Sunday, February 12, 2012

"Steel" My Heart: A Love Affair with Cut Steel Buttons

Circa 1777 Cartoon advertising the brilliance of cut steel buttons

Flicker of candlelight, sparkling “diamonds” on your jacket…
What *"toy"* do I spy?

 Some Interesting Facts Concerning Cut Steel Buttons

-By the last quarter of the 18th century, cut steel became an alternative (albeit expensive) to diamonds and its substitutes, marcasite and paste.
    Fabulous assortment of cut steel buttons with pictorial interest
-The French begin their love affair with faceted steel not only for this monetary reason but also for patriotic pride.  King Louis XV asked the nobility and upper classes to give their jewels to the state to help fund the Seven Years War.  
Backs of cut steel pictorials
-Originally, cut steels had 15 facets.  By the late 19th c. this had been reduced to 5 facets.  A rule of thumb: the finer and older the piece the more facets the stud will have.  Also, true cut steel buttons have rivets showing on the underside.  Beware of stamped imitations!

-"Toys" is the antiquated term for "small steel goods such as scissors, razors, sword hilts, knives, cane tops, buckles, buttons, and jewelry".  

-Even though most European countries jumped on the cut steel band wagon, early on, its mecca was Birmingham, England; into the 19th and 20th centuries, however, France was the acknowledged forerunner. 
  • Image of cut steels, the far right example having a blue tint which was especially popular in the Victorian era. 
    -Take heed: Keep these glittering beauties dry!  Extremely prone to rust.  Even the moisture from your hands can cause this decay.  Cleaning products that remove rust also damage the shine thus buttons will never retain their original luster.
             -Use a magnet to identify true steel buttons.
Clear image of cut steel back showing rivets
     Japanned cut steel accented button
  • Overall picture of steel grouping - Some of these are in multiple sections and rivets can't be viewed unless taken apart.
    Additional image of steel buttons- Specifically note the 2nd from the left- it's a stamped rather than cut.  The far right button also appears to be stamped.
    Hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about these dainty bits and baubles!  
On a collecting note, I made a quick visit to the Gaithersburg Antique Show.  I was rather unimpressed initially but then found some really fun dealers.  I spent (over) my allotted budget and had a swell time!  I'm especially excited about some vintage & antique religious pieces as well as sets of fabulous black glass faux fabric buttons.  I'll take some shots of the new merchandise soon...
Sources for the Cut Steel Research:  
  • Button Button Identification and Price Guide by Peggy Ann Osborne
  • Buttons by Diana Epstein and Millicent Safro
  • The Big Book of Buttons 2nd edition by Elizabeth Hughes and Marion Kester
  • Morning Glory Antiques:
18th c. Advertisement via Lang Antiques
All other images are via Flotsam and Jetsam