Preparing A Tray of China Buttons for Competition

When I began collecting china buttons 15 or more years ago, I received a handout prepared by Denver Elliott, an avid china collector and a successful competitor in china button awards.  The sheets listed Mr. Elliott’s suggestions for preparing a successful entry for a china button award.  I am certain that he would be pleased to share this information with newer china collectors. You may download the article here.

In the intervening years we have of course made new discoveries, but this valuable article requires only slight updating. What has changed since these guidelines were prepared?  As china and china appearing buttons began to be imported from Europe in greater numbers, particularly from France and the region surrounding the Bapterosses factory in Briare, new types have become commonly accepted and perhaps even expected on china tray entries.  There are now in circulation among collectors many additional body shapes featuring the two-way inserted self shank, enough perhaps that a tray of 42 inserted self shanks might be an interesting possibility.  Self shank buttons have also been documented, in several different configurations.

Mr. Elliott’s comment regarding the use of the suspect scallop edge gaiter button is now inappropriate.  Since we have learned that the Bapterosses factory did indeed use glass type ingredients in the manufacture of china button shapes, the question of glass vs. china is no longer an issue in competition.  Tests have also found that stencil buttons, long accepted as chinas, may never have had a porcelain-appropriate formula in their manufacturing process.

Mr. Elliott has not included the truly rare china buttons that every china button collector dreams of possessing, but few actually do.  Omitted from his list of calico shapes are the pin shank and drum examples which we see infrequently on award winning trays.  Under gaiters shapes he does not include the molded imitation sew-thru body type found in both calico patterns and solid body colors.

For additional examples to make your entry even more interesting, you may also refer to several articles in the National Button Bulletin that supplement the Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons.  One article preceded the publication of our text and includes images of a calico jewel, and three other examples of china jewels with other than a calico pattern, none of which are pictured or described in Guidelines.  You may see them in the May 1952 issue in an article on the proposed china classification. Later additions of accepted china styles may be found in issues dated March-April 1971 (Off-beat type body style 9), November-December 1971 (new stencil designs), May-June 1972 (stencil #17 with gold and multicolored saucerlike hollow eye buttons), and July 1985 (transfer patterns).

Our updated classification also suggests a new way to describe and organize your china buttons, and to submit them for an award.  Consideration should be given to body base color, surface decoration color and decorative finishes.  Refer to the National Button Society Classification booklet Section 3.

Yellow China Buttons

A collector asked me what seemed at first to be a simple question:  “Did I have any yellow china buttons?”  Answering that question involved some digging, but the result was interesting and I’m sharing it with you in the following text and images.

It seems that yellow was not a color in fashion when china buttons were introduced in the mid 19th century.  I don’t think I have seen a single button with solid yellow body color or a button decorated with a yellow calico transfer pattern from the earlier period of  porcelain/china button production.

Very soon after I wrote that sentence, our friend in France, Matthew Brown, sent me a scan of a calico button with a yellow transfer pattern.  And soon after that, I actually received another example of the same pattern in the mail, also from France. I am revising my statement to say that yellow was rarely used for calico patterns. And here is the example:

Light lemon luster did appear to be in use on early china buttons and this photo includes two whistle shapes and a pattern eye with this decorative finish.

An early sample card from the Bapterosses factory in Briare France includes similar light lemon lustered examples of other body styles. Shown here are seven different luster finishes on a mound body type. On the bottom of the card the same lusters on shown on deepwell body styles.

Another sample card of an uncatalogued body type also produced by Bapterosses, a ball shape, includes yellow lustered examples.  Also of interest on this card are buttons with a matte finish, which we do not see often on other body types.  The ball shape shares with whistle shape # 10, a slightly raised molded band around its midsection.

Another treatment which is  unusual is a painted top button, a piecrust, which stops short of being a full body color in yellow. You can see the pearl lustered rim of the button in the photo.

There are also a few stencil patterns found in a bold yellow, but they are scarce and also were produced much later.  Guidelines lists yellow as a documented color on stencil pattern #s 1, 2, 17, 20, 22.  #17 is missing from the scan below.

It appears that it wasn’t until china buttons were manufactured from glass type ingredients, that full yellow bodied buttons appeared. Our National Button Society Blue Book refers to these buttons as “china type buttons” and they are included with earlier examples in our classification of china buttons. We know from digs at the Bapterosses factory discharge site, that these buttons were produced there, in traditional and varying body styles. And since we know from the current factory sources in Briare, that the Bapterosses factory  ceased all button production in the early 1960’s,  that dates these buttons to before that time.   Shown in the photo are a tiny mound, an uncatalogued four hole button, a fish eye, a two-way inserted self shank shape #20 button, and an uncatalogued self shank type.  The buttons are also shown from the reverse.

Another card of china type buttons decorated post production and offered for sale on a French card, shows the pattern eye shape #2 in bright solid yellow.

China type buttons were also manufactured by other factories .  Shown below is a card bearing the Jablonex logo, a flying “J”. Jablonex in Czechoslovakia is known for its glass button production. The card shows the very large variety of colors produced  in a china type saucerlike hollow-eye button, including three shades of varying intensity yellow. I don’t have a time frame for these buttons, but I suspect it was comparable to Bapterosses’ later production.

I’d love to hear about, or see, any other yellow china buttons that might add to this answer of the yellow china button question.

Deluxe Chinas according to Judye

In 2004 Judye Stewart was asked what kind of china buttons excited her. Many new examples of chinas have been discovered in the intervening years, but Judye’s list and drawings of traditional china rarities are still appropriate. Her text, ChinaDeluxe2004, is here, with my thanks.

Judye has also designed display cards for china buttons. They are coordinated with Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons and can help you organize your collection in a very attractive manner.



