I’ve been hoping to gather enough information together so I could teach a lecture class on some unusual ladies accessories for the 1800s but can’t find enough to do that, so I decided an article on all three would have to suffice.
I’ve had this 1860s perfume button I bought years ago on Ebay in my jewelry box just waiting to see if I could use it, or find out more about it. It’s a 1/2 inch metal (brass?) button with a metal shank, with little clover designs cut out on top with velvet inside them. From looking for these for years, this design is the most common, although there are a few others, some that are simple, some quite elaborate. Most range from 1/4 inch to 1 1/4 inches. All of them have the velvet inserts and darker fabric, in common. The most common scents used on them were violet, rose, and lavender.
In the past few years I’ve bought others and it caught my interest in finding out more about them. I love the little strawberry ones, but my favorite is the moon-design one.
All of mine except one have a solid back shank, whereas the one has a little loop coming out of the back.
This is a sample of other designs I’ve seen.
These two were being sold for $25 & $45 respectively on Etsy. Both are the larger ones.
I’ve searched the internet for any history or reference to them with very little luck, other than mentions of them. I kept reading the same information over and over that everyone was repeating on antique sites. This is basically what they were saying:
“Perfume Buttons were designed and manufactured in the States in the early 1800's, incorporating fabric as part of their design - usually velvet. The ladies of the day wore these buttons on their dresses, putting their fragrance on them rather than running the risk of staining their clothing.
The story goes that during the Civil War the ladies would take a perfumed button off their dress and give it to their loved one, sending him into war with a romantic memento. Many stories are told of soldiers who died with a button in his pocket or stories that recount how this memento kept them alive during those stressful times.
Perfume Buttons were also used earlier in history in France and England.”
These buttons should not be washed. Victorians removed buttons before laundering, as there may be many parts to a buttons like this, and water can get trapped inside.
Ok, so they began being made in the early 1800s, but no record of them until the 1860s?
The Western Regional Button Association in their paper on fabric backed buttons, state:
While Barrans notes that these negative fabric buttons are often referred to as “perfume” buttons, there is no evidence to support that they were actually used for that purpose. It is likely that the perfume would have discolored and deteriorated the velvet. She acknowledges that the name however, does have whimsy!
I have a couple in my collection that the velvet HAS disintegrated.
Then I found an article excerpted from “Dr. de Weerts’ Daughter: Sage-femme Extraordinaire” by Ambrose Keller. Published in 2015, it’s a real book
Amazon doesn’t state if it’s fiction or non-fiction book, but the author does say it’s part family history & historical-fiction. So I can’t say for sure if it’s all from his imagination. Again, no historical documentation other than everyone was talking about them.
By the way, none of mine have any residual odor of perfume. *sad* I would love to have been able to smell what perfumes they would have used.
Then I came across this PDF file called “Field Guide to Antique Buttons & Vintage Glass”. But Grandmothers Buttons is a blog and I can’t find a book listed anywhere as this being a real book. It’s possible it was a display for one of their button shows.
As I mentioned, I would have loved do a class on these as a lecture, and then set it up where everyone could make their own little button but again, I‘m having a hard time now finding open brass buttons that could be used for them. If anyone ever comes across some that might work, and can be bought in bulk, PLEASE let me know.
In the meantime, have fun hunting for your own on Etsy and Ebay. I’ve been paying about $3-$5 for mine. Some of the dealers are making jewelry out of them now so if you’re in the tiniest bit interested, better move fast.
**STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT TWO PARTS**