in 1879. Click for a high def picture from the Library of Congress.

Upon the first search of our address, we came up with nothing. Now, Mishka and I are used to this. Certain history likes to stay hidden in pockets, waiting for us. So we rolled up our sleeves and got to searching.

We wanted to find something about the neighborhood in general, partially because the streets had different names in the 19th century, partially because it would give us a good starting point on where to continue our research. On the map, 3rd Street is now State and 2nd is now Olympia. Also, Main Street is now Capitol. The center of downtown has changed… interesting.

Looking at our location on the map, you can see that we are between where the Bayview Hotel on 3rd (State) and the Standard Printing Office on 2nd (Olympia) used to be.

Now that you’re oriented, we can share these tidbits from the Olympia Historical Society website:

The Bayview Hotel was located on Third Avenue (now State Street) in Olympia. Third Avenue was the dividing line between the “respectable” part of downtown and the Dead Zone, or Tenderloin District. As suggested by its name, the hotel was located on what was then waterfront on the north side of the street. In this photograph, from around 1900, the staff and proprietor are awaiting customers in the hotel’s restaurant. Photographs selected and captioned by Deborah Ross. 

The Bayview Hotel was located on Third Avenue (now State Street) in Olympia. Third Avenue was the dividing line between the “respectable” part of downtown and the Dead Zone, or Tenderloin District. As suggested by its name, the hotel was located on what was then waterfront on the north side of the street. In this photograph, from around 1900, the staff and proprietor are awaiting customers in the hotel’s restaurant. Photographs selected and captioned by Deborah Ross.

John Miller Murphy, prolific, opinionated, long-lived editor of the Washington Standard, came to Olympia with his sister in 1851 and, having learned the printing trade in Portland, eventually returned to found the Standard, which he published until 1912. Along the way he was a city councilman, firefighter, member of various fraternal organizations, opera house owner, women’s suffragist, and tireless Olympia booster. He lived near the Standard building, just north of State Ave., even after that area of town became industrialized and a hangout for prostitutes and transients

John Miller Murphy, prolific, opinionated, long-lived editor of the Washington Standard, came to Olympia with his sister in 1851 and, having learned the printing trade in Portland, eventually returned to found the Standard, which he published until 1912. Along the way he was a city councilman, firefighter, member of various fraternal organizations, opera house owner, women’s suffragist, and tireless Olympia booster. He lived near the Standard building, just north of State Ave., even after that area of town became industrialized and a hangout for prostitutes and transients.

Looking back at the map, there was obviously some kind of structure here at 209 Washington in the 19th Century. We’d like to know what that was.

We sincerely hope that we were something fun.

Maybe not this fun.

Maybe not this fun.

Fast forward, we know that past 1927 this was an auto repair shop. It would be great to see what sort of shop it was.

Putting that on the back burner, we are having amazing food for our Formal Fantasy including:

A Selection of Northwest Seafood

Artisan platters from EZ Foods Olympia

Locally Brewed Beer from the Fishtail Pub

A Selection of Regional Wines and Prosecco

AND The Andy Omdahl Jazz Trio

There will also be surprise guests and a raffle of fun historical items like:

  • A 1962 Worlds Fair Elevator Operator Uniform
  • Win A Tuxedo in The Wearers Size
  • 2 $100 Masque & Pettycote Gift Certificates
  • Vintage Sports Equipment From Brocklinds
  • Historical 48 Star American Flag
  • Turn Of The Twentieth Century Steamer Trunk
  • A Collection of Vintage Western Artifacts
  • Original Commemorative Masque & Pettycote Costume Renderings

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