Friday, October 17, 2014

Sir Launfal's Dream: Seated Knight with a Lance and Shield

Sir Launfal's Dream
Seated Knight with Lance
Stamped and Tinted Brass
Japanned Back
NBS Small, 5/8"
c1880s



Sir Launfal's Dream - Back

When I purchased this button, the dealer described it as Sir Renfel's Dream. I've since learned the button is correctly known as Sir Launfal's Dream after a collection of poems and a specific poem by James Russell Lowell titled The Vision of Sir Launfal, written by Lowell in 1848.

The
Internet Archive describes it as "a narrative poem about a proud medieval knight who spends his life seeking abroad for the Holy Grail in vain, only to find it at home when he humbly gives a crust of bread and cup of water to a leper." The Archive contains several editions of the poetry collection, with differing introductions about Lowell and his work.

This is an NBS small, two part picture button, made of stamped and tinted brass. The name of the button, alone, is intriguing, but the image of the dreaming knight, seated before the castle walls, fully armored right down to his spurs, his shield emblazoned with a star and a moon, clutching his lance in the crook of his arm, makes me glad I found his story. This button's detail is not sharp, but the image is evocative.

You can read the text of the poem and see engraved illustrations from an early edition by clicking on this link:
The Vision of Sir Launfal.

Here's a wonderful excerpt from the text of the poem, which is a great companion to the design of the button:

"My golden spurs now bring to me,
And bring to me my richest mail,
For to-morrow I go over land and sea
In search of the Holy Grail;
Shall never a bed for me be spread,
Nor shall a pillow be under my head,
Till I begin my vow to keep;
Here on the rushes will I sleep,
And perchance there may come a vision true
Ere day create the world anew."
Slowly Sir Launfal's eyes grew dim,
Slumber fell like a cloud on him,
And into his soul the vision flew.
Image and Text © 2010 Once Upon A Button

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Button Identification

I've gotten a handful of requests through my e-mail asking me for help in identifying buttons. If I know anything specific, I'm happy to answer, but the sources I've been recommending are the National Button Society, and the California State Button Society's Facebook Page. I have links to both of these sites on my sidebar. Increasingly, Facebook has become a rewarding place for button collectors to meet and to share their love of buttons.

I've also received requests about the value of specific buttons. Value is subjective and I'm not an expert. An easy way to get some idea of the value of specific buttons is to check for the selling price of similar buttons on E-bay; though you have to keep in mind that some buttons sell for more than they are worth, due to buyer "frenzy." I've seen common buttons go for exorbitant prices, and valuable buttons sell for an astonishingly small price when no one else countered a beginning bid.

Buttons in poor condition have very little value, other than sentimental value for the owner, including the pleasure of discovery and the button's historical significance. Also, beginning collectors or speculators should keep in mind, that buttons should never be cleaned, or they should be cleaned with great caution and an understanding of the button's materials. When you overclean, you either destroy the materials, remove the original finish, or alter the attractive patina of age. Other than a light buffing, it's almost always better to leave a button alone. And never remove a shank!

I've said it numerous times, but it's true: I plan to update my site soon! I'll be sharing more buttons with a medieval theme including dragons and castles, more art nouveau women, mythology buttons, fairy tales, fables, children, birds, black glass, pewter, and vegetable ivory. As soon as I can photograph "him," up next is a depiction of a well known celtic warrior, a national hero of France, rarely identified correctly in America. I own the button in two sizes with two different finishes, highly detailed, purchased years apart, and both in perfect condition.


Image and Text © 2010 Once Upon A Button

Please note: Since this is an information site, I generally don't publish comments, or link to sites, that advertise items for sale.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

King Arthur with a Triple Bar Shank

King Arthur
Brass Picture Button
A P & Cie Paris
NBS Large
c1880s

King Arthur
Button Back


This King Arthur is a one piece solid brass picture button with a triple bar shank, backmarked A P & Cie Depose Paris. Impressive!


Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Trumpeter of Sakingen - High Relief

Trumpeter of Sakingen
Brass and Tinted White Metal
Circa 1880s
NBS Large

Trumpeter of Sakingen
Japanned Back

This Trumpeter of Sakingen picture button is atypical. See the Trumpeter of Sakingen below for another rare example, and for a link to the trumpeter's story. The front of this Trumpeter of Sakingen is a brass escutcheon mounted on a tinted white metal background. With his high boots and dashing plumed hat, Werner, the trumpeter, plays for the lovely Margaretha, and calls her to the window.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Monday, November 30, 2009

Trumpeter of Sakingen

Trumpeter of Sakingen
Stamped and Pierced Brass
Cut-Outs, Shiny Steel Liner
c1880s
NBS Large


Trumpeter of Sakingen
Japanned Back


The Trumpeter of Sakingen is a common button design, but this version is not a common button. Note the cut-outs for the half moon, the city windows, and the waters of the Rhine River. It is a three part stamped, tinted, and pierced brass button, with a shiny metal liner, a japanned back, and a silver rim. I paid about six dollars, but I've seen the same button priced at fifty dollars. There is a cut-out for a full moon in an even rarer version.

This button is another great example of the link between art, design, and popular culture. You can read the detailed story of The Trumpeter of Sakingen within the text of the Legends of the Rhine by H. A. Geurber (New York: A. S. Barnes & Co, c1895) found at the Internet Archive. Section 316 through 321 is Guerber's summary of the original poem, The Trumpeter of Sakingen by Scheffel. The story was made into an opera by Nessler, which is probably the reason for this button design's wide popularity.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Knight with Mace and Shield

Knight with Mace and Shield
c1880s
NBS Large
Tinted Stamped Brass
Three Piece Button


Knight with Mace and Shield
Japanned Back


I purchased this button knowing the knight's shield is dented. Some of my buttons I'm happy to accept with damage, if the price is right, and the damage fits the character of the button and the scene it depicts. I might expect a battle weary knight to have a dented shield.

The button is made of stamped brass. It is constructed of a front, a rim, and a japanned back. Note the scaled armor that almost makes him look like a Roman soldier, rather than a medieval knight, but the mace and the decorated shield place him in a later time.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Medieval Collection II

Medieval Theme Picture Buttons
c1880s

Look forward to these buttons and more, in upcoming posts. This is a "working" card of buttons, not a permanent display, the shanks poked through archival card stock. Some of my favorites include the King Arthur buttons, the Walking Man, the Dragon, the Fabulous Creatures, the Trumpeter of Sankingens, the Castles, the Scottish Chiefs, the Crusader Knight, the Jester, the Medieval Villages - I believe I've named them all! If you click on the image, you will see them in greater detail.

In future posts, they will be featured individually, with sharper focus and a photograph of their button backs. If you click on the label, Medieval Theme, below this post, you will view amazing buttons of Knights, Ladies, Minstrels, and Fabulous Creatures.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Love's Messenger

Love's Messenger
Bird Delivering a Letter
to a Woman at a Window
Textured Background
NBS Large
Stamped and Pierced Brass
c1880s


Love's Messenger
Button Back


This wonderful button depicts a woman at a window receiving a letter from a swallow. The button is made of stamped and pierced brass with a textured background. The brass is tinted black to create a nighttime scene. Notice the ornate window frame, the city rooftops and the clouds. I owe the title of this button and additional information to a member of the National Button Society, who looked the button up for me in the Big Book of Buttons. Thank you, Janelle!

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Two King Arthur Buttons with Cut Steels

King Arthur
Knight with Shield and Sword
Stamped and Pierced Brass
Cut Steels in 4 Sizes
NBS Large
c1880s


King Arthur - Button Back



King Arthur
Knight with Shield and Sword
Stamped and Pierced Brass
Cut Steel Border
NBS Large
C1880s


King Arthur - Button Back


Two King Arthurs
Stamped and Pierced Brass
Fancy Borders
One with 4 Sizes of Cut Steels
One with Same Size Cut Steels



Two King Arthurs - Button Backs


These two buttons demonstrate how the same button die can result in buttons with similar but varied finishes and embellishment. The design is identical to a button also known as King Arthur featured in an earlier post, that is equally impressive, but without the cut steel border.

One of the things I enjoy about button collecting, is the way each button-- based on the original finish, the actions of aging, and whether someone has polished the button through the years-- develops its own character.

The buttons are made of one piece stamped and pierced brass, with a faceted and riveted cut steel border. The first King Arthur has cut steels in four graduated sizes, and the brass is muted and warm. The second button has a cut steel border with steels all of the same size, with the bright effect of polished brass. Of the two, I enjoy the first button the most, but my favorite of the three, in terms of patina, is the one without cut steels.

