Robert Milburn
Documenting 1-Piece
Early 18th & 19 Century
Civilian Backmark Buttons


One Piece Merchant Gilts


I constantly look for period billheads from some of the merchants who have their names on the flat gilt buttons I am studying, I wish to illustrate my future pamphlet or book with some nice related material like tokens of button makers which I have, and the billheads which I am acquiring. I monitor most of the metal Detecting sites to obtain new One-Piece merchant  gilt (I nicknamed them OPMGs-One-Piece Merchant Gilts) to study. I need to secure examples of all for forensic quality examination, to enter the information in a spreadsheet.  I measure button blank thickness, button shank wire thickness and type of shank, diameter, the finish or coating if any I.E., Gilt /Plated or lacquered , any proprietary pictorial symbols, and weight.  Eventually when I record a closely dated baseline of Button-maker marked buttons , and the OPMGs, as well as standard Quality marked buttons, and comparet them , I may be able to narrow down the dating of Plain Gilt Quality marked buttons by physical characteristics.  The late 18th and early 19thc were times of explosive technological growth, the metal rolling technology and other button making technologies changed every few years, the button blank thickness increased from the late 18thcentury as the button diameter decreased.  I believe, that if I aggregate enough closely dated data in the spreadsheet trends will emerge.  I already have identified 5 makers of the OPMGs by physical characteristics, and I am sure as my information grows, I will be able to refine dating to provide at a minimum a “no earlier than” date for collectors, diggers and archeologist.   It might not be possible , but I believe it is doable.  This project will fill a gap in the documentation of buttons commonly found in North America.   Some of these buttons can be dated to a one or two year period.

Collector’s Note: Nothing came into the United States from England Starting about 1808 due to the US  Embargo except for a very short period during 1810, however, English button makers (and other producers) , hoping for a short war and re-start of commerce continued producing goods and buttons for the US market for several years after 1810.  All of that production was dumped on the US auction market about 1816 even though they were produced in about 1810-1813, so, new old stock hit the market in 1816 and was distributed across the US by country merchants buying in New York.  Tice Dates the BEST Eagle button 1810-1820 for that reason, most were probably manufactured earlier but not sold till 1816.

Civilian Button Backmark Dates

The Best Quality button is the earliest  1790-1810
The Eagle back (Star) BEST (Star) Button is 1810-1820.


Here is an example of an entry for one of the currently unlisted OPMGs: I have completed about 125 dating/documentations of unlisted merchant marked plain flat gilt (and some plated) buttons at this time.

Chance, W & G,  (1820-1828), Hardware Merchants, Listed in the New York city directories and the NY Evening post for years cited. William Chance of Birmingham and his brother George Chance of New York, trading as the firm W & G Chance.  George was the front man in NY for Importation and sale of Birmingham hardware goods of all sorts, his brother worked the business end in Birmingham England, they are noted for the locks of their trade rifles and pistols which were used in the fur trade and various conflicts.  They also imported and sold large quantities of gilt Birmingham buttons under their backmark and had quite a few B/M variations  The firm announced the dissolution of their partnership in the NYEP,  28 Jan 1829, the partnership was actually dissolved 31 Dec 1826 by mutual consent, but they continued  trading in the US and were listed in the NYC Directory until 1828

.Recorded Backmarks:
W & G Chance/Extra Rich
W & G Chance/Extra
W& G Chance/Fine Stande
W & G Chance/(Six point star) Imperial (six point star)



1792-1810 Civilian Dandy
Colour: Gold W/ Green Encrustations
Metal: Flat, 1-Piece, Raised Design, Gilt Brass
Maker: Matthew Boulton’s Soho works                               
Production Origin: London for American Market
Robert’s Notes: The button attached is very interesting, to my knowledge it, or one similar by the same maker,  has never been identified as to the identity of the maker before.  This button is a product of Matthew Boulton’s Soho works.  It was made prior to the Metal Button Act of Parliament, (1796), 36. 3. C. 60,  of which, Mr. Boulton was the main driving force.  Prior to the act these buttons bear quality marks, after the passage of the act the same buttons bear standard marks.  This is a key transitional period button (some say 1795-1810 on the transitional dates),  but I believe it is earlier about 1792.   I have been seeking other examples and just secured a Double Gilt version, I have seen a Treble Gilt version with a different basket pattern and Tice listed a Treble Plated version in a large basket weave pattern.  Mr. Tice did not know these were made by Boulton.  So folks will see it first on your site.  I assume a (Single) Gilt Version but I have not observed one.  I have a list of 4,000 backmarks dug in England and also searched the UKFD finds database, to date I have not heard of any buttons matching this backmark profile dug in the United Kingdom, so these seem to have been manufactured solely for export to the United States.  I should add at this point, that these button are quite scarce, most I have seen have been found on early sites in Virginia.  All told, in book and online, I have seen less than 10 examples. Matthew Boulton had the familiar registered silver Maker’s Marks,”MB”, but he also a registered maker’s mark called a “Device Mark”, in Henry Newton Veitch’s History of Sheffield Plate, 1908, Matthew Boulton’s device mark, registered in 1784, was “The Sun”, sometimes used without the firm name. Most of the early transitional buttons had backmarks consisting of only a single capital letter or a set of capital letters a few of these have been identified, but a number remain obscure. 


