Grapes were a popular theme among Victorian buttons. Grapes often represented Christ the with fruit & leaves symbolizing the Christian faith. Grapes themselves represented the sacrificial blood of Christ. The leaves stood for rebirth. The vines a representation of bounty.
Grapes are one of the earliest cultivated crops & the fruit & their vines are sacred to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. As such, these vines take on a jovial symbolism, representing celebration & abundance.
These are just a few examples of antique buttons with a grape motif.
A Bacchante or Maenad, female followers Bacchus, the god of wine.
Carved mother-of-pearl over abalone.
Black glass with silver & blue luster.
Cattail design with interior twinkle rim.
Perhaps it was the influence of heraldry images on livery in the UK. Or it may have been the Arthurian revival in fiction & non-fiction stories of the 19th century that made armor & weaponry a popular subject for Victorian buttons. The last button above depicts Jean La Hache, aka Jeanne Hachette, a French heroine who helped to defend the town of Beauvais in 1472. She took an ax to an invading soldier who had scaled the city walls & was joined in battle by other women to defend their town. In this scene she is poised to attack one man while another falls to his death. The city celebrates with a holiday in her honor every June.
Whether you call him Neptune or Poseidon, this god of the sea was a favorite mythological design on Victorian buttons. He is always pictured with his trident, & sometimes on a shell or with seahorses. Here are a few of his many incarnations.
Many serious button collectors are against cleaning antique buttons. However, since I am not a collector but a user of antique buttons, I prefer to clean them & bring these miniature pieces of art back to their former glory & beauty. I once believed that cleaning a button would devalue it. Now I'd rather uncover the mysteries under 100 years of rust, grime & verdigris.
One of the first buttons I cleaned revealed a hidden strip of copper that was etched with a Greek key design. Just as we feel renewed after a good cleansing shower, so to are these buttons brought back to life.
Several types of Victorian metal picture buttons with dragons and winged beasts. Includes one depicting Saint George slaying a dragon.
Antique Victorian crane buttons made in Paris, France, on original card with blue metallic tint. The crane, stork, or heron are 3 similar looking birds with similar symbolism dating to ancient times. Fifteen species of crane inhabit five continents.
Greek & Roman myth described the dance of cranes as one of love, joy & a celebration of life. The crane was associated with the sun god Apollo & is a sign of Spring. In Japanese, Chinese & Korean culture, the cranes fabled lifespan of 1000 years has made it a symbol of longevity, immortality & happiness.
The Japanese Crane has a red crown & white body. It stands nearly 5ft tall, with a wingspan of more than 6ft & is considered one of the most magnificent. These large & powerful wings were believed to carry people to higher levels of spiritual enlightenment & souls to paradise. The Japanese refer to the crane as “the bird of happiness;” the Chinese as “heavenly crane,” believing it to be a symbol of wisdom.
I often wonder about the reasoning behind some design choices of button manufacturers in the 19th century. Some designs include everyday objects such as the corner of a lacy handkerchief, dice, horseshoes, buckles, bows, tassels, wreaths, fringed pillows, shells, medieval weaponry, umbrellas, plant containers, vases & more. The design on the large unused buttons of this card are a decorative box on a fancy lace doily.
A bit too plain for jewelry, these lovely silk buttons are perfect for costuming & re-enactors. The 2 cards at the top have a subtle stripe, while the set at the bottom has a braided center. The braided buttons are in a hard setting, most likely vegetable ivory. All have padded backs to sew through. Because these buttons would be more permanently attached by being sewn on, they were probably made for garments that weren't laundered as often such as coats & vests.