Chapter 9: Beyond Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons

As I read through the previous chapters, I realize that I have included examples that vary from the buttons documented by the editors of Guidelines. Buttons that surfaced in the two years following publication were given official sanction in articles in the National Button Bulletin. After that time, we have been forced to rely on a consensus as to the appropriateness of a particular example, believing that it is reasonable to assume that buttons bearing a resemblance to known china buttons have a legitimate place in our collections.


In the March-April 1971 issue  of NBB Jane Ford Adams proposed an additional “Off-Beat Type” giving it the designation “Body Style 9.”  The article also illustrates a china shoe button attached by way of its pin shank to a Bakelite button, with the disclaimer that the button is an interesting combination of materials, and considered to be a plastic button.


In the November-December 1971 issue Ms. Adams presents a sample card of German stencil buttons, noting that eight of the twelve designs it contains should be considered new additions to the catalog of patterns in Guidelines.


Ms. Adam’s third and final addition is described but not pictured in the May-June 1972 National Button Bulletin as a “Bird cage, two-hole top.”


In the same issue, Ruth Lamm describes and pictures two partial sample cards.  Card #1 features stencil pattern number 17 finished in gold over a bright surface color.  The article refers to an example on which the reverse was painted black.  I haven’t see that variation, but the stencil buttons in the scan below include a white body, two black bodies and a pearl lustered body over which the colored and gold luster finishes have been applied.

Card #2 is made up of saucer-like hollow eye buttons finished in a pattern of random gold lines topping a colored surface.  In most collections of china buttons you will find additional body types decorated with a variation of this same treatment.  Shown below are a tire, quatrefoil radiating line rim, tiny mound, plump, fisheye, dish and a piecrust example.

A similar multi-color finish decorates the button on this card from Lansing.  The gold is faint, but the technique appears to be similar.


To my knowledge the next mention of additional china buttons is found in the July 1985 issue of the National Button Bulletin, included in an article titled “A Great Find!” The buttons were discovered in Albert Parent & Co. of Paris sample books acquired by Diana Epstein and Millicent Safro.  They sport intricate transfers topped by a luster finish covering the top surface of two hole oval eye smooth top china buttons.


The next significant group of china buttons to surface is known as “Snouffers,”  named after their intial owner Marie Snouffer, who purchased the buttons in 1991 at a garage sale.  The small price paid for the 300 loose buttons would make you weep, and you may read about it in a booklet detailing the purchase and including photos and descriptions of each of the 109 unique buttons retained by Marie.  The remaining duplicate buttons were sold to other collectors and are circulating among us today.  The booklet may be ordered from the Michigan Button Society for $5 + $2 shipping, mailed to Joy LeCount, 3472 W. 800 N, Wawaka IN 46794-9781 with your request.  The booklet may also be ordered from Suzanne Marsh via a PayPal payment of $7:

The buttons are dramatic stencils (medallion-like patterns created to fit the button as a unit with no repeats), calicos (design is repeated over the entire surface), and striking striped and geometric patterns decorating two and four hole china button bodies. The two hole examples are oval eye smooth tops; the four hole buttons are of two types: a body resembling a dish but with a flattened rim and a tire type closest in appearance to Body Style 5 variation 3 (pages 86-7 Guidelines).  The buttons are found in three sizes: 16.5 mm, 14 mm and 12 mm. Lillian Buirkle and Marjorie Fraser have edited the material for the Michigan Button Society and I am scanning the covers of the booklet for a close up view of ten of the buttons.

Examples of buttons from this collection were included in an article titled “A Fresh Look at China Buttons” in the National Button Bulletin, May 2007, according them unquestionable acceptance as china buttons suitable for use in competition.  This issue with a complete ordering of china buttons in great color images is still available from the National Button Society  and is useful  for proper classification of  Snouffer and all china buttons. Contact Gil Biggie to request a copy: (, 9075 Wigwam Way, Reno, NV 89506.  The cost is $4 for the issue + $2 for shipping.

Below is a small card of buttons that appear similar to the Snouffer four-hole tire type body, with surface decorations closer in appearance to those on the Snouffer four-hole flat rimmed dish type. These also are of unknown origin.


What to say about the next explosion of china button knowledge? A chance meeting on ebay with Matthew Brown led to a visit by china collectors to the Bapterosses Museum in Briare, France, exploration of the discharge area behind the still operating factory, the unearthing (literally) of many new body types and finishes– and kiln testing.  You can read about the 2005 visit to Briare at The China Exchange and view photos of china buttons displayed at the museum.

Collectors and button dealers Jane Quimby and Deborah Hanson (Byson Buttons) have made repeated visits to the site and are responsible for the introduction of many new examples of china buttons produced at the factory, previously unseen or unrecognized by collectors in the U.S.  Matthew Brown has also contributed many unlisted examples discovered at French brocantes. You may see a grouping of the variety of two-way inserted self shanks in Chapter 2.  The buttons in the next photo have an unusual source.  They were part of small keychain bead and button figures sold at the gift shop at the Bapterosses Museum. A close examination of the sample cards shown at the China Exchange site will result in many matches to these buttons.

Other buttons that came from Briare and the factory discharge area were also striking and new to us. Guidelines mentions one size large white china button, shown far left in the scan below.  The other two buttons, also size large, were Byson Button finds from Briare.  They measure from left to right 1-5/16″, 1-7/16″, 1-5/8″.

