Rare and Valuable Antique Buttons Identification Guide

If you know how to recognize uncommon antique buttons, you can distinguish precious beauties from less desirable items. You may purchase vintage buttons by the jar, the bucket, or even the pound rather often.

It may take some time to go through all of them, but it will be much simpler if you are familiar with the characteristics that distinguish unusual and possibly expensive buttons.

Find out the top clues that an antique button may be uncommon, as well as ways to detect materials, historical periods, and other aspects of antique buttons.

History of Vintage Buttons

Taking into consideration the kinds of materials that were used to create antique buttons is the simplest method for dating them.

In the following paragraphs, we will examine some of the materials that were used in the production of buttons, as well as the years in which these materials were the most popular:

Civil war buttons 1860s

During the time of the Civil War, metal buttons depicting images of firefighters and police officers were produced. In addition, the surface of these buttons was made of cloisonne or enamel.

The Ceramic Buttons of the 1840s

In China around the 1840s, there was a significant increase in the production of ceramic buttons. The porcelain or ceramic buttons have artwork and colorful decals of varying sizes and colors affixed to them.

The Shell Button of the 1890s through the 1920s

Between the years 1890 and 1920, there was a significant increase in the production of shell buttons. Because they often have an opalescent lister with rainbow hues, these delicate buttons are very simple to recognize despite their fragility.

The Wood Buttons of the 1890s through the 1920s

These are the antique buttons that are the least difficult to locate. Keep an eye out for ancient wooden buttons that have acquired a patina over time as a result of either natural aging or human interaction.

The Tagua nut, which was harvested from the Corozo palm tree, was used in the production of antique wooden buttons.

These vintage buttons have a light brown tint and are typically painted green and brown. They also have raised motifs and a textured surface.

When shopping for antique buttons, you need to exercise extreme caution; doing so will help you steer clear of acquiring wooden buttons that were made in the 1990s.

The step-by-step guide to valuable old buttons identification

For a button to be deemed an antique, its age must be at least one hundred years old. There is a market for vintage buttons that were produced after approximately 1920, but the most valuable antique buttons are those that date back before this time period.

The following are some tips that may be used to establish whether or not a button is vintage or:

  • Antique button does not have uniform texture, which is one of the telltale clues that it was produced by hand
  • The button is designed in an old-fashioned fashion, maybe in the Art Nouveau or Art Deco style
  • The rear of the antique button does not have a consistent texture throughout its surface
  • There is no evidence of mold lines on an antique button, which would suggest that the button is a result machine manufacturing

Buttons have been used for the purpose of fastening garments for generations, but they are also used for a variety of other purposes and are not only functional things. However, rare buttons may also be considered pieces of art.

When a piece of clothing became worn out and was about to be thrown away, thrifty housewives and maids would often snip off the lovely buttons so that they may be reused in other articles of clothing.

Because of the care that was taken, there are now unique and gorgeous buttons in existence. To recognize one, it is necessary to have a solid understanding of the qualities that set it apart from others.

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The vast majority of very uncommon buttons will exhibit a couple of these characteristics.

Non plastic materials

To speak more specifically, it is quite improbable that a vintage button would be constructed of plastic. They’ll all be non plastic materials technically. However, there are a few notable exceptions to this rule, most notably the use of an early form of plastic known as celluloid.

The most collectible buttons, on the other hand, were not made of mass-produced polymers like celluloid or Bakelite (another early plastic that is popular in vintage jewelry). Rare antique buttons are often fashioned from one of the following materials rather than plastic or Bakelite:


It makes a clinking sound when you tap it and has a chilly and airy feel to it.

Mother of pearl

Mother of pearl and shell are two rare examples of materials that may give a button an iridescent appearance and display variety throughout the surface.


Wood will provide the impression of being lightweight while displaying a wood texture.


Metal, which may have features stamped onto it and be wrapped around a base, may be used.


When you give it a light tap on a solid surface of these rare antique buttons, the glass will make a clinking sound.


Jet is a natural substance that is dark in color and is very lightweight. It is often carved.

Antler, Ivory, and Bone

Buttons made of antler, ivory, and bone all have wood grain patterns and subtle variation in colors.


This lightweight material is known as tortoiseshell, and it displays natural color variation in the form of tones of brown and grey.


When you touch most types of stone and gemstone buttons, you will notice that it is cold and weighty.

Precious metals

Buttons made of metal may be any color or finish you can imagine, from steel or brass to silver and gold. However, precious metals will be the most difficult to find and hence the most expensive.

Flipping the button over and examining for hallmarks and maker’s markings will allow you to determine the percentage of metal it contains. Buttons made of sterling silver, for instance, will often have the word “Sterling” or the number “925” engraved on them.

Hand painting design

The addition of hand painting may give an antique button a very unique look. In point of fact, a button that has been hand-painted is one of a kind, even if the design itself is not original.

Hand painting indicates that a human contributed the decoration, therefore there are no two buttons that are exactly the same. You should look for photographs of animals, flowers, rural scenery, miniature portraits, and other types of pictures.

Figural design

A design that depicts a human, animal, mythical creature or other powerful themes might be referred to as having figural elements. These buttons have an air of sophistication about them.

You can come across Art Nouveau designs that depict ladies with long hair, buttons fashioned to resemble fruits or flowers, or even full scenes from pastoral life rendered in tiny form. Figural buttons are among the most sought-after by collectors.

Hand carving design

A great number of antique buttons are carved by hand as opposed to being produced by machine. Even the most meticulously carved button made of bone or shell will still have the telltale maker’s marks of having been crafted by hand.

You’ll notice that the texture and depth of the carving, in addition to the minor lack of regularity, each have their own unique characteristics. These hand-carved buttons may be rather costly, depending on the quality of the carving.

Micro mosaic art deco style

Rare buttons may be found with intricate tiny mosaics composed of bits of stone or shell set into them. Some are decorated with colorful glass that has been fused to the surface while others have an enamel coating.

Because of particulars such as these, a button is considered to be uncommon and one-of-a-kind, and there are collectors that focus specifically on buttons that exhibit particular methods.

Material Identification of Collect buttons

The value of antique buttons is determined by the kind of material they are made of, as well as by certain distinctive qualities and their relative scarcity. The following is a list of advice and suggestions that may be used to choose the material of the button.

All of these are uncommon button materials, and as a result, the value of a button needs to be significantly increased as a result. If you are a keen button collector, these fascinating little objects will pique your attention.

Identification of precious metals and vintage metal buttons

The metal buttons that are constructed of precious metals are among the most valuable available. On the reverse side, you’ll often find stamped details or maker’s marks left by the craftsman.

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Identification of precious metals and vintage metal buttons
Art Nouveau Sterling Silver 7 Button Set Source: etsy

For instance, buttons made of sterling silver will have the number “925” or the phrase “Sterling” engraved on them. Pewter is another key metal alloy that has to be looked for. When scraped over a sheet of white paper, pewter buttons will leave a mark.

buttons made of sterling silver
pewter colour metal rare buttons Source: etsy

Identification of mother of pearl antique buttons

An intriguing approach may also be used to determine whether or not buttons are made of mother of pearl. If you push a button made of mother of pearl up to your cheek, it will feel quite chilly. These buttons are often heavier than those of similar style and design.

Vintage Mother of Pearl Buttons
Vintage Mother of Pearl Buttons Source: etsy

The fragrance of the button after it has been heated in hot water is yet another useful method for establishing the button’s composition. Most button collectors use this technique to identify rare examples of buttons.

Identification of Celluloid buttons

If you run hot water over celluloid buttons, they will smell like mothballs or Vicks Vapor

Identification of Bakelite buttons

If you run hot water over bakelite buttons, they will smell like formaldehyde

Identification of Lucite buttons

Lucite buttons will not have any scent at all if you run hot water over them. They are made of completely synthetic plastic.

Identification of Antique china buttons

Buttons made of antique china may be found in a wide range of hues, contours, and dimensions. Some of them even have stunning artwork on their surfaces. These buttons were all designed to allow for easy sewing through the center.

Identification of Antique china buttons
Antique China Stencil Buttons in Orange Source: etsy

When you touch China buttons, you’ll notice that the texture is silky and delightful.

Identification of Glass buttons

Additionally, glass buttons were produced in a wide variety of hues. A significant number of buttons made of black glass date back to the Victorian period. The victorian buttons were made to resemble the jet buttons that Queen Victoria wore during her time of sorrow for her late husband.

Identification of Glass buttons

To determine whether or not a button is made of glass, give it a light tap with a glass table or your teeth. If it makes a clinking sound, it is likely constructed of actual glass.

Identification of Bone buttons

If you have reason to believe that you are in possession of an ancient bone button, you might consider having it weighed. It ought to weigh roughly the same as a glass button and be heavier than the plastic ones.

Identification of Bone buttons
9 Antique Two Hole Bone Buttons 5/8″ Dia. Source: etsy

Identification of leather button

In most cases, the back of a leather button will contain a metal shank that has been pressed in or drilled. Sometimes the button’s shank is made of plastic but has the appearance of leather. Such type of valuable buttons is of excellent quality.

Identification of leather button
Vintage Old Buttons Source: etsy

Identifying valuable antique buttons

Celluloid Buttons

This unique celluloid plastic substance was the very first plastic to be manufactured by humans. They may be translucent, opaque, or both, and they come in a wide variety of forms and sizes.

In the early 1900s, this style of celluloid buttons was very trendy. The considerable risk of fire posed by celluloid buttons is the material’s primary drawback.

Bakelite Buttons

Bakelite valuable buttons are very desirable and collectible. It was the very first completely synthetic plastic that was made entirely from synthetic materials. They are often more opaque than transparent and are more substantial than buttons made of celluloid.

