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.

Author: Frankie Winters

I'm a Designer, Maker, and Developer in Portland, Oregon. I have two little girls and keep a meticulously organized garage.

9 thoughts on “Chapter 9: Beyond Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons”

  1. Thanks Janet,
    Your many hours of work are appreciated and the information will be used by many collectors for years to come. George

  2. Hi Janet, What an awesome presentation. I love what you capture and share, of those demure little gems hidden away and left behind.

  3. I am not a china collector altho I spent many hours in my early days of collecting, putting cards together. So, I appreciate your tremendous effort that has gone into this. Your work is fabulous. Lillian

  4. Hi Janet,

    Thank you for putting this information together! I’ve printed it to put in a binder on my button table. It is such a nice addition to the guidelines.

    I’ve been trying to put together a list of the rarer china calico patterns for my own use. I found George Gauthier’s calico cards on picassa and assumed if he didn’t have a pattern it was pretty darn rare. Still, I suspect several of the patterns that he does have are quite rare. Do you know of any lists of hard to find calico patterns? Failing that, do you know of any photos of complete calico collections like George’s cards? I’m still new enough to this game to have trouble identifying certain patterns. Nice high resolution photos are my salvation.

    If you are looking for new blog post suggestion, I’d love a reawlly good explanation with photos of how to tell 113, 114 and 115 apart. I’ve read George’s talk posted on the NBS site and I still have trouble with those three!


  5. I learned a lot from the information you put together and was able to identify my own china button collection. Thank you for your work.

  6. An outstanding share! I have jujst forwarded
    this onto a co-worker who had ben doing a little homework on this.
    And he in fact bolught me lunch simply because I stumbled upoon it for
    him… lol. So allow me to rewor this….
    Thanks for thhe meal!! But yeah, thanx forr spending time to discuss
    this subject hede on your site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *