Antique Buttons: Types, Identification & Price Guide (2023)

As an antique expert, I know most people think only huge antiques fetch huge returns, which is true! But you simply can’t miss small antiques like buttons or cuff links. In fact, it may come as a surprise, but these tiny, artistic items attract many eyes today.

That’s because they have rare designs and carvings we don’t get to see today. But how do you know which designs are rare and which are not? They don’t have dates or prices, do they? Well, let’s explore more such interesting features to find the best value for old buttons!

Key Takeaways

  • Bare wood, bone, nut, or glass buttons are the most precious. So, don’t restore or paint them.
  • You’ll see five types of buttons – flat, shank, stud, snap, and toggle buttons in the market. Of these, the stud and shank ones are more fancy and costly.
  • Make sure your old button has handmade, Victorian, or Art Nouveau designs for good value.
  • You can track your button’s age by its patent number, trademark, and brand. And you can find them on its back, box, or packet.

What Do Real Antique Buttons Look Like?

Now, you might think that any handmade or lacquered button is antique! Well, that’s not true! In fact, it’s only the 100+ year-old buttons that are considered true antiques!

And if it’s 100+ years old, the restoration matters the most. Like, if your button’s fully or partially restored, it might lose its value! So here’s a list of some old and authentic features for help:

  • ⅜” to 1.75” diameter buttons with 1 – 4 buttonholes or metal straps
  • Stamped sheet buttons with religious, military, floral, or mythological carvings
  • Metal, Glass, or Wood faces with Ivory, Shell, or Ceramic borders
  • Asymmetrical faces, oblong circles, and uneven borders
  • A mix of hammered, beaten, and coarse textures on the surface
  • Hole-drilled shanks or extra plugs soldered to the back

Who Made the Antique Buttons & How Did They Evolve?

Well, the first button award goes to Indus Civilization. But, literally 4000 years ago, they had no metal or wood tools. So, they used tortoise shells! Then, Chinese merchants refined it and added bone and shell borders for strength. But these buttons were so heavy!

It was in the 1700s that people solved this using old hand saws and broadaxes. They simply split the wood and carved the buttons. But these buttons caught mold and fungus easily! Plus, most of them got damaged with water, making them rare and precious today!

Then, it was the era of metal! So you’ll see all of those bronze, iron, and copper buttons from this era. But these won’t be crude! In fact, they’ll be uniform, polished, and shiny. And you’ll also find some mold lines and logos with these! So, they are new, common, and cheap.

5 Types of Old Buttons for Every Antique Collector

You all might know the typical hole and thread buttons! But, back then, we had many other securing styles and designs as following:

1. Old Flat Buttons

Antique Handmade Flat Buttons worth $15

How do you think a flat button looks? Simple and straight, right? Yes, this two to four holed button looks the same! And most of them have stamped discs and raised rims at the top. Plus, you’ll even see woven lattices and wires. So, you can charge about $5 – 15 for one.

2. Shank Buttons

Antique Shank Buttons with Royal Stamped Crown

Shank buttons, just as the name says, come with a curved base shank. They neither have any holes nor any carvings. So, you’ll see a clear face and beaded and embossed designs on top. That makes them a bit costly at $20 – 30, and branded ones might even go up to $90.

3. Stud Buttons

Did you ever observe the two-piece buttons on your jeans? Now imagine them with hand-beaten metal walls. That’s what antique stud buttons looked like. Most of them also have separate backing pieces and sockets. And they also cost more, at $30 – 160.

4. Old Snap Buttons

Snap buttons, also known as press buttons or poppers, are relatively new! So, they have all those machine-made features – polished metal walls, stamps, and carvings. But they are new and cost less than $20 – 25.

5. Toggle Buttons

If your antique button has handmade, oval loops and walls, it might be a toggle button! Such buttons are about 1.5 inches long and have rustic bone or metal twigs. Plus, they look quite crude and have 1 – 2 hand-chiseled holes, costing $4 – 10.

6 Key Factors That Impact an Antique Buttons Value

Base price and all is okay! But, I am sure your antique buttons will have so many carvings and designs too. So, let’s see how to appraise those in this price guide.

1. Antique Button’s Age and Numbers

Antique Buttons made from Wood & Coconut Coir

It’s no secret that old, handmade antiques are the most precious. But it’s a bit different with old buttons. Like, old but restored buttons are 10 – 12% cheaper than new ones. So, make sure that your button doesn’t have any extra paints or lacquers.

Then, you can simply check the button’s box for any hallmarks or patent numbers to guess the age. And here, I have some for reference:

YearAgePatent NumberEstimated Valuation
1923100 yearsUS1483880A (mostly for Pin Toggle Buttons)$4 – 6, but Chinese-style ones can go up to $50
1919104 yearsUS1334574A (Shirt Buttons)$1 – 30, depending on size

What Does a 1700s Button Look Like?

If your vintage button has handmade edges and natural carvings, you probably have a 1700s button. Such buttons are really fancy and have Baroque or Rococo designs. Also, look for Shellac or oil coats and crude hammered or stamped finishes.

Here, if you have a stone, wood, or ivory button, it costs $11 – 150. But, if it has shiny gold or silver streaks, it might value up to $200.

How Do You Pick an 1800s Button?

You can spot these buttons by their one-piece pressed or cast bodies and stamps. Most will have shiny brass, pewter, mother of pearl, and porcelain walls. So, you’ll also find mold marks and filigree designs. And you can earn about $15 – 50 for one.