In viewing the reverse of these large buttons, the obvious difference between the two types leads us back to one of the reasons for our intial visit to Briare and the Bapterosses Museum and Factory.  We had noticed that buttons of  later manufacture appearing on Bapterosses marked cards seemed to exhibit more characteristics of glass than of ceramic material.  Our tour guide at the factory confirmed that as the factory began producing mosaic tile, in addition to beads and buttons, it transitioned from a ceramic to a glass formula.  Later testing of buttons matching descriptions in Guidelines confirmed that  buttons long accepted as china were actually closer to glass in composition.  Coining the term, “china types,” collectors decided that buttons bearing a resemblance to known china button types would be considered acceptable in china button representations and awards.  Pat Fields addressed the issue in a NBB July 2007 article titled “The China/Glass Question: What Makes a ‘China’ Button?”

The following photos contain examples of other unlisted buttons. The first shows front and reverse of a saucer-like hollow eye and a dish button with “frit” (the mixture of silica and fluxes that is fused at high temperature to make glass• a similar calcined and pulverized mixture used to make soft-paste porcelain or ceramic glazes) surface embellishment.  Although not matching the sample cards on view in 2005 at the Bapterosses Museum, we noticed this technique there on oval eye  buttons.

The handsome black button, a Byson Button find, resembles a more familiar two-way inserted self shank button, but evidences a flatter, apparently solid  body and a scaled down inserted shank.  The button is 1″ in diameter.

Jocelyn Howells shared the next image of a similar body type with an apparent transfer pattern surface decoration.

More Byson Button discoveries below with gold surface decoration on familiar body types.

Our visits to Briare made us aware also of the legitimacy of a self shank body type that we had noticed in china button collections.  I tend to divide self shank types into three groups, differing mostly in the shape of the shank.  I consider those with the flattest shank probably the earliest; the reverse also has more of the “pebbled” texture we have always considered to be a mark of china buttons. The  example with the bright pink surface has a transfer of a rose design in black and came from a store card.

The second group of self shank buttons have a more rounded shank tip.  The body far left with the molded crosshatch pattern is found on a sample card with the #20 two-way inserted self shank buttons that it “matches.”  The pinkish version is a painted top pearl lustered body faux whistle and the far right front and reverse is a brick colored body with a bright copper luster.

The third variety  I believe to be the latest production from the Bapterosses factory and was found in the accessible layers of the discharge area.  The buttons had a larger size range, were pastel in color and the shank was more elongated than the previous style.

And the last item presumably from the Bapterosses factory….get ready….a bag of plastic buttons!

Before concluding the “Beyond” chapter, I’d like to go back to the initial proposed classification of china buttons printed in the National Button Bulletin, May 1952, years prior to the publication of Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons.  One surface decoration type, a spatter, was illustrated and later included as a calico pattern, but not in the variety as shown here originally.

Additionally, a body type was included in this article, but only briefly mentioned as a calico type in Guidelines, with no example shown: the metal jewel setting.

Calico metal jewels come in both diminutive and small sizes, and are set in varying metal rim styles.

There are also china bodies in metal jewel settings without any surface decoration (white and colored), and several variations of white bodies with banding and dotted centers.

The photo below shows the same surface decoration on a variety of bodies.  In the top row the two buttons on the right are familiar pattern# 6 china whistles.  The button far left is a faux whistle gaiter shape with a plate and loop shank, and the items in the bottom two rows are all china studs, two unrelated .  These all point to the tremendous variety in production at the Bapterosses Factory.

And perhaps the last photo, two size medium pattern eye #2 appearing buttons, acquired from a French collector, with a metal escutcheon firmly affixed to the face of the button and secured by a pin and metal plate on the reverse.  In Chapter 2 ( there is an inserted two way self shank button with a boar’s head in relief on the surface.  These may be considered another sporting type possibly produced by the Bapterosses factory.

Chapter 8: China Stencil Designs

Part 1: Catalogue of China Stencils

Guidelines provides a descriptive definition of stencil buttons “so that all readers will understand precisely what buttons are included in this catalogue–and why these and no others.” I have rephrased except as quoted below.


These buttons are known to us as “stencils”; some of the patterns were actually created using a stencil, others obviously were hand decorated. The conclusion is then, that “stencil” signifies a style and not a technique.


Stencil patterns are medallion-like, the design created to fit the button as a single unit, in a single color.


Most commonly a stencil button is either white or cream. Only two of the thirty-one patterns are found on a different colored body, either black or orange.


Round is the most common shape with three patterns decorating a modified square shape. The top of the button is slightly convex with a mostly flat back. “The top has no molding whatsoever except that is required by the holes.” This comment is important because often collectors mistakenly include a molded top fish eye button with color inside the molded area.


There are always two holes enclosed in either a fisheye, oval-eye or boxed oval-eye well.


The majority of stencils are NBS size small, with modified squares sometimes measuring as mediums. NBS diminutive sizes are rare.


Colors listed are: black, red, orange, lavender, light blue, dark blue, light green, dark green, light brown, dark brown, deep lavender, pink and yellow. Metallic lusters are mentioned in the text.


Guidelines says:

“One of the very most important distinguishing characteristics cannot be described–the look and feel of the china itself. These buttons have a body quite different from that of the calicoes, but only actual comparison of the buttons will show what the difference is.”

Part 2: Stencil Patterns Tabulated

Guidelines pages 143 – 148 show drawings of stencil patterns and a description of body types, colors and sizes for each. Clicking the link will initiate the download of a pdf of these pages. The text indicates which patterns are common and which are scarce. Short version: #2, #5, #13, #19, and #30 are hard to find. #7 is also less common. Guidelines mentions that only one example of #26 has been recorded. #31 is questionable as a stencil pattern and all numbers above #31 are quite rare. Occasionally examples of similarly decorated buttons are found, these two originating in the Czech Republic. A newer sample card of stencils is shown below. The hyphenated “CZECHO-SLOVAKIA” (cut off from the bottom of the card in this scan) and the telephone number help date the popularity of these buttons to the years between 1918 and 1930. Collectors also found a large quantity of stencil buttons in craft stores as late as the early 1990’s, sold under the Jesse James “Dress-It-Up” brand. These could be purchased in small mixed packages or ordered directly from the company by the gross. In reply to an inquiry, they stated that they had found large bags of the buttons in a Czech Republic warehouse. All of the patterns were on cream bodied fisheye buttons. The pattern #29, the face pattern, had previously been rather scarce. As another indication of the relatively late production of these buttons, stencils could be purchased in at least one shop in New York City in 2002.

