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Part I: Button Basics - How to Properly Identify Buttons When Metal Detecting

Part I:  Button Basics - How to Properly Identify Buttons When Metal Detecting

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If you have been metal detecting long enough you will undoubtedly dig a metal button.  It is always a thrill finding a button in good enough shape to identify and track the history to its origin. Once you do find your first specimen, you will most likely find yourself on the web digging to find some glimpse of where and when it was utilized.

The average person may consider a button a rather boring item to find metal detecting.  The true metal detectorist, as a relic hunter anyway, is also a historian of sorts.  If they aren't when you start the hobby, they will soon, inadvertently become one.  This being said, I figured I would begin a series of blogs to dig into the topic of historic metal buttons.

To begin, we will start with the basics - types of buttons.  There are three different major classification groups or "types" of buttons.


Type I - One-Piece Buttons

One piece buttons come in two varieties:
The first variety of one-piece buttons is a cast or molded button which is made by pouring molten metal (typically pewter, lead, or brass) into a mold.  These buttons have a "shank," which is the little loop piece on the back that is normally sewed onto the fabric, that is an integral part of the button's design.  Some of these molded button's shanks are drilled to create the hole. 
The second variety of one-piece buttons are "struck" or stamped on a disk with a wire type eye or loop shank that is typically fastened by brazing.

Type I buttons are typically "flat buttons" with the brass buttons typically gilt with gold.

Type II - Two-Piece Buttons

This type of button is constructed of a front shell upon which the "device" is struck.  There is a back plate where a wire loop shank is fastened by brazing.  This back plate often carries a lot of information such as the "backmark" which is an identifier as to who made the button.  The two pieces are fastened together by turning the edge of the shell over the back piece.  Confederats frequently fastened the shank with solder that was a mixture of lead and tin.

Two-piece buttons usually have a convex front shell and are gilt.

Type II - Staff Buttons

The staff button was produced by a company that many metal detectorists are familiar with as the name can be found frequently on the back of buttons - The Scoville Company.  These buttons first arrived on scene in the 1830's for Army staff officers.  They are very similar to two-piece buttons except that the front and back pieces are held together with a separate piece of flat metal that conjoins the pieces around the rim.

These buttons are also typically gilt and convex in design.

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  • Josh Turpin