We are members of The Buttonhook Society and collectors of Antique button hooks, glove hooks, boot & shoe hooks plus small silver and related antiques from the Victorian & Edwardian period. Items are listed on the Silverdale web site, established in June 2004 for fellow collectors. If you have buttonhooks you wish to sell please contact us.
What is a Buttonhook?
Buttonhooks as we recognise them today are instruments in the form of a hook, which were used to pull buttons through their buttonholes. They were particularly useful if the fabric of the garment was tough or unyielding, as with stiff leather buttons on footwear, gloves and costume. Between the 1890’s and 1920’s they were necessary items. Almost everyone had his or her own button hook to use, perhaps as individual as a toothbrush today.
History and Origins
Although buttons are known from the 13th century, the first reference to a buttonhook is in the early 17th century, and its origins remain unexplored. It is possible that buttonhooks were first designed or required in the 16th century, when stout leather military jerkins and tough civilian garments were in use, and it is likely that the button hook survived until the 1800’s in association with the military buff coat, also with gaiters and leggings. Buttonhooks exist today which can be reasonably dated from the 1800’s onwards but popular use of the buttonhook seems to have arrived with the high fashion of the gentleman’s button boot in c.1837. However, it is unlikely any of these early buttonhooks were made from silver or other precious metal, the fashion for these coincided with the introduction of the ladies button boot in the 1880’s. Gloves were also a necessary fashion accessory at this time and whilst glove hooks, often made in steel with Mother-of-Pearl or bone handles, had been in use since the 1850’s, the introduction of silver glove hooks became widespread from the 1880’s.
As ladies now wished to have their shoes and boots fastened in the bedroom, by their ladies maids, it was natural for the buttonhook which lay on the dressing table to match everything else. This meant silver, or very occasionally gold. Soon every lady with social pretensions wanted a silver handled buttonhook on her dressing table. It was a challenge which the silversmiths of London, Birmingham and Sheffield were happy to meet. At the same time a parallel silver industry was developing in the USA, France and other cities resulting in a separate production of buttonhooks, some of which were exported to Britain.
Early silver button hook makers were influenced by the retrospective designs of the immediate past, which took their inspiration from classical, Celtic, Gothic and medieval themes. Towards the end of the century, The Birmingham Guild of Handicrafts was established following the principles of William Morris’s Arts & Crafts movement, adopting simple hand made designs. Despite this influence, the majority of manufacturers supplied the wants of the multitudes who could not afford the one-off designs. Others in the trade adopted a pragmatic compromise using industrial methods to produce designs in the new spirit. Many others simply carried on stamping the same designs as before.
In the early 1900’s, Art Nouveau, imported from France was having an influence on design, taking over from the previous retrospective designs. The Style, widely adopted by the mass producers, was supposed to be based on natural spirals and shapes from nature or formed by cigarette smoke. It was new and had some charm when produced by someone with an appreciation of line and form and became popular for a time in silverware.
The button hooks on this web site, reflect the design influences of the Silver and Jewellery Trade for a period of almost 50 years from the 1880’s to the 1930’s when buttonhooks ceased to be produced. If you wish to know more about button hooks, visit the web site of the Buttonhook Society.
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