The world of mother-of-pearl buttons

For decades, buttons used on clothing was mother-of-pearl. But that was yesterday. Since World War II, plastic has dominated the fastening of clothing.

Mother-of-pearl in a highly polished form has lively inherent qualities, attractive in texture and often diverse in color.

During the 1800s, plain abalone shell buttons were satisfactory to adorn satin and velvet attire. This was also true of buttons made of oyster and snail shells.

A popular hobby.

After World War II, button collecting developed into a popular hobby, as large pearl buttons were plentiful. Buttons illustrating scenes, flowers, human busts and similar objects were much sought after.

As a result of the supply and demand market, some individuals began to embellish large plain pearl buttons with pictorial devices.

Every medium was attempted – enamel paints, pasted on cutouts, beads, tinsel – you name it and it was probably used.

In most instances, deception was not intended, in was merely an attempt to make a gift for a button collector or friend.

There were some instances though where altering the original pearl button to resemble a specimen with metal escutcheons could have been to deceive someone.



An article of decorative type was glued onto a pearl button as an escutcheon. This was undoubtedly an item from an old broken or damaged pendant or broach “glued” onto a pearl button. These buttons are often referred to as “made-ups.”

Antique metal adorned buttons did not utilize glue for attachment. “Pictorial pin-shank” is the term some use to describe these old types.

This method of attachment employed a fine wire, one or two strands, passed through a hole in the button to the shank.

A simple test.

To test buttons for authenticity, observe carefully whether the attachment is slightly movable by placing a small piece of paper between the escutcheon and button.

A close observation can often reveal where the attachment and button unite.

In mother-of-pearl buttons, where the shanks were not soldered, they were inserted in a very unusual way. The hole was drilled in the mother-of-pearl button, and undercut, so as to be larger at the bottom than at the top.

The shank was forced by a single stroke. The elasticity of the mother-of-pearl allowed the shank to pass through it. The natural elements of the button then close tight enough to retain the shank.

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