A Concluding Comment

The quote from Guidelines above, regarding the ceramic body of stencil buttons differing from that of calicos, is interesting in light of relatively recent discoveries. We have learned that many of our documented later china buttons, and particularly the stencil buttons, were manufactured from materials more commonly used in the production of glass buttons, rather than in ceramic button manufacture. Glasslike buttons remain in our china button classification as china type buttons, reflecting National Button Society’s decision to group together china and china type (having characteristics of known china buttons) buttons.

Chapter 7: A China Button Sample Case Saved

Photos of pages from a ten-page sample case showing the German brand “R & C” are shown in Guidelines.

Sample cards give us information as to the origin and relative time of production for the examples of china body types and colors we have in our collections. The older sample cards that I have found are from the Bapterosses factory in Briare, France.  The most complete example consists of three approximately 9″X12″ cards housed in a dark leather covered case.

Possibly older is another Bapterosses sample card showing mounds and deepwells with remarkable lusters.

Continuing with sample cards showing medals won in international competition, is this blue background card of  “BOUTONS AGATES BLANCS.”

Another card shows some similar styles in a pearl lustered finish.  The heading on the card has been changed to read “Manufacture de Briare.”  The Bapterosses factory is located in the small town of Briare, France

The same body styles in black are offered on this card which lacks the medals in gold.

A third sample card headed “Manufacture de Briare”  offers a button which is not catalogued in Guidelines: a self shank ball shape.  It shows a relationship to whistle shape #10 in that both have a raised band around the circumference of the button.  The buttons are shown in glossy, matte and lustered finishes.

Two smaller cards below are also from the Bapterosses factory, one showing smooth tops and the other hollow eyes and three examples of the elusive body style 4 smooth top.

An additional card from the Bapterosses factory has a different heading: “Nouveauté” suggesting “new style.” It features two and four hole tire type buttons in glossy and matte finishes and saucerlike holloweyes in glossy , matte and lustered finishes.

We know that other button manufacturers were producing china and china type buttons concurrent with Bapterosses/Manufacture de Briare.  Guidelines shows the sample case from the R & C Company in Germany.  The sample card below is marked “RB” and I believe also originated in Germany.  Guidelines makes the point that the French labeling on the R&C cards, and this card then, reflects the French domination of the industry and an attempt by other manufactures to be “à la mode” (in style) for  the times.

If you noticed the expression “china type” in the text above, here is confirmation of buttons manufactured in the style of traditional ceramic body buttons, by a manufacturer of glass beads and buttons: Jablonex in Czechoslovakia.  The two cards confirm recent suspicions by china button collectors that some of the buttons in our collections actually have a content that is more glass-like than ceramic.  The cards are labeled, as were their French and German counterparts, “Boutons Agate”, and offer a variety of buttons in traditional china body types.

Chapter 6: Calico and Gingham Buttons

Calico Buttons

The introductory article on calico buttons in Guidelines is written by Beatrice Lorah who explains “Calico buttons get their name from the word ‘calico’.  This was derived from the word ‘Calicut’ , which is the name of a city in western India.  It was there that cotton cloth with printed patterns was manufactured and exported to England.  Some of this cloth, we believe, was used in the making of covered buttons.”

She continues ” When we speak of calicoes today, we refer to china button with printed calico designs.  These designs are repeated over the entire surface, whereas on the stencil there is but one pattern.”

The text explains that the calico pattern was printed in ink on paper that was then laid on top of a tray of fired china buttons.  As the tray made a second trip through the kiln, heat transfered the inked pattern onto the surface of the button and the paper was burned away.

Wilfred Morgan began the process of identifying and drawing china calico button patterns.  In 1939 and 1940 he published three booklets illustrating the 293 patterns he had identified.  His original drawings were executed in 4″ diameter circles.   Beatrice and Lester Lorah continued his work, adding more patterns, and  compiled the catalog shown in Guidelines.  You may access the patterns here, at the National Button Society website. Also published on line is collector George Gauthier’s system for identifying calico patterns.

And just for fun, here is a photo of Mr. Morgan and a voided example of one his drawings.

Mr. Lorah provides information about calico colors, sizes and shapes, and draws body types.

Plate 75 above shows shapes (top row left to right) dish, inkwell, saucer and (bottom row left to right) smooth top oval eye, tire, what is referred to here as shape 6 but known as Shape 4 on Plate 37, and a pin shank example, considered to be the rarest.  The article also refers to calico jewels, not drawn, but does not mention other body types which are  shown below.

Missing from the collection above is a faux sew-thru gaiter type calico pattern button.  I’ve taken the image from the China Exchange website where you can see other examples of buttons not catalogued in Guidelines, and up close examples of some that are.

Jean-Felix Bapterosses in his factory at Briare, France, is credited with the introduction of colored china buttons in the mid 19th century.  Colors for the more common two hole body calicos with a white pattern are shown below.  Of those shown rarest are royal blue, teal green, dark gray, and orange.  The pink variation is less opaque appearing, suggesting its possibly glass-like ingredients.

Matthew Brown has reminded me that at the museum at the Bapterosses factory, in addition to the calico patterns on dark body smooth tops,, we also saw calico patterns on dark body whistles.  I’ve borrowed Deb Hanson’s photo posted at the China Exchange site–thank you Deb.

