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.