Friday, March 23, 2018

Archeology Spring Training Part Six - The Difficulties of Buttons

Distinctive buttons have been a part of military uniforms for several hundred years.  So being at least conversant with them will be important when excavating in Flanders this spring.

Of course in the general sense it is well known which regiments were in the line at any given time.  And with the condition of the battlefield you can't always learn much from a button.  It could have come off a uniform at any time, or been post war surplus, or have been lost in 1914 and tossed about a hundred times since then by the explosion of shells.  But sometimes buttons can help you a great deal.  It is important that soldiers who died in battle get a respectful burial.  And while it probably does not matter much to them, it is important to us, that they get put into the proper cemetery.  Buttons are one of the best indicators of where that should be.

So context is rather important.  And one difficulty of today's examples is that these two were just down in the bottom of a box.  One or both might have been buttons I have found over the years.  One or both might have been in a batch that my wife recalls getting from some British detectorists.  In terms of studying them I suppose it does not matter today, but I shall make a pitch here for meticulous record keeping!

Oh, there are other issues with buttons.  They were produced in massive quantities and were exported all over the world.  They often imitated each other and cribbed from any source of culture that was then current.  They are extensively documented but there are always more variants and small time producers out there.  The cheaper ones tend to have a thin wash of brass that easily rubs off.

But for what it is worth here are a couple to get me thinking....

This guy is obviously a Cupid.  He's pretty generic, no identifying marks on front or back.  Nicely executed.  I rather doubt I'll be finding anything like this in the trenches of the Ypres Salient but I suppose one never knows.  After all, many soldiers got clothing parcels from home to help them through the winter months.   

The button below led me a merry chase indeed.  With a griffin on it you'd assume it was Welsh.  The back has what can faintly be made out as the marking HRH SUPERIOR QUALITY.  This is the kind of mark you often found on 19th century military buttons both in England, and by way of export, here in the U.S. in the Civil War era.  So, has to be a button from a Welsh regiment or militia, yes?


It took some sleuthing but I eventually figured out that this is what is called in the UK a "Livery Button".  That is, the kind of button servants would wear when employed by nobility.  Think Downton Abbey and all that.

The inscription is "FIDES ET VIRTUTE" meaning "Faith and Virtue".  And it was referenced with the name Gladstone.

Surely not THAT Gladstone?

Actually, yes.  Or, pretty much.  Gladstone the Prime Minister was the younger son of John Gladstone, who was named Baronette of Fasque and Balfour in 1846. His older brother therefore was the second in the line. This is the family crest, one no doubt still displayed proudly by the current Baronette, who is the 7th.

As to why it has a Griffin, usually associated with Wales, sometimes there is no explaining the arcane ways of Heraldry.

Pretty cool though, presumably a button from a servant's coat.  Age is indeterminate but certainly could have been contemporary with THE Gladstone.

I'm pretty sure this did not originate from Wisconsin, must have been in that stuff from the detectorists.
An addendum courtesy of the marvels of the internet.  I can probably identify what day of the week this button would have been worn and what garment it came off of.

In a book called Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in The Country House 1700-1920 I found the following account by a man who was in service to the Gladstones...

"During the week I wore a full-dress suit of dark grey wool which had six silver buttons on the coat, three on each side.  With it I wore a bat wing collar, stiff shirt and white bow tie.  The Sunday livery was cut exactly like the regular suit but it was made of plum colored-wool and trimmed with gold buttons."

1 comment:

a bear said...

I shoveled some money towards the Hill 80 project, so I'm looking forwards to seeing what you manage to dig up.