China Buttons are my Thing!

China buttons are a natural jumping off point for a beginning button collector– as the first mass produced porcelain button they can be found in a variety of great colors, patterns and shapes. And, rarities aside, they are usually affordable.  The Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons, published by the National Button Society in 1970, has been THE reference for china collectors but is regrettably out of print.  (An e-Book version of the Guidelines is currently available to members of the National Button Society.)  The text was the work of collectors Ruth Lamm, Beatrice and Lester Lorah, Helen W. Schuler, Lillian Smith Albert and Jane Ford Smith.

Several years ago, I used this space  to offer excerpts from the original text and attempted to re-create and expand upon its black and white plates of button types, transforming them into bright internet-color. (Note: I  found as I worked through this project that I was: 1- inconsistent; 2-occasionally incorrect; 3- always enthusiastic).

For those new collectors who have never seen a digital or physical copy of the Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons, the contents are as follows:

Chapter One: Essential Data Concerning China Buttons, by Lillian Smith Albert and Jane Ford Adams

Chapter Two: China Buttons with Complex Construction

  1. Gaiter Buttons
  2. Shoe Buttons, Smock Buttons
  3. China Bird Cages (Inserted Four-Way Self Shanks)
  4. China Buttons with Inserted Two-Way Self Shanks
  5. China Whistle Buttons
  6. The Elusive Igloo Button

Chapter Three: Two-Hole China Buttons

  1. Two-Hole Hollow-Eye China Buttons
  2. Deepwell China Buttons
  3. Two-Hole China Button with Smooth Beveled Rim
  4. Tire Shape
  5. Two-Hole China Buttons with Radiating-Line Rims
  6. China Buttons with Oval Eyes
  7. Fisheye China Buttons
  8. Panty-Waist Chinas
  9. Pattern-Eyes

Chapter Four: Four-Hole China Buttons

  1. Four-Hole China Buttons with Smooth Beveled Rims (Dish Type, Ink Wells)
  2. Saucer-Type
  3. Four-Hole China Buttons with Rolled Rims (Tire Type, Tire Type Variants
  4. Off-Beat Types (Body Style 6, Body Style 7)
  5. Sew-Through China Buttons with Radiating-Line Rims
  6. Four-Hole China Buttons with Hobnail Rims

Chapter Five: Three-Hole China Buttons

  1. Dish Type
  2. Ink-Well Type
  3. Saucer Type
  4. Tire Type
  5. Plate Shape
  6. Scalloped Edge
  7. Back Interest
  8. Radiating-Line Rim Type
  9. Hobnail Type

Chapter Six: Calico and Gingham Buttons

Chapter Seven: Another China Button Sample Case Saved

Chapter Eight: China Stencil Designs

The Guidelines is an essential resource for button collectors who wish to delve into the delightful world of china button collecting.

Update from June 2022:

I am saddened by the decision of the National Button Society to restrict access to the printed material in The Guidelines for Collecting China Buttons to only members of the NBS.  At this time I am considering several options, one of which is the permanent closure of this webpage.  Thank you to all of the commenters and collaborators over the years.

Janet White

Author: Frankie Winters

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

6 thoughts on “Introduction”

  1. Hello, I found some 3 hole buttons in a large jar of buttons purchases at a garage sale – and other kinda neat ones – what is a good book to use to see if I have anything of value – as far as buttons go?

    1. Thank you for your question– it sounds like a fun find. Our National Button Society publication is a great catalog of china buttons, but it doesn’t address value other than comments on rarity. Some 3 hole buttons were produced in large quantity, others are quite scarce and considered by collectors to be more valuable. Your best approach is to find a collector to give you an appraisal. There is a list of state websites at the NBS home page and most will have local contact information for you or an email link for more information:

  2. Hi –
    What an incredible website! The plethora of information is extremely exciting to have discovered for a neophyte like myself, to the button world!

    I’m hoping this communique will still work because so much of it looks like it’s from a long time ago.

    I am not (yet) a button collector, as I inherited a large, what seems to be random kinds of some very nice & interesting to just plain buttons, from a Great Aunt.
    Although her estate is overwhelmingly, but carefully kept hoarding – she has a sewing room filled floor to ceiling with sewing things & a huge array of buttons. I have the feeling it will take me many (more) years to go through it all, but as I see intriguing ones, I’m feeling incredibly drawn to the idea of getting into collecting them.

    I’ve discovered some button books, so am getting an inkling of the world of buttons, but cannot locate some of the types I’m discovering in the jars, bottles, boxes, bags & drawers, etc.
    I do know about some other websites & the National Button Society, and can see myself getting involved with them, at some future point, when I have the time, but for now – would you, please, be so kind as to let me know who I might be able to turn to for information on particular buttons I come across?

    Any help you might be able to give me would be very greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

  3. Great website! I like how you have the chapters shown at the right, so users dont have to go Back to the Home pg to get to the next or other section!
    Fantastic job

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