Other calico rarities, not listed in the order of their scarceness, include:

  • Patterns on colored 4-hole bodies
  • Two-color calico patterns
  • Patterns on fish eye bodies
  • Pin shank, gaiter, drum (gaiter in metal setting) bodies
  • Lozenge (much thicker than dish examples) body
  • Luster as body color either under or over calico pattern
  • Gold calico pattern
  • Square sewing well on dish type body
  • Fancy metal rimmed dish body
  • Metal rimmed size medium

Gingham Buttons

Ginghams and calicoes share two body types but differ in the type of pattern and method of pattern application.  From Guidelines:

“To distinguish the patterns by kind, one has only to look at the two textiles that the buttons copy. Cross-bars and plaids are typical of gingham.  Tiny repetitive details is characteristic of calico.”

“Gingham patterns are placed on buttons in this way: The button is dusted over with colored powder after the design has been drawn on  with a colorless sticky medium. The loose powder is blown off and the button fired.  When more than one color is wanted, each requires separate firing.”

“The ginghams contained in the Bapterosses sample case range in size from just under 1/2″ to 11/16″.  The five four-holers all have knob centers.  There are eleven basic patterns of line arrangement.  Coloring is usually carried out with horizontal lines of one color and vertical lines of another.  In a single instance, all lines are black.”

Courtesy of Millicent Safro of Tender Buttons, NYC, the sample case buttons may be seen at the China Exchange site.

Below are examples of the two body types exhibiting gingham patterns.  The 4-hole version always has a raised knob in the center of the sewing well, as do some calico buttons.  The 2-hole variety is a smooth top oval eye body.

Typically there are areas of confusion in distinguishing calico from gingham buttons.  In one case (the two buttons on the left below), the method of application clearly places the buttons in the calico category.  The black patterned button (third button from the left) is confusing because it is catalogued as a calico pattern, but appears to have been created using the gingham type method.  It is found in a blue color also.  The button far right is certainly a plaid, but the pattern appears to have been hand painted and this button is grouped with the oval eye button patterns on plate 38, chapter three.

On a personal note, I have been very fortunate to connect with friendly button dealers and other collectors who have facilitated my acquisitiveness–and it is my pleasure to share these delightful buttons with you in this blog.


Chapter 5: Three-Hole China Buttons

Chapter Five: Three-Hole China Buttons

There are seven plates of three-hole china buttons in Guidelines.  The majority are diminutives (under 3/8″) but there are several examples of size small buttons also.  My card of these is not representative of the buttons available.  A list of the nine groups in this chapter and a few notes on each follows.

  1. Dish Type, Body Style No. 1: (Diminutive) Opaque white; 5 different banded patterns; calico pattern in both 1 and 2 colors; entire top covered in gold; entire top and side covered in gold
  2. Ink-Well Type, Body Style No. 2: (Diminutive) Opaque white; 4 different banded patterns; calico pattern; pearl luster; opaque body colors; marbled
  3. Saucer Type, Body Style No. 3: (Diminutive) Opaque white; 1 banded pattern; calico; pearl luster; opaque body colors
  4. Tire Type, Body Style No. 4: (Diminutive) Opaque white; edge banded in gold; pearl; gold and blue luster; pearl with gold band; opaque body colors
  5. Plate Shape, Body Style 5: (Diminutive) Pearl luster
  6. Scalloped Edge  (Small): opaque white
  7. Back Interest (Reverse of button differs): opaque white and silver luster
  8. Radiating-Line Rim Type: (Diminutive) Opaque white; 6 different banded patterns; pearl luster; opaque body colors
  9. Hobnail Type: (Diminutive and Small) Opaque white; 3 different banded patterns; orange and pearl luster; opaque body colors
Here is a sample card from the Bapterosses Factory in Briare, France, showing the transition in size from the three-hole to the four-hole buttons in several different body types. From left to right: dish, saucer, tire, inkwell, hobnail, piecrust, smooth top.  Size range is 7/32″ to first four-hole at 11/32″
 Probably the buttons in this group most attractive to collectors are the size small three-hole examples and the calico patterns.  I believe there is a size small calico three-hole button, but it has completely escaped my grasp.  Shown below are a few photos just for fun.
The triangular three-hole button in the photo below is part of a group of buttons originating in Briare, France.

Chapter 4: Four-Hole China Buttons

Chapter Four: Four-Hole China Buttons

Parts 1 to 6 

Part 1: Four-Hole China Buttons with Smooth Beveled Rims

This section includes Body Style 1, Dish Types, and Body Style 2,  Ink Wells– both are named appropriately for the shape of their rim.

Dish Type – Body Style 1

Guidelines says that of all china button shapes the dish type is considered the commonest.  There are however, patterns which are quite unusual. The dish type is further divided into two groups, according to the presence, or lack of, a variation in the center of the sewing well,  A minority of the buttons have a small raised “knob.”  Speculation is that this feature might have been added to by a manufacturer to avoid patent infringement allegations.

Guidelines reports that dish type buttons are found in a large range of sizes (5/16″ to 1-1/16″).  Collectors have also found a size large (1-1/4″+) white dish type. Ten different patterns have been catalogued on white bodies, including calico patterns which are treated separately later in Guidelines.  Dish types also come in solid colors; one banded pattern is catalogued but no mention is made of calico patterns on dark bodied dish type buttons, although they do exist. Additionally,  lustered finishes and a marbled body are listed.  Metal rims have been found on sizes 5/16″, 7/16″ and 15/16″.

Dish types with knob centers are listed separately and include patterns called “ginghams.”  All four-hole gingham buttons found have a raised knob center.

Ink Wells – Body Style 2

The beveled rim of an ink well rises more sharply and has a center deeper than dish type buttons do. Guidelines here mentions a pearl luster two-hole ink well type button not listed in the two-hole part of the text.

