True Victorian style: black glass buttons

This past Sunday afternoon I went to my local button club meeting -- and it was fun, hands on, and informative.  The topic this month was black glass buttons.

Many of the black glass buttons you see in antique stores were made pre-1918; as a result of Queen Victoria's mourning attire, black was very in vogue.  Although you might hear black glass buttons referred to as "jet", jet is a different kind of coal glass, and is much rarer.  I'm told you can tell the difference between black glass and jet in that jet will float in water.

After we went over the different classifications for black glass through the National Button Society, we had a chance to dig through some little tubs of buttons (called "poke boxes" by buttoners) to see if we could find examples of all the types we'd covered.

Each poke box was full to the brim of just black glass buttons.  We were having a contest -- the one who found the most examples won a button prize.

Here's a bit of what I learned, in case you're interested:

This black button is a swirlback - so named because the metal shank was inserted into the still-hot glass and swirled to set it in.

This button has a four way metal shank -- four holes for attaching to clothing.

This is a fused top button -- a separate piece of glass was fused onto the glass button base.

This style of decoration is called "intaglio."

This is an older example of a faceted button -- cut in geometric shapes; this one also has a gold decorative embellishment.
Two examples of silver luster, in different degrees, on black glass. It's still considered black glass if you can see the black on the back of the button, which you can in all of these examples.

This beautiful button has a silver wash and also gorgeous inlay of another material...

as does this one.

Here's an example of a painted decorative finish; in this case, the button was made to look as if it were wood.  (Why?!)

All of the above beautiful buttons were a gift -- the presenter let us keep any 10 buttons we wanted from the poke boxes.  How generous!

And, here are just a few black buttons from my own collection...

Thank you for indulging my passion for these tiny beauties!


Linda Sue said…
Thank you for the info! Button love is and has been a thing since being a little girl on stormy days going through a jar of them- sorting, telling stories. You have such an amazing collection and so much knowledge- you could write story upon story- every button tells one.
Really interesting info, Laurie! I have had a passion for buttons since I was a little girl and my mother used to give me her button tin to amuse myself. I could spend hours and hours stringing buttons! I have some collections as well but they have taken a back seat to my blogging time in the last two years. One of these days I'll get back to sharing. At any rate, thanks so much for sharing this info!
Angela Catirina said…
Beautiful & so interesting! I've been button addicted all of my life. My mom used to take me to the fabric store to pick out fabrics for my school clothes that she made every year. I would stand mooning for hours in front of all of the buttons. When it was finally time for me to go pick the notions she would give me a list and at buttons would say: "6 pink - the cheapest ones they have." BUMMER! We laugh about it now.

When I learned to sew myself, I spent more on buttons than I did on fabric. I always justify it because buttons are like jewelry permanently attached to your wardrobe - and so worth the investment! My mom finally came around to my way of thinking on this subject too.

When we started travelling so much, and picking through antique stores in all of the places we visited, I scour for old buttons - glass ones, especially! They're so unique in their weight and glimmer. And the fact that they endure the way they have, so many of them pre-dating the Roaring 20's.

Laurie, when you're in Virginia this summer, if you have a chance to go antiquing - I remember finding many glass & also metal military buttons traveling throughout that state.
Patti said…
Thank you for a very informative and interesting post!
Unknown said…
I like the swirl back one....the black glass is so pretty....
Christine said…
Oh how lucky you are to have been given these lovely buttons. I really ejoyed the info! Thanks for sharing!

Robin said…
Thank you for sharing your black glass buttons! I so look forward to going to our local button study. I am a button hoarder with 14,000 on cards. Black glass are my favorites! Hugs, ~Robin~
Cindy said…
Thank you Laurie for sharing all that information about button glass! I love buttons myself. I save them off clothes, pick them up at thrift stores etc. You picked a good subject for today's post that's for sure.

Hugs XX
Debbie Doughty said…
Wow! Those are all beautiful. Thanks for sharing the info. I'll be looking at my black buttons a little more closely next time.
These gems are beauties! Like that painted one...your plate is pretty too! ; )
Thank you for your informative view of black buttons...they are simply lovely and I have just begun to collect and appreciate the beauty of these small gems. Imagine and Live in Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart
I just love old buttons...especially glass! Thanks for this post!
Anonymous said…
I just purchased several "Poke Boxes" of old buttons, and have been sorting and admiring them all weekend. Thanks for the great info on black glass buttons. I have quite a few of them, and now I know more about these little gems!
Unknown said…
Black glass buttons are favorites of mine! I will now be dropping them in water to see if I find a JET!

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