English Gentleman’s Button Set, ca. 1805

Value (2008) | $1,500 Auction$2,000 Auction

APPRAISER:
What grade are you in?

GUEST:
Third grade.

APPRAISER:
Third grade? Third grade, you study any American history?

GUEST:
I've studied... we've studied the Revolutionary War.

APPRAISER:
Tell me what you know about these.

GUEST:
I just know that my great-great-great-grandmother wore them on her clothes.

APPRAISER:
Well, you know what they're made of?

GUEST:
What?

APPRAISER:
Well, the middle bit-- the blue and white bit-- is ceramic. It was probably made by a famous potter in England by the name of Wedgwood, Josiah Wedgwood. And he started making stuff like that about 250 years ago before the Revolutionary War, before George Washington.I don't know if George Washington wore buttons just like this. It's possible that he could have done. Now, these were made, I think, after the Revolutionary War. Not quite in Washington's lifetime but perhaps in Jefferson's lifetime. You know who Thomas Jefferson was. And I showed them to some of the other appraisers here, some of the appraisers who are experts in textiles and old costumes, and they took a look at the buttons, too, and they liked them a lot. And they agreed with me that they're a couple of hundred years old. But they don't think that your great-great-great-grandmother wore them, and I don't think so, either. She might have worn them, but I think they were made for a guy. I think they're men's buttons. Now, if you look at pictures of that time and you see the men with their wigs and they got all dressed up in fancy jackets we call frock coats, they would wear buttons like this. Now, today we use buttons and we use them for buttoning things up and closing things, but in those days, some buttons like this were really just to look great. You know, you'd wear them up here and they'd be to show off. They would've been fairly high-end things, pretty much a luxury item. What I like about them, too, is there's a set of them. Sometimes you find just one button. But there's a whole set of six here. That's probably all there was. Around the middle is like a border on them. There's a little bit of gold-colored metal. And then there's another edge to it, which we call mother-of-pearl. So it's a natural material. And whoever made these put those little ceramic plaques into the mother-of-pearl backing and he made a really beautiful button.

GUEST:
Would they have been hand carved?

APPRAISER:
No. The designs in the middle are not hand carved. They're made in a technique that's called sprigging. And the white bit is cast in a little mold and then it's stuck on to the blue bit. Now, originally, the designs are carved, but the whole thing is kind of factory made. Now, they've been in your family a long time. Do you have any brothers and sisters?

GUEST:
Yes, one sister.

APPRAISER:
Okay, well, you shouldn't split them up. My advice is to keep them together, even if you've got a sister. Don't be tempted to, like, let her have three and you have three because they are a set and that makes them better. Have your mom or your dad ever told you anything about what they might be worth?

GUEST:
Well... someone offered my grandma either $600 for two or $100 each, she forgets.

APPRAISER:
Now, how long ago was that?

GUEST:
Like 15 years ago.

APPRAISER:
You don't find buttons that are that old very often. And they're real nice ones, and there's a set of them. So I think today a set of gentleman's buttons like that, if you put them in an auction, they could sell for as much as $2,000. I'm going to say $1,500 to $2,000. And if somebody really wanted them, they could bring more than that.

I like them a lot.

GUEST:
Yeah.

APPRAISER:
Thanks a lot for coming.

GUEST:
Thank you.

APPRAISER:
Take care of those buttons.

GUEST:
Okay.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Heritage Auctions
Dallas, Texas
Appraised value (2008)
$1,500 Auction$2,000 Auction
Event
Hartford, CT (August 23, 2008)
Period
19th Century
Form
Button
Material
Ceramic, Metal, Shell

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