Treble Gilt Matthew Boulton, Ribbon, Bow & Eagle Button
1792-1810 Civilian Dandy -Treble Gilt with Eagle, Ribbon, Bow and Sun Backmark
Colour: Gold highlight with Chocolate brown base metal showing through the gilt which has been deteriorated by ground action. 
Metal:  Low Convex, 1 piece, Copper Alloy Gilding Metal, raised design of a Basket pattern accentuated by floral design at the junctures of the basket weave.  A spectacular impression of an Eagle graces the back of the button, looking more akin to a Dragon, this eagle had yet to be gentrified to the sleek American version we take for granted today.  This button bears a split or clam die seam, commonly but incorrectly named a split anvil line (SAL), (Split or clam dies were the actual terminology used by the period button manufacturers-I will provide citations upon request).  This button is not a Re-used plain gilt as are many with a seam, but rather, in certain high-quality buttons of this period particularly military and livery button, the shank was attached before the impression was struck, and the clam dies /split dies or a die with a hollow recess for the shank was used to protect the shank from damage.  On some buttons, this seam was polished out, but on many button, it was left be.
Maker:  Matthew Boulton’s Soho works
Product Origin:  London for the American Market

Robert Milburn’s notes:  This button is an extremely high quality late 18th century gilt metal button.  The button blank thickness is approximately double the average dug Colonial button commonly excavated in North America. The Testament to the high quality of the button’s construction is the amount of gilding remaining after being subjected to ground action and fertilizer for more than 200 years.  This button was manufactured after passage of the Metal button act of 1797, as it bears the standard marks of Treble Gilt.  Matthew Boulton was a key factor in the passage of the act which was developed to prevent the destruction of the lucrative Gilt Button Trade in England.  In the 1790s, it was the wild , wild west for standard and quality claims, Dipped (dipt) buttons had been developed in the 1790s, which produced a beautiful gold colored buttons completely without the use of gold (Chemical salts, lacquers and various chemicals were used to color the brass of dipt buttons) , but the Dipt buttons faded in just a few weeks, the public became wary of buying gilt buttons which threatened the trade, thus the metal Act was developed, proposed, campaigned for and passed with the help of the King and Parliament which set standards for the production of true Gilt buttons which used real gold.  Thus, the Standard marks of Gilt, Double Gilt, Treble Gilt and Plated for Silver Buttons were applied to allow the public confidence in the purchase of Gilt and Plated buttons.
Of course, these type of “sumptuary laws” only worked for a short time, and only kept the honest people honest.  So…. what you do when somebody marks their buttons “Really Great Strong Gilt”, are you going to call the “button police”, are there any actual “button police”? these questions and more will be answered in the next installment of ….” Interesting facts about very boring plain flat gilt and plated buttons with nothing interesting on the face”.

The Button Bobbies…lol 

The London police were called “bobbies” after Peel; the diminutive for his first name, Robert, is “Bob,” hence the nickname for the London police. Another story says that the cops of that time were paid a “bob” in salary each week. A bob being slang for a shilling, a form of British currency.

Birmingham Button Association

GILT AND PLATED BUTTONS. July 8,1799.—The Committee of the Button Association hereby give Notice, that a Reward of Ten Guineas will be paid by Mr. Simpson, Cherry street, Solicitor to the Association, upon Conviction, to any Person or Persons who shall give Information against the Makers or Vendors of Metal Buttons that are gilt or marked contrary to Act of Parliament, and the name of the Informer will not be made known.