Today, they refer to any components that were transparent and have gone extremely yellow like apple juice Bakelite, and they refer to any opaque buttons that have turned very yellow as cream corn Bakelite.

Lucite Buttons

Lucite had a lower density than earlier polymers but was far more robust. Old Lucite buttons, similar to buttons made of other types of plastic, may be made bright by having glitter embedded inside them or rhinestones mounted to them.

In addition, they were fashioned into the forms of flowers and animals. The 1930s through the 1960s were the peak years of popularity for buttons and jewelry made of lucite.

Victorian Glass Buttons

During the Victorian era, a great number black glass buttons were produced. The jet buttons that Queen Victoria wore during her period of grief after the death of her husband were imitated with these black colored glass buttons that were fashioned to seem like the real thing.

In the 20th century, czech glass buttons were pretty common. The Czechoslovakian nation was responsible for the production of the vast majority of colored glass buttons made of black natural material.

Old Metal Buttons

Brass or copper were the most common metals used in the production of historical metal buttons. Buttons made of sterling silver, gold, or pewter were far less prevalent.

Some of the metal buttons were decorative, while others had designs or images that had been embossed into them. Any image button made of brass and dating back to the Victorian period is among the metal buttons that are in the most demand.

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There are buttons made of metal that were used on military uniforms throughout the time period spanning the revolutionary war and the civil war.

On many of them are depictions of various military symbols. There are quite a few buttons of this “image” kind made of metal, and many of them include wording on the reverse of the button that will assist in identifying them.

How much are antique buttons worth money?

Some antique buttons are precious, although most sell for less than $50. In contrast, the value of the button might skyrocket if you believe it to be an extremely rare antique button. There are a few really rare copies that may sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

You’ll find that buttons may be purchased for a few hundred dollars in sets as well as on their own.

Sample Values for Individual Rare Antique Buttons

Individual buttons that are of extremely high quality and rarity may fetch prices in the hundreds. Here are some lovely illustrations that illustrate the point:

  • At an auction in the year 2020, a button from the Colonial period that had been hand-painted brought in about $500. Artwork of a lady cradling a boat anchor may be found on its surface.
  • About $400 was asked for a figural enamel button that was designed to look like a peacock. It was from the early 1900s and had really excellent detailing, but it was also quite old.
  • A very realistic figural metal button of a lady knitting fetched nearly $225 on the secondary market, despite the fact that it was manufactured from brass and not a precious metal.

The Economic Importance of Button Collections and Sets

When antique buttons are part of a set or collection, the value of each individual button in the set or collection may occasionally increase.

People have been collecting antique style buttons for a long time, and the collections that are the oldest often contain buttons that are quite uncommon and precious. Not only do the buttons contained in these completed sets have worth, but the sets themselves may also have value.

For instance, a Victorian buttons book that had hundreds of different buttons was sold as part of a collection for more than $2,100.

Where to shop for most vintage metal buttons?

Wonderful Antique Vegetable Ivory Button

Wonderful Antique Vegetable Ivory Button

Ivoroid was made from a type of vegetable ivory made from corozo nuts. Their pulp looks like animal ivory and is just as easy to carve. When it became unacceptable to steal ivory illegally, vegetable ivory quickly filled the market.

This vegetable ivory was then used for valuable antique buttons production.

Sterling Silver Buttons

Sterling Silver Buttons

The Sterling Silver Buttons got their start with the London Import Hallmarks, which date all the way back to 1904. Robert Friederich made these old-looking sterling silver buttons that look like they have been around for a long time. These old, valuable sterling silver buttons have been around for a long time, and are one of the best vintage button collection.

Mother Of Pearl Shell Disk Buttons

Mother Of Pearl Shell Disk Buttons

These flat buttons were made at the end of the 19th century, and they were made from mother-of-pearl shells. Ancient shell buttons were first used by people in the Himalayan regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They were used as decorations at the time.

Men Fox Antique Buttons

Men Fox Antique Buttons

At the turn of the 20th century, 14-karat yellow gold and ruby stones were set in a ruby cabochon to make these vintage buttons. The antique buttons, which were only made for men, have beautiful fox art on the front.

Yellow Gold Antique Buttons

Yellow Gold Antique Buttons

The 9ct Yellow Gold Golf valuable antique buttons were designed during the Edwardian era, which ran from about 1900 to 1910. The buttons were made of yellow gold and would look good on coats and jackets.

Take Away

The ability to recognize unique and valuable antique buttons is quite useful, whether you’re rummaging through your grandmother’s button collection or perusing the products at a flea market.

Buttons, despite the fact that they are not very scarce, may be an enjoyable and inexpensive antique to collect. You should begin by selecting buttons that you like and then work your way up from there.

You will soon have several lovely examples of rare antique goods that you can hang up in your house, fasten to items of clothing, or use as charms in jewelry to show off your craftsmanship.

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