Strangely,  ink wells with many different colors of bands are more common than the plain opaque body examples.  Inkwells are found with calico patterns as well as with painted tops and lustered finishes, and are catalogued in solid colors and in varying marbled colors.

Guidelines presents all variations of both body styles in one plate.  I have separated them when organizing my collection as shown below.
Part 2:  Saucer Type – Body Style 3
Again, named for the shape of the body: slightly concave, rimless– china saucer types are less common than either the dish or ink well types.   Four different banded patterns are found on a white body; calico patterns are uncommon.  Lustered bodies in pearl, gold and bronze were noted.  Colored bodies are more plentiful and are found in a wide range of colors.  Marbled and metal rimmed (scarce) examples are also included.
I have questioned the “unlisted” example as possibly not belonging with “utilitarian china buttons” at all, but remain undecided.  Has anyone else seen this pattern?
Part 3:  Four-Hole China Buttons with Rolled Rims
This group includes buttons with a flat center and a rolled rim, aptly named “Tires”.  The buttons grouped here vary in the depth and width of the center, the width, height and roundness of the rim and the size and spacing of the holes.  In photos for both plates below, the bottom buttons are not catalogued in Guidelines.
Tire Type – Body Style 4
Three shapes are described and diagrammed in plate 47. Tires are found in white and opaque body colors, luster finishes, calico patterns and marbled bodies.
Tire Type Variants – Body Style 5
As the name suggests, each button is similar to a tire but does not meet all the specifications above.
1. The center is not perfectly flat.
2. This button has no flat surface at all.
3. A flattened version of #2
4. Rim is not inflated.
5. A cross between a saucer and a tire
Button at bottom of above photo is an unlisted spattered patterned version of button number 1.
Part 4:  Off-Beat Types – Body Style 6
Buttons grouped under this heading have fancy patterns molded into the surface of the button.  Five buttons were catalogued in Guidelines.  They share a small size and a solid color. Number 4 is the exception, found with a pattern–a mottled blue lustered surface.
Body Style 7
A rather common button found in a variety of colors
Body Style 8
Similar in shape to an inkwell, with the edges drawn out into a narrow rim.  Found in white approximately 1″ in size.
Body Style 9
Officially added to the Off-Beat Types in 1971.  Its surface suggests a faux wood grain.
Part 5. Sew-Through China Buttons with Radiating-Line Rims
Differences in lines give each group a descriptive name: pie-crust rim, saw-tooth rim, bias saw-tooth rim.
Body Style 1: Pie-Crust Rim
Buttons exhibit a concave center and a rim of radiating lines, usually 24, extending to a plain narrow molded ring rim.  They are found in plain white and also with a variety of color, and in one case a two-color, trim patterns.  Pattern “Bj” below has the entire surface painted with a color, in my example yellow.  Size range is 3/8″ to 11/16″.
As before, “A” refers to white; “B” includes all variations in color trim on a white body; “C” is luster finish’ “D” is opaque body color.
Body Style 2: Saw-Tooth Rim
In this variation, the 24 radiating lines extend all the way to the rim of the button.  Guidelines says that they seem to come only in smaller sizes, 3/8″ to 7/16″.  The rimmed example below, however, measures over 5/8″. Several patterns are missing in both plates below.  I am also missing a lustered body, suggesting that this is a rare finish.  If you find an example with a metal rim and straight radiating lines, it will be a saw-tooth rim rather than a pie-crust rim button.
Body Style 3: Bias Saw-Tooth Rim 
The lines on the rim of this body type are slanted, turning counter-clockwise.  The number of lines on the rim varies between 24 and 36.  An additional unique shape is added, a “z” body type in which the lines end is a slightly raised molded ring rim.  Again, I am missing a lustered example of the bias saw-tooth rim.
                                                                                                          hmmmm… my “z” has gone missing
Part 6: Four-Hole China Buttons with Hobnail Rim
There are four body styles with a hobnail rim: 1. Concave center and flat or slightly sloped rim into which are molded knobs, or hobnails;  2. Like No. 1 except that the rim has a raised rolled edge;  3. Like No. 1 in reverse, with sunken rather than raised knobs; 4. Like No. 1 but with a metal rim. Styles 2 and 4 have been found in white only. Shape No. 1 is found in white, white with trim and colored and lustered bodies.  The number of knobs varies from twelve to sixteen.  Shape No. 3 is considered scarce and includes the smallest example, a diminutive measuring 3/8″.


Chapter 3: Two-Hole China Buttons

Chapter Three: Two-Hole China Buttons

Parts 1-9

Part 1: Two-Hole Hollow-Eye China Buttons

All china buttons included in this section have round circular sewing wells of varying size and depth. Twenty-four different shapes are catalogued.

I am going to copy here the introductory tabulation for color and pattern as this is the first time it is really put into use.

Chapter two begins with an explanation of the system devised by Lamm and Schuler to provide uniform labeling for all china buttons. The system is used throughout the text, where appropriate. They first assigned a name to each body type and displayed each variation that they found in that one body type. Throughout the text, buttons of all types are labeled as follows:

“A” refers to an opaque white button; ”B” denotes color trim on white body; “C” is a lustered body; “D” is an opaque body color other than white; “E” represents color trim on a colored body; “F” is marbled; “G” indicates a metal rim on the button. A lower case letter, “a” through “m” is assigned to each decorative pattern found on china buttons. Of course, not every button has been found in all of the possible treatments. (And I am choosing to ignore the complexity of the lower case labeling denoting patterns.)

Two-hole hollow eye buttons begin with shapes 1-5, termed “Ringers”. Three-banded ringers are more uncommon than the two-banded examples, and those with three bands on colored bodies are the most scarce.