Robert, I have a lot of very interesting and sometime humorous information on the “button police.” My archives of newspaper ads have segments where they are asking for snitches to provide info for cash, no questions asked…….  When I started digging up buttons, and I started seeing all sorts of outlandish “quality touts” as the Brits call them, and then I read about the “Metal Button Act”, I kept asking how come they let everybody put anything they wanted on the back?  What about the regulations? 

Then, I remembered in the Army we only enforced the Regulations we were FUNDED for.  If we did not have the manpower or the funding to enforce or enact a particular regulation, we said, oh well……if the ARMY wanted us to enforce it they would fund it.  Same with the Brits.  The magistrates and customs officials were not funded to enforce the Metal Button Act, it was up to the Birmingham Button Association to bring the case forward, pay the INFORNER (yes that is another reason it did not work, figure out the life expectancy of an English Gilt button squealer in Birmingham in 1820…..not long.)  Add to that the fact that England actually state sponsored dumping on the American auction market after the War of 1812 to “Strangle American Industry in its cradle” a quote from deliberations in Parliament, so customs officials would look the other way on anything foisted on the American Market and you get lip service paid to the Metal Button Act.  Lots of other factors mitigated against the act, the state had to prove that the button seller “Knew that the guilder did not gild to standard” this was a near impossibility and led to many dismissals.




BACKMARK: SHAW & PATTERSON/(Dot) Five Point Star (Dot) BOSTON (Dot) (Five Point Star)// (3 Five Point Stars) EXTRA (3 Five Point Stars) RICH

The firm of Shaw & Patterson, Boston, was formed in 1829, partners were: Charles B. Shaw & David Patterson, Dry Goods Merchants listed at 13 Central St. (1829-1831). In 1832 the firm became Shaw, Paterson & Co., with the addition of William Blake, the firm was listed as Dry Good Merchants at 13 Central St. (1832-1833), and at 67 Milk St. (1834-1835), in 1836 the firm took on an additional partner, M. J. Mandell, listed as Dry Goods Merchants at 67 Milk St. (1836), and 93 Milk St., (1837-1839). In 1840 Shaw, Paterson & Co dissolved and the firm continued as Shaw, Blake & Co. (Charles B. Shaw & William Blake) Listed as Dry Goods Merchants at 93 Milk St. Reference: Stimson’s Boston City Directories 1831-1840.

FACE: Plain Gilt
SIZE: 21 mm

CONSTRUCTION: This is a Flat, Plain Face, One-Piece Gilt Button. It is made of brass, it is non-excavated, in good condition retaining approximately 90% of the original Gilt finish, from comparison of proprietary marks in my research archive, I have identified this button as a product of Robinson, Jones & Co. of Attleboro, MA.

BACKMARK: SHAW PATTERSON & Co./(Dot) BOSTON (Dot)// (2 solid concentric rings around the shank)

The firm of Shaw & Patterson, Boston, was formed in 1829, partners were: Charles B. Shaw & David Patterson, Dry Goods Merchants listed at 13 Central St. (1829-1831). In 1832 the firm became Shaw, Paterson & Co., with the addition of William Blake, the firm was listed as Dry Good Merchants at 13 Central St. (1832-1833), and at 67 Milk St. (1834-1835), in 1836 the firm took on an additional partner, M. J. Mandell, listed as Dry Goods Merchants at 67 Milk St. (1836), and 93 Milk St., (1837-1839). In 1840 Shaw, Paterson & Co dissolved and the firm continued as Shaw, Blake & Co. (Charles B. Shaw & William Blake) Listed as Dry Goods Merchants at 93 Milk St. Reference: Stimson’s Boston City Directories 1831-1840.

FACE: Plain Gilt
SIZE: 16 mm
CONSTRUCTION: This is a Flat, Plain Face, One-Piece Gilt Button. It is made of brass. It is non-excavated, in good condition retaining approximately 90% of the original Gilt finish, from comparison of proprietary marks in my research archive, I have identified this button as a product of Robinson, Jones & Co. of Attleboro, MA.




BACKMARK:  Otis Loomer & Co./Warranted/ Decorative Scroll Flourishes on either side of the shank; traces of three concentric rings circle the shank.

The firm of Otis Loomer & Co. was formed in New York City in the year 1825, partners were Otis Loomer & James C. Bates, they were Dry Goods Merchants at 189 Pearl St., NY. The partnership dissolved in Jan 1827, with James C. Bates leaving, and Otis Loomer carrying on alone at 189 Pearl St., under the original firm name of Otis Loomer & Co. until August of 1832 when the business failed. Reference: ( 1.) Longworth’s New York City Directories for the years 1825-1832. (2.) New York Evening Post (Herinafter referred to as the NYEP), 31 Jan 1827, Announcement of Dissolution of Partnership of Otis Loomer & Co. , 29 Jan 1827, Otis Loomer & James C. Bates. Otis Loomer will carry on business alone at 189 pearl St.

