I love picture buttons! They are the most interesting to me because they reflect the period of fashion and give us a sense of what the pop culture was for the fashionable Victorians.

Unlike individually made buttons of the 18th and early 19th century, most Victorian picture buttons were mass-produced. Sometimes pictorial designs were cast or die-struck, producing a thick, heavy button. More often, images were stamped onto a thin metal sheet that became the face of a two-part button. Brass was the most popular face metal, although white metals and other alloys were used. Picture buttons came in large and small sizes. The sizes range from 1/2” – 1 7/8” in diameter. The 1 7/8” is a very large button. Many times, several sizes of the same picture button would be on the garment. You could have a large button as ornament on the bodice. Victorian fashion writers suggested that these large buttons be set on a panel that extended from the waist down the length of the skirt, preferably in a slightly diagonal line. The matching small buttons were “not generally liked as closing buttons and often go begging for wearers”.

The two-part construction of most picture buttons means that often the same design appears in different settings. Beautifully crafted borders distinguish some examples.

Snow White & one of the dwarfs

The artistry of a well-designed border, like the frame around a wonderful painting, calls attention to and enhances the picture. Picture buttons represented current topics of the day. You’ll find buttons portraying mythology figures, opera scenes, children’s tales, famous landmarks, novels, new plays, souvenir buttons, and fairytales.

Left to right: Zeus or Poseidon, virgin Mary and baby Jesus, Asian dancer (perhaps from the opera, Micado)

Childhood activities and the connection between children and nature come to life in picture buttons. Items held in popular esteem explain much of the subject matter found on these buttons. The Victorian fascination with natural history accounts for the vast number of buttons featuring birds, insects, and other animals, as well as flowers and other plant life.

A child and dog in the doghouse (left) A shepherd sitting by a stream (right)

Designers broadened their focus to include every mode of transportation of the period. Inanimate daily objects ranging from buckles to umbrellas are featured on picture buttons.

They also made them for those people who had a favorite hobby like birding, or were drawn to nature, like ladybugs, bees, butterflies, flowers.

 

I have several picture buttons that are really interesting. Why not get a piece of history for your next jewelry purchase? You can view my current inventory in my store here!