Moreover, if your button has painted portraits or crystals, you might hike its cost up to $80.

How Do You Spot a 1900s Button?

Any thin, mold-made, or branded button is from the 1900s. You’ll also see central index holes, raised rims, and borders. But these are mass-produced, and the common ones cost less than $25. But original signed, branded buttons can go up to $300 – 900.

Get a magnifying glass and check the gaps of the buttonhole. If they look brown, your button’s old and handmade. But if they are dyed, it might be new.

2. Vintage Button Materials

Different Types of Antique Button Materials

Now, let’s check your old button’s material. After all, the material affects the thickness, weight, and size. So, it’s obvious that even the button’s value changes with it!

Here are a few tips to identify your old button’s material:

  • Check any unprocessed areas around the button holes or shanks. If they look coarse, it might be a bone or wood button.
  • Check the button under UV light; natural buttons look orange, whereas metals look reflective.
  • See if the metal rings against an old spoon or table. If yes, it’s a glass button from the 1800s.

Now that you know your button’s material, let’s check its key features and costs below:

Button MaterialsYearTop FeaturesEstimated Value
Glass – Cut, Pressed, or Molded1800 – 1900Enamel or Stone Insets, Brittle, Tinted or Geometric$1 – 120 (but Egyptian ones go up to $160)
Metals – Brass, Silver, Gold, Pewter$1700s – 1900Thin 10mm walls, Mesh designs, and Enamel borders$5 – 120 (gold ones might cost $500)
Wood, Bone, or Nut Buttons1700sUneven button holes, Handcut borders and etched motifs$9 – 60
Porcelain Buttons1800sHand-painted and Underglazed$10 – 90
Celluloid or Bakelite1900sCarved or Molded designs, Regional motifs$5 – 30

Pick buttons with wax, oil, or luster finish for about $95 per button.

3. Vintage Button Styles

Vintage, Handpainted Art Deco Buttons at an Auction

You’ll see about four styles of old buttons. Of these, the hand-painted ones have natural colors and designs. So, they are rare! The Victorian and Art Nouveau ones look curved and fancy. So, they cost more! But, the later Art Deco ones are minimal, geometric, and new.

And here’s how much you can charge for each old button style:

Old Button StyleAverage Cost
Hand-painted or Enamel$30 for small and $90 for large buttons
Art Nouveau$8 – 25 for regular and $200 for gold
Victorian$9 – 65
Art Deco$2 – 3 for unbranded, and $250 for branded

Wash the button with mild detergent or vinegar to remove the rust and observe the style.

4. Old button Brands

Antique Sterling Silver Button from the 1800s

Most antique buttons are handmade, no doubt! But the late 1800s or 1900s buttons might be branded! So, just rotate the button, and see if it has stamped marks. If yes, just refer to the value list below:

Old Button BrandKey FeaturesEstimated Price (for pieces with NO Restoration)
DupontLucite or Celluloid Stud Buttons with a signed logo$30 – 75
FirminMetal, Plastic, Bone, or Wood Buttons with trademarks at the back$11 – 20 for small size and $25 – 100 for large sizes
GauntRound, Oval, or Hexagonal buttons with etched royal warrants$4 – 20
JennensHorn, Bone, or Wood buttons with signed logos, crests, and symbols$7 – 30

Avoid getting chipped, broken, or fully restored buttons, as they might lose their value by 8 – 10%.

5. Rare Antique Buttons

Rare Antique Buttons with Embossed Designs

Now, you might think that antique buttons cost $200 – 300, roughly. But do you know that some buttons cost $3000 as well? That’s because they have some unique shapes or gold motifs that hike the cost. Want to know more about such rare buttons? Here’s a list for you!

Old Button NameYearAuction Cost
Enamel and 18k Gold Cuff 1819 – 1830$3900
Men Fox Buttons1900s$2000
Civil War D-Coat Buttons1860 – 1865$775
Satsuma Chinese Button1850$565
Victorian Marijuana Weed Button1900s$449

Look for buttons with original vegetable ivory, shell, or wax finishes, as those are rare and precious.

6. Antique Button Use

Antique buttons come in two types – decorative and clothes buttons. Of these, the decorative ones cost $100 – 200 more than the functional ones. That’s because these have meshed gold patterns, gems, and inlay work that hikes costs.

Where Can You Buy Old & Antique Buttons?

You can get old and antique buttons from any e-commerce site like eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist. Other than that, look for events like the National Button Convention or National Button Society to spot the rare ones.

What Metals Were Used for Antique Buttons?

Makers used crude and thick metals like iron, pewter, brass, silver, gold, and copper to make antique buttons. Overall, they cost $5 – 120, but the gold ones are more costly, at $500.

How Do You Store Antique Buttons Properly?

Cover your buttons in light polythene or metal foils and keep them in a box, away from sunlight. Also, if possible, cover them with enamel and dry them properly to reduce rust!

Antique buttons are obviously small! But they fetch huge returns with the right materials, finishes, and styles. So, try to get unrestored, handmade buttons from the 1700s! And once you get them, you can check their features and exact costs from our guide!

And, if you want more value guides for other antiques like ‘car jacks,’ ‘pianos,’ ‘padlocks,’ and ‘pedal cars,’ I’ll be happy to help!

Judith Miller
Judith Miller

Judith is an antique expert with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of antique identification and valuation. She has reviewed over 30 thousand vintage items and has worked with numerous antique shops. She enjoys seeing new places, attending antique shows and events, and sharing her knowledge with people! Know more about me

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