Military Uniform & Civilian Buttons

Photo Galleries of Buttons: American Rev War, US 1812 War, Civil War, The Great Seal, Civilian and Imperial Russian

Numerous antique military uniform and civilian buttons that I recovered in the US are similar in their design to the vintage buttons I found abroad, and they fall into three types:

Type I represents the 1-piece flat buttons made by either 1)casting metal (lead, pewter, or brass) in a mold which also provided an integral eyelet; in some buttons the hole in the shank was drilled, or 2)striking the device on a brass disk; a wire eyelet or loop shank was fastened by brazing.

1812 War Buttons Recovered with Metal Detector

Type II represents the 2-piece convex buttons. This type was invented by Benjamin Sanders of Birmingham, England in 1813. The button was made of two pieces, a front shell upon which the device was struck, and a back plate to which a wire eyelet or loop shank was fastened by brazing. The two parts were fastened together by turning the edge of the front shell over the back piece.

Type III represents the staff buttons that are usually gilt, convex, with the device on a lined field. This type was first produced by the Scovill Company in the 1830's, for the army staff officers. The buttons are similar to the buttons of type II except that the front shell and back piece are held together by a separate narrow flat rim.

Photo Galleries of Buttons I Found:

American Revolutionary War Period
US Uniform Military Buttons of 1812 War
Uniform Military Buttons of Civil War
The Great Seal Buttons-1902
Civilian Buttons, circa 18th-19th Centuries

Vintage Buttons Recovered in Russia


Hessian ButtonsSo called Hessian Buttons (also Tomback, Tombac, or Tombak buttons) are usually found along with relics, circa mid-18th to early 19th centuries, at the metal detecting sites in the North-East USA. Unfortunately there is a lack of information on the origin and design of this type of buttons in any available source. I did a little research and found a few small pieces of information on this subject:

Large contingents of German troops, commonly lumped together under the term "Hessians," were hired by the British during the Revolution to fight in North America. The army force maintained here by the King comprised 35% of the Hessians drawn mainly from the principalities of Hesse Cassel, Brunswick, Hesse Hanau, Waldeck, and other smaller German states.

Buttons from all of these regiments were plain, and without any sort of unit designation. Flat-faced with a very pronounced boss on the backs, into which an iron-wire eye was anchored, these buttons originally were made of tombac (copper/zinc alloy), or thin brass, depending on the color of the regiments' metal.

During the Rev War period, the regulation white-metal buttons, identical to Hessian buttons, were imported (until 1793) from Birmingham (England) and worn by the ranks of the British Army. Also, it is reasonable to assume that flat or solid white-metal buttons of this type were cast in sand or in two- or three-piece hand molds (somewhat akin to those used in making bullets) by colonial metal workers throughout most of the eighteenth century.

As the eighteenth century progressed, the Hessian buttons became both larger and more common. Most buttons have brass or copper wire loop shanks. As a rule, they are virtually indistinguishable from civilian buttons of the same period. The latter were in use until the late 1900s.

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Sources: A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America by Ivor Noel Hume, Military Buttons of the American Revolution by Don Troiani, Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution by George C. Neumann and Frank J. Kravic.