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″.


Author: Frankie Winters

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

2 thoughts on “Chapter 4: Four-Hole China Buttons”

  1. Hi there! Was wondering whether the black-and-white images are from the Guidelines book, and if so, what page Plate #45 is from? Thank you for this site, it’s very useful.

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