King Arthur wears a full suit of armor and a plumed helmet. He grips his sword, Excalibur, and a shield decorated with a six pointed star and a half moon.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Falcon Hunter: French White Metal

Falcon Hunter
Stamped and Pierced
French White Metal
NBS Large
c1940s



Falcon Hunter - Button Back



This "falcon hunter" is a poor imitation of the original Falcon Huntress from the 1880s, yet the detailed design is attractive, including the fancy diamond border, the rider's flamboyant clothing, and the castle in the background. The stamped and pierced button is made of French White Metal, c1940s.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Sunday, October 4, 2009

King Arthur: Knight with Cut Steel Border

King Arthur
Knight Wearing a Helmet
Stamped and Pierced Brass
c1880s
NBS Large


King Arthur - Button Back


This detailed King Arthur wears a plumed helmet. He has a distinguished face. The button is one piece stamped and pierced brass. The fancy border is embellished with 14 faceted and riveted cut steels. I like the dark patina. Sadly, someone at some point, cut the button's shank, leaving the loop elongated and broken. I knew this when I purchased the button, so I was happy with the button find, since I've never seen another like it.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mother and Daughter Dragons with Cut Steel Bodies

Dragon/Cockatrice
Fabulous Creature
Mother and Daughter Buttons
NBS Small, NBS Large
c1880s


Dragon/Cockatrice
Mother and Daughter Buttons
Japanned Back


Buttons of the same design in two sizes, one larger and one smaller, are known in the "button world" as Mother and Daughter buttons. Often, some aspects of the "daughter" button are less distinct, as in the border of the smaller button, but the brass escutcheon dragon/cockatrice figures, and the dragon's cut steel bodies, are nearly identical, right down to the rooster comb, the snake-like neck, the open beak, and the detailed feathers.

The button depicts a version of the evil cockatrice, half serpent and half rooster, evolved in the middle ages from the concept of the basilisk. For more information on the cockatrice, and to compare the button's designs, see my earlier post, Fabulous Creature: Screen Back Dragon/ Cockatrice. The smaller of the two buttons is also pictured in my post, Dueling Dragons with Cut Steels.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Landsknechts Trumpeter: Antique Picture Button

Landsknechts Trumpeter
with Short Sword and Shield
c1880s
Stamped and Pierced Brass
NBS Large, 1 7/16"



Landsknechts Trumpeter - Button Back


The medieval trumpeter is made of stamped and pierced brass. Note his curled hair, his puffed and slashed doublet and hose, ruffled sleeves, and the plumed feathers in his cap, the dress of a German Landsknechts mercenary soldier. He adorns himself with a short sword and a decorated shield, and his trumpet with a plain, unfurled banner. The actual button is a uniform golden tone, but the photograph, with its slightly reddish cast, shows the elaborate detail.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fabulous Creature: Screen Back Dragon/ Cockatrice

Fabulous Creature
Screen Back Dragon/ Cockatrice
NBS Large
Extra Large, 2" Wide
c1880s
Steel Metal Liner
Tinted Two Piece
Dragon Escutcheon


Fabulous Creature
Screen Back Dragon/ Cockatrice
Button Back



This truly Fabulous Creature is a 2 inch wide, extra large antique clothing button, circa 1880s, depicting a dragon-like creature known as a cockatrice. It would be categorized as an NBS large, but a button of this size is rare. The screen back is also rare. The main part of the button is made of one piece brass, with the front of the button constructed of the steel liner, the screen back, and the brass escutcheon of the fabulous creature.

The photograph barely captures the majesty of this impressive button. The shiny metal liner is perfect, twinkling like the shiny bright metal you can observe in the photograph below the creature's breast, in contrast to the screen back, which is tinted almost black. In dragon mythology, a cockatrice is a cross between a rooster and a snake, evolved from the concept of the basilisk. Note the creature's beak, comb, claws, and feathers, and his otherwise dragon-like appearance.

The flower tail is also a distinguishing mark, not because it bears any relation to a cockatrice, but because many button collectors are enthralled with owning "flower tail" dragons, the flower at the end of the tail added as an embellishment. Special thanks to my friend, Christine, for letting me know some of the dragons on my buttons are the "evil" cockatrice, lain by a rooster but hatched by a toad, its very glance capable of killing animal or human.

Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Genesis of a Button Collector/ Button Collecting Advice

One of My Favorite
Antique Picture Buttons


I became a button collector when I was sixteen years old, visiting my grandmother in her two story wood frame house in upper Michigan, just before she sold it. I remember sorting buttons from a huge glass jar on the small table in her kitchen. She had diminutive metals and silvered glass, twinkle buttons, fun plastic faces, three large Syroco flower buttons, reverse painted clear glass, and Mexican hats. She had a large black crochet button, a row of tiny brass on a remnant of silk, dyed mother of pearl, bakelite ball buttons in yellow and red, and round black glass with faceted rhinestones. It's possible a few buttons came with her when she emigrated from Finland. They all became mine.

Years later, I began looking for buttons in antique shops and at antique shows. I was about twenty-five when I acquired a small button stash from a shop going out of business, including heraldry buttons, transportation buttons, and a set of brass palm trees with silver gilt, all for $5 plus $3 for the trees, because I didn't know what they were worth, and neither did the dealer.

After that, my success at shops and shows was limited. At shows, I'd sometimes find a few buttons in a jewelry case, but they were often common or damaged and outrageously priced, partly because the dealers were generalists. Worse is when I found only plain plastic buttons in a pickle jar with a calico bonnet, passed off as "vintage" or "collectible," or 1970s plastics in a dusty box or a rusted tin. (Though my brother once found me one of those pickle jars and it contained some of my favorite buttons, several black glass and a carved mother-of-pearl.)


I visited the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida, and I was fascinated by what to me, at the time, was an incredible collection. (It still is, but I own buttons now, in some categories, to rival it!) I started purchasing books about buttons, and devouring the illustrations. I've never had the chance, to this day, to visit the National Button Society's annual button conference, or my state sponsored show, but, if you can afford it, that is a way to purchase buttons from reputable, knowledgeable, and enthused button dealers.

It's not my intention to promote commercial sites, but e-bay is where I've found most of my buttons. It's important to educate yourself about button designs and materials, and to bid cautiously as you are learning, and not to get caught up in the frenzy. Most button designs, not all, are common enough they will come up for purchase again; and if they don't, there's always another design to satisfy your artistic leanings; and there are some rarer buttons that only the truly rich or the insane can afford.

There are also button dealers that sell from their own sites, but I've found the fixed prices are not always reasonable. It's possible, on e-bay, to sometimes get a deal, or at least a fair price, but it's also incredibly easy to pay way too much on a button that may indeed be beautiful, but common.


As in all antiques, condition is everything. Only bid on a damaged button if you love the design, you're planning to keep it for yourself, and the price is right. When buying a button, I always ask myself, would I pay this price if it were a piece of jewelry?

Regarding jewelry made of buttons- never, never, never buy a piece of jewelry, where the button's shank has been removed- it's like separating Lyra from her daemon. The button will no longer have any value as a button, and a piece of history will be forever destroyed. Almost always, the value of the button, as a button, is greater than the ephemeral button conglomerate the jewelry has become.

Another way to develop your collection, is to ask family members and friends if they or their relatives have any clothing buttons from an earlier generation. Though buttons from the mid to late twentieth century will never rival those of the nineteenth and the turn of the century, modern buttons from the 1920s through the 1960s can be a lot of fun with a surprising variety of subjects and materials, including the Art Deco era and early types of plastics like bakelite and extruded celluloid.

It's possible to purchase beautiful antique, Victorian, and Art Nouveau buttons for as little as $2 to $6 a piece. Glass, pewter, and vegetable ivory buttons are often sold in groups, bringing the price down to as little as 50 cents each, depending on the size and complexity of the buttons. In general, the larger the button, the higher the price. Most of the metal picture buttons depicted on my site range in price from $12 to $24, and I've purchased some for as little as $6, or as much as $38. I don't feel like I've ever paid too much for a button, because a few years later, they've still held their value; and I purchase to keep my buttons, not to sell.

I started this blog as a celebration of antique clothing buttons, and a place to feature the best of my permanent collection, photographing both the front and the backs of the buttons, and at a high resolution, so the buttons can be studied for their artistry and construction. For additional and more comprehensive sources of information on buttons and button collecting, I've provided links to button organizations and museums on my sidebar, including a link for the National Button Society (United States), and the British Button Society.

Soon, I'll be posting a bibliography of the button books I own, indicating which of the books are currently in print or likely to be available in libraries. The books are a joy in and of themselves, so if you can't afford buttons or don't have the space to store them, you might decide instead to buy a book, or to borrow them from your local library, or through interlibrary loan. Still, a picture of a button on a printed page is not the same as a button you can hold (carefully, by the edges, so not to transfer moisture or oils to the surface!).


Image and Text © 2009 Anne AKA Once Upon A Button