FACE: Plain Gilt
SIZE: 20 mm

CONSTRUCTION:  This is a Flat, Plain Face, One-Piece Gilt Button.  It is made of brass, it is an excavated button and was found in Virginia. The button blank is eroded and pitted by ground action, but gilt remaining in the recesses of the impressed backmark renders it easy to read.  Maker is currently undetermined.




Attached is a picture of the most rare “Eagle Back” in my collection of those types. Very interesting design, I have only seen the Lightning bolts from the talons on one button design 1808-1817 Diplomat Button. Eric Reichardt who has handled hundreds of thousands of buttons said it was one design he had not seen on any flat button back before.  He had seen all of the other patterns I collected. Bob


The button was made between 1816-1825.

Lewis & Tomes is one of the English Companies that had dates that are a bit off in the references, again due to lack of references when they were originally researched.

Lewis & Tomes was actually in business from 1816-1825, Francis Tomes bought out Edward Lewis’ share of the firm in 1825 and the partnership was dissolved.

They actually never made a button, they had them made for them like William Wallis.  Tomes traveled to America in 1816, he was not listed until 1819, hence the date of 1819 in M & B, he was however listed in the Birmingham Directory of 1816 , Lewis & Tomes Merchants, Regent-Place, as well as the Birmingham Directory listing for 1818 at the same address.



This is a new unlisted Birmingham English Button-Maker.  In a few of the Massachusetts digger collections, my friends have let me go thru, I discovered an early, “A-Shank,” plain faced, one-piece button 21mm, back marked “SPENCER”, with a GREEK KEY Motif. 

I found one that appeared to have come from the same maker, without the backmark, but with the same GREEK KEY Motif.  Subsequently, I found, in an old Massachuetts collection, a non-excavated early CROWN type one-piece plain faced button backmarked SPENCER.  So, I decided to pin down who this maker was.  I found him in Birmingham, England; John Spencer (1799-1827), and later William & John Spencer (1828-1837), Birmingham, England, Merchants, Factors, Gun & Pistol & Button-Makers. 

I would expect to find these buttons excavated at early sites on the US East Coast.  Spencer was a merchant, and also engaged in the American shipping trade, so in addition to the Guns and Pistols he imported into the US, he may also have included buttons, gilt & plated.

Based upon construction, I believe the buttons I have found date between 1800-1820.


Button backmarked “SPENCER”, Incised Mark, GREEK KEY MOTIF  21mm, Plain Face, A-Shank

Button backmarked “Treble Gilt Standd”, Incised Mark,  GREEK KEY MOTIF, 21mm, Plain Face,  A-Shank,  I believe it was made by SPENCER

Button Backmarked “SPENCER”, Raised Mark, Saint Edwards Crown, 24mm, Some gilding remains, Plain Face, A-Shank

Unlisted English Button maker:  One-piece buttons back marked with the name: “SPENCER”

John Spencer (1799-1827), and later William & John Spencer (1828-1837), Birmingham, England, Merchants, Factors, Gun & Pistol & Button-Makers.  John Spencer is first listed in the 1800 Bissett’s Grand Copper Plate Directory of Birmingham, on engraved plate “D”, as a merchant and on plate “E” as a Gun Maker.  According to Birmingham Gun-maker references (See note) He was working as John Spencer, Loveday Street, Birmingham 1799-1806, and subsequently as John spencer & Co. 1807-1817. 

From 1817-1826 he was working again as John Spencer at 7 St. Mary’s Row.  In 1828 the Birmingham Directory listings changed to reflect his brother William joining the firm under the style of William & John Spencer, Button-makers, (gilt & plated), 7 St. Mary’s Row, they were also listed as Gun & Pistol makers at the same location.  From 1828-1837 they continued to be listed in the Birmingham Directories as both Gun & Pistol & Button Makers at 7 St. Mary’s Row.  The firm was not listed after 1837.

