Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 118; The Wolfson Gallery

Button

ca. 1795 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
In the late 18th century cut-steel buttons were very fashionable for gentlemen. They were also very expensive. The faceted studs with which they were set were designed to sparkle and reflect light.

Materials & Making
The most famous maker of cut-steel jewellery at the end of the 18th century was Matthew Boulton who was in partnership with John Fothergill from 1762 to 1781 and James Watt from 1775 to 1800. Watts' 'rotative steam engine' was installed in the Soho Manufactory in Birmingham in 1788. It was known as the 'Lap Engine' and drove the wheels used to grind and polish various steel wares including buttons, which were one of the principal products of Soho.

Design & Designing
The Boulton pattern books show many pages of designs for buttons and customers were supplied with cards of designs from which to make their choice. In 1777 Boulton was charging 28 guineas for a full set of cut-steel buttons. A caricature published in the same year entitled 'Steel buttons / Coup de Bouton' shows a fashionably dressed lady knocked backwards by the light reflected from the coat buttons of a gentleman.



object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Cut steel, the outer circle of beads individually riveted in place on a cast plate
Brief Description
Steel button
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 2.8cm
Dimensions checked: Measured; 08/03/2000 by APS
Gallery Label
British Galleries: Cut steel buttons were an extremely expensive and fashionable dress accessory for men. In 1777, the 'Earl of W' was charged 28 guineas (£29.40) for a set. Customers were supplied with cards of designs from which to make their choice. Matthew Boulton's pattern books contain many pages of designs showing the variety and popularity of buttons.(27/03/2003)
Credit line
Given by Mrs Barbara Gooddy
Object history
Probably manufactured in Birmingham
Summary
Object Type
In the late 18th century cut-steel buttons were very fashionable for gentlemen. They were also very expensive. The faceted studs with which they were set were designed to sparkle and reflect light.

Materials & Making
The most famous maker of cut-steel jewellery at the end of the 18th century was Matthew Boulton who was in partnership with John Fothergill from 1762 to 1781 and James Watt from 1775 to 1800. Watts' 'rotative steam engine' was installed in the Soho Manufactory in Birmingham in 1788. It was known as the 'Lap Engine' and drove the wheels used to grind and polish various steel wares including buttons, which were one of the principal products of Soho.

Design & Designing
The Boulton pattern books show many pages of designs for buttons and customers were supplied with cards of designs from which to make their choice. In 1777 Boulton was charging 28 guineas for a full set of cut-steel buttons. A caricature published in the same year entitled 'Steel buttons / Coup de Bouton' shows a fashionably dressed lady knocked backwards by the light reflected from the coat buttons of a gentleman.

Collection
Accession Number
M.29-1997

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record createdMarch 27, 2003
Record URL