Tag Archives: bakelite

Realistic Buttons

Novelty or realistic buttons have been popular since the 1930s (and probably before that).  Showy, colorful buttons were an inexpensive way to freshen a dress during the depression when a new dress was out of the question. French fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli sparked the button mania by emphasizing them on items in her collections. Her 1938 Circus Line included garments with buttons shaped like dancing clowns, trapeze artists, and prancing horses. Her Music Collection featured buttons shaped like a variety of instruments.   Many popular buttons in this era were made of bakelite and were sew thru types.  They featured common everyday items from vegetables to golf clubs.  A common button shape from this era was the Scottie terrier inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s dog Fara.

Plastic buttons quickly took over and have remained popular ever since.  Nothing is quicker to bring out a “aww…isn’t that cute” reaction than a beautifully made realistic button.  There are a number of artisans making realistic buttons today from kiln fired or Fimo clay.  Here are some examples from etsy.com. 

Kiln Fired Clay Realistic Buttons

Kiln Fired Clay Realistic Buttons

Grape Leaf Buttons by Marla’s Mud
Fimo Clay Buttons

Fimo Clay Buttons

Hello Kitty Buttons by TinyArk

How Do I Tell if a Button is Bakelite?

I see this question discussed frequently on various sites.  Here’s my method.

Bakelite has a distinctive smell when heated slightly. I usually rub the button on my hand until it feels a little warm and then sniff it. To learn what this smells like, take an item that you know for sure is bakelite, do the same with it and then compare the odors. This is the least intrusive method. Some folks swear by simethecone or formula 409, which when rubbed on the item with a q-tip take on a yellow/orange color. But this has the potential to damage the item. Others use a pin-prick test where you heat a pin and plunge it into the material. This definitely leaves a mark. The best resource on identifying button materials is “Button Materials A-Z: Identification Guide” by Jocelyn Howells.

What is your favorite method?