Note: Reference for the 1799 founding date is; English gunmakers- The Birmingham and provincial gun trade in the 18th and 19th Century, pg. 53, by De Witt Bailey, Douglas A. Nie, Arms and Armour Press, 1978

References for the Birmingham Directory Listings:

1800 – Bissett’s Grand Copperplate Directory of Birmingham for the year 1800, plates D & E

John Spencer, listed as a Merchant of Birmingham on Plate D, and a Gun Maker on Plate E

 1815 – Wrightson’s new triennial directory of Birmingham for 1815, pg. 120, 1815

John Spencer, Merchant, Gun & Button-Maker, Loveday St.

 1816 – England Commercial Directory, 1816-1817, Birmingham Listings pg. 29,

John Spencer, Merchant, 31 Loveday St.

 1818 – Wrightson’s new triennial directory of Birmingham for 1818, pg. 122, 1818

Spencer, John, Merchant & gun maker, St. Mary’s Row

 1822 – History, Directory & Gazetteer, of the County of York, Volume 1, pg. Lxxxii, By Edward Baines

Spencer, John, Gun & Pistol Makers St. Mary’s Row

 1825 – Piggott’s National Commercial Directory of Scotland, Birmingham Listings. 1233-1374.

Listed as a Button-maker, Factor, Merchant & Gun & Pistol Maker, 7 St. Mary’s Row

 1828 – Piggott’s National Commercial Directory of England, Birmingham Listings.

Spencer Wm. & John,  listed under Button-makers, as (gilt & plated), 7 St. Mary’s Row, also listed as Gun & Pistol makers; Spencer Wm.& Jno.7St. Mary’s Row

 1830 – The History, Topography and Directory of Warwickshire, pg. 389, by William West, Published by R. Wrightson, Birmingham, 1830

William & John Spencer, listed as Gilt & Plated Button, Gun & Pistol Makers, Factors & Merchants, 7 St. Mary’s Row.

 1835- The Directory of Birmingham for the Year 1835, Wrightson & Webb, Birmingham

William & John Spencer listed as Gun and Button-Makers, St. Mary’s Row

 1837 – Pigott & Co.’s National Commercial Directory of Scotland, London; Birmingham Listings

William & John Spencer listed under Button-Makers and also under Gun & Pistol Makers, at 7 St. Mary’s Row




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Spanish Civilian Cashe

       I recognize the cache of buttons in the picture as Spanish in origin , dug in Spain and sold commonly on eBay, these sales have increased greatly in the last few years.  The poor folks with their economy in a nose dive, have taken to selling their heritage in the form of pounds of buttons for pennies on the dollar.  15 years ago that trove of buttons would have brought hundreds, they are treasured when dug up in St. Augustine Florida, but so common in Mother Spain. 

     What I am looking for are the plain flat gilt and plated buttons commonly found in collections, archeological digs and digger’s collections, recovered in North America.  Attached is a picture of three nice examples of these one piece plain gilts bearing American merchant firms on the blackmarks.  The first to use this style were the American hardware Merchants late 1790s -1811 and then again 1816 after the war they who imported mostly Birmingham goods, next came the Tailors of Bespoke Clothing, and then finally the Dry Goods Merchants in the latter 1820s. to about 1836 when this style ceased on plain flat gilt buttons.  80%  of the ones I have physically located came form buying very old accumulations from collections of the 1940s-1950s, the other 20% have come thru combing of thousands of dug buttons from my friends and also from monitoring the I.d. request on all of the forums.

I have been ferreting out and collecting, sometimes buying digitized directories of the major cities in the US for about 7 years, I have almost every directory from the late 18th century to 1866 for New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore  and scattered directories from other cites as well as national directories.  Also most London, Sheffield and Birmingham Directories.  I can date a merchant Blackmark from start to finish in most cases in about 2 hours-longer if no place name is on the backmark and full name sinstead of initials are used for the first name.  My research can prove useful to refine the date on many buttons with designs as many of the civilian dress buttons were RE-used by American makers to create their buttons, so by comparison you can attain a “no earlier than date” for a uniform buttons on a RE-used civilian dress button.

I do not care if the button is dug or non-dug as long as the backmark is legible.  The knowledge is the thing.  I intend to keep the study collections intact for later analysis.

I am also interested in the metal Transitional buttons 1790-1810 with mostly initials or symbols for Blackmarks I.e., “K”, S in a dotted circle, I M & S, CF & K, WR & S, those with mostly dot and diaper basket type fronts thin blanks alpha shanks the latest having Omega shanks, and Eagles that look like dragons with scaly necks and ribbons and bows, Strong gilt, Treble gilt, gilt, Strong Plated etc.

I have documented most of the makers CF & K is known as I WR & S but IM & S and K and S are not recorded in the major references.