Shape 1, the two-banded ringer is found with color on a white body, with a colored ring, rim and usually a tinted back (1B) and and in opaque colored bodies with colored ring and rim (1E).

Shape 2, the three banded ringer is found in an opaque white body (2A), colored trim on a white body (2B) and colored trim on an opaque colored body (2E). Shape 2 is flat like Shape 1.

Shape 3 is decorated with three bands but the surface slopes up from the rim, rather than being flat as in Shapes 1 and 2. It is found undecorated (opaque white) and trimmed as in Shape 2. Ironically, the opaque white examples of both Shapes 2 and 3 are scarce, with Shape 3 being htf (hard to find).

Shape 4 is a variation, standing higher in the center as Shape 3 does, but decorated differently in that only the center band and sewing well remain white. Only one example, with brown trim and measuring 11/16″ has been catalogued and it is htf .

Shape 5 is scarce, found in white with brown bands.

Somehow my examples intended to match Plate 29 are a bit scrambled. Good practice reading the labeling system?

Shapes 6 through 12 are shown on Plate 30 and are grouped together inasmuch as at the time of tabulation, none of these shapes were found with color trim. Introduced are two new body finishes: “C” for lustered, “D” for opaque body color other than white (and without trim), and “F” for marbled. The marbled/crockery appearing examples are very attractive but not especially rare. They are found in shades of green, gray, brown, tan, black and blue. These shapes are found commonly in both small and medium sizes.

And Shape 6 as an exception to the rule of untrimmed bodies:

Plate 31 includes Shapes 13 and 14. Remember my theory about half igloos and shape 13? I have another example of an igloo disk missing the domed top posted below the scan of these buttons. Of Shape 14 examples, A, opaque white is the most uncommon.

Plate 32 continues with hollow-eyes termed “Saucer-like”. Here the colored buttons are in sharp contrast to the black and white plate, particularly shape 15. The plate also shows the three different backs found on this one shape, shown as “0″, “00″ and “000.” It is difficult to see the differences in the plate, but “0″ has a slight depression around the holes, “00″ has a recessed ring and “000″ is flat. Not shown in the plate but in evidence on my card is Bw (a dark body color–inasmuch as Guidelines distinguishes cream a dark body color in contrast to white– with a broken band).

Plate 33 concludes the hollow-eyes with the remaining six catalogued shapes, grouped as “off-beat” shapes.

Shape 26 has proved to be the most difficult for me to find.

I think it is reasonably difficult to identify these shapes, particularly without a copy of Guidelines which gives a bit more description (usually the color and size found). I suggest using a fingernail to trace the surface of your button, while scanning the cross-sections shown in the plates.

PART 2: Deepwell China Buttons

Strangely, the white deepwell is more difficult to find than the many colored and combination examples.

PART 3: Two-Hole China Button with Smooth Beveled Rim

The description of this button refers to the common four-hole dish: “As we shall see when four-hole buttons are described, one of the most plentiful shapes has a smooth beveled rim enclosing a ‘dished’ center. But when we looked for two-hole buttons of that shape, we were able to find only one single, solitary example. It is pearl luster,size 9/16″. ”

There is no example shown and I am still looking for one.

PART 4: Tire Shape

From Guidelines: “This basic shape gets its name from the rim which is tubular. Plate 35 shows four examples all of which have a moderately heavy tire around a wide, flat center.” Examples noted are white, lustered, opaque body colors and one button with a spatter type calico pattern and another with purple spatter on the rim. Below I have a photo of a tire shape with a silver luster rim.

PART 5: Two-Hole China Buttons with Radiating-Line Rims

From Guidelines: “All of the buttons in this group have rims molded with lines (ridges-and-grooves) which radiate from a center or encircle the edge.”

1. Pie-crust. This button is common in a four-hole type, but rare in the two-hole variety. White with pearl luster is the only type seen. (Rare)

2. Elongated holes identify this type, seen only in diminutives. (Less rare)

3. Called the sunburst type, this button is shown below in my scan, separate from the others. Before the china/glass controversy was settled, this button definitely exhibited glass characteristics and has no resemblance to its china relatives. All the examples I have seen have a silver luster center extending out on the rays.

4. Fluted-rim type, this button is a beauty, seen only in white. Two sizes are recorded: 5/8″ and 11/16″. (Rare)

5. Concave shape with 21 radiating lines extending out from a flat center to a raised-ring edge. They are described as a cream body with black or pink edge measuring 3/4″. (Rare)

6. Quatrefoil (star or cross) center. (Common)

7. Eight radiating lines start from the center and extend out over a slightly rolled rim. Seen only in pearl luster. (Rare)

8. Small deep center with radiating lines covering a rolled rim. Seen in white, lustered, opaque colors and a painted top. Often called a “Plump”. (Common)

9. Thirteen point rosette “with tips meshed to notches in the beveled rim.” Brown in a 1/2″ size is listed; mine is tan and 5/8″ in diameter.

Shape 3:

PART 6: China Buttons with Oval Eyes

From Guidelines: Oval-eye holes, always two in number, are set within an oval depression, which may have either rounded or boxed ends.

Oval Eyes are found in five shapes:

1. Mounds (Common)

2. Smooth top, low, convex, sometimes almost flat (Common)

3. Hobnail (Rare)

4. Low convex top with narrow molded rim. White, opaque color other than white and calico patterns. (Rare)

5. Czechoslovakia flat tops with spoke-and-circle (Common)

Plate 38 shows all the variations in color and patterns on smooth top oval eye buttons– it is my favorite group of china buttons! What do you think?

In the fourth row, Cb and Cc should be explained. The first is a luster (pearl) over a calico pattern (pink) and the second is a calico pattern (white) over a luster (orange).

Bi is an example of a calico pattern on a two-hole oval eye. Calicos are more often found on a four-hole dish type, and often the two-hole examples sport the less common patterns.

Bj is a gingham pattern which is discussed in greater detail later in Guidelines.

Stencils in the majority of patterns are found on oval eye bodies– some may also be found on both the smooth-top oval eye and the fish-eye body.

Missing from my collection are Ba (full cover on a white body; Ca below is full luster on a cream body–picky, picky these china collectors….), as well as two other patterns described as ”scalloped band” and “dots around the edge in trefoil pattern”. Also elusive is k: “Plaids other than ginghams. Reported in blue, red.” Another example I’ve yet to find is Ec, a colored body with a banded edge, side bare.

The metal rimmed smooth top sitting atop the photo from Guidelines is a late addition.

With all this variety, there are still other patterns accepted by china collectors. A few are shown below.

And then I found another lovely smooth top oval eye with a transfer pattern that is discussed in our National Button Bulletin July 1985. It was found by Diana Epstein and Millicent Safro, along with approximately 99 other examples, in an Albert Parent sample book. The buttons ranged in size from 21/32″ to 27/32″ and the bulletin describes them as “lustered and stenciled with a multitude of different pattens, some multi-colored. They cannot be classed with our well known stencils because the pattern is not medallion-like. Neither do they resemble our calicoes.”

A second type of oval eye button is the Czechoslovakian flat top with spoke-and-circle. ”A” the plain opaque white body is surprisingly difficult to find. ”Ba” is missing from my collection, described as “Color trim on white body; rim fully covered. Gold rim with green or purple center band.” Common are buttons with broken bands (“Bg1″) and band in combination with broken band (“Bg2″). ”Bl” is an example of the entire top painted/lustered. Guidelines documents only a blue example, but other colors have surfaced. ”C”, the final example is a lustered finish

China mounds, a third type of oval eye button, demonstrate a tremendous range of color, color combinations, and sizes. Guidelines describes them: ”a molded rim encloses a raised center having two holes in an oval eye. The shape is called a ‘tiny-mound’ when it has an incised line near the edge, a broad bevel sloping down to a mound just wide enough to hold the oval-eye…..A ‘regular’mound is proportioned the other way around, its center being wider than its rim.” (1) refers to white body examples; (2) refers to plain colored body examples. Patterns are given in the order of supply: (a) mound and rim of different color; (b) a narrow band or pin-line encircling th mound to separate it from the rim; (c) color around extreme edge covering the side of the button; (d) mound and rim of different color, metallic line around the mound.” Continuing with tiny-mounds (e) heavy band around the rim and (f) matching bans around mound and near edge.

The two variations in pattern shown at the bottom of the scan above are not catalogued in Guidelines. The wavy gold lined pattern is mentioned in NBB May-June 1972 and shown on saucer-like hollow eye buttons, but here seen on a tiny-mound. Far right lower line is a metal rimmed tiny mound of which I have found several examples, but again, it is undocumented.

PART 7: Fisheye China Buttons

Leaving oval eye china buttons behind, Guidelines says “fisheye is a trade name for two holes inside a spindle-shaped depression.” It continues with a misstatement that “fisheyes are never seen on calico buttons”– of which I will show you at least one a bit later. Size range is listed from 7/16″ up to 1-1/8″. One example of a fisheye on a square button has been found. Color range is large, with pink the only color documented as a painted top rather than a solid body color (shown below as “1″). Lustered examples are found (shown below as “2″). The majority of fisheye china buttons sport a stencil pattern and these are catalogued separately later in Guidelines. Other patterns are (a) color trim in two depressions in button and enclosing the fisheye; (b) banded edge; (c) pin-line touching tips of fisheye; (d) two bands. Pattern “a” is not considered a stencil pattern because the surface of the button includes recesses and all other stencil patterns have a smooth surface surrounding the fisheye.

PART 8: Panty-Waist Chinas

From Guidelines, “The two-hole china button, commonly called a ‘panty-waist’, is a plain little thing, about half an inch across, with a slightly convex top and a flat back. It is recognized by its extra large holes which differ from others by having no sewing-well of any kind.  It was made that way for a special purpose, namely, so that it could be attached to the child’s undergarment from a loop of narrow tape.  The large holes carried the tape and let the button hang free.”

All of the buttons are perfectly plain except for one example with slightly incised small lines giving a rayed effect. (I’ve never seen an example of this button.) White and cream buttons (A) are plentiful; mother-of-pearl and cream luster (C) and gray and black (D) are more uncommon.

PART 9: Pattern-Eyes

Pattern-eyes are described by Guidelines as buttons having the two holes as part of the design or pattern molded into the button. Of the three patterns, the first, resembling a scallop shell, is by far the most rare. The second is regarded as a cross pattern and is found in plain white, a luster finish and many opaque body colors. The third button has an eight-pointed star in the center of the button. It is found in plain white (A) and also with a gold star and black or blue painted surrounding area on a white body (B). (C) is a luster finish: white luster with gold star center on a white body and iridescent luster on a black body. (D) is an opaque body color. Guidelines lists black as the only version of (D) but in the past few years variations of body and luster colors have been found.

Lower buttons show variations in pattern eye cross button, a marbled body and opaque body colors with painted dots. The sample card shows pattern eye buttons and inserted two way self shank buttons in the variety of opaque body colors mentioned in Guidelines.

Two button types not addressed in Guidelines are shown below.  The first is a two hole button with elongated eyes, rather like a low profile smooth top.  It is shown in pink on the cover of the May 2007 National Button Bulletin.  The other type has been seen in white on a china sample card and is shown here in both a mottled brown and mottled blue.  It might be described as a two hole hobnail deepwell.