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US Military Uniform Buttons Interesting Facts

Started by dag , Apr 06 2013 02:19 AM

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#1 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:19 AM

There are many interesting facts about US military uniform buttons. Here are some of those - with examples, all buttons pictured are from my collection.
I am using many references to Albert’s button book, probably the best resource for US military uniform buttons. His book, the first book listed below, is a must for US military button collectors, as well as various other references on buttons and backmarks.
Books in my library on US Military buttons include:
  • Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert
  • Civil War Collector’s Guide to Albert’s Button Book, by Daniel J. Binder
  • Uniform Buttons of the United States 1776-1865, by Warren K. Tice
  • North Carolina Civil War Buttons, by C. Terry Teff
  • Military Buttons of the Gulf Coast 1711-1830, by Dan Jenkins
  • American Military Button Makers and Dealers; Their Backmarks & Dates, by William F. McGuinn and Bruce S. Bazelon
  • Dating Buttons; A Chronology of Button Types, Makers Retailers & Their Backmarks, by Warren K. Tice
  • Military Buttons of the American Revolution, by Don Troiani
  • Guides to Button Prices & Detecting Fake or Repro Buttons, by Warren K. Tice
  • Maritime and Aviation; Transportation Uniform Buttons Vol.3, by Don Van Court
  • Also, various articles written by Daniel J. Binder in the magazine North South Trader’s Civil War

Read on…

#2 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:20 AM

The design of US Navy Officer’s buttons prior to WWII, in use from 1852 until 1941, was an eagle facing left standing on a horizontal anchor. On May 14, 1941 the Navy ordered that the head of the eagle face its right side. “The shift of the eagle's aspect to right-facing from left-facing is logical from the perspective of heraldic tradition, since the right side (dexter) is the honor side of the shield and the left side (sinester) indicates dishonor or illegitimacy.”
(source: http://www.history.n...rm_insignia.htm)
Of the buttons in the picture, those on the left are Civil War-era, those on the right are from a WWII US Navy uniform (my father-in-law’s).

Attached Images

  • 1 - NA112 NA121.jpg


#3 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:20 AM

There were two primary types of US Navy buttons worn during the Civil War. They are listed in Albert’s book as NA112 & NA113. They are both “an eagle resting on a horizontal anchor, three cannon balls below, with 13 stars encircling, on a lined field”. The difference is that the more common one during the Civil War, the NA112, had the upper fluke of the anchor behind the left wing, whereas the NA113 had the upper fluke of the anchor in front of the left wing. These types were used right up through WWII, although the NA112 type became much less common after the Civil War.
(source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)
Although both of the buttons pictured below were made by the same manufacturer, D. Evans & Co., there is this difference between the flukes of the anchor, as well as other die variations in the eagle, stars, and even button size.

Attached Images

  • 2 - NA112 NA113.jpg


#4 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:21 AM

There are many different backmarks for US Navy buttons dating from the 1850’s and 1860’s, as well as many post-Civil War backmarks. There were many different manufacturers, and different backmarks made by the same manufacturers due to different dies or special backmarks for a customer (with their name or company). Many were American manufacturers; there were also several British and a few French manufacturers as well. Note that it is very important in dating buttons to analyze the backmark. I listed some good reference books in the first post. See picture for some Civil War-era examples.

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  • 3 - NA112 backmarks.jpg


#5 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:21 AM

There is a very rare version of the eagle and horizontal anchor, with the anchor pointing the opposite direction from those worn during the Civil War through to the present. This version is known in Albert’s book as NA111A. According to Tice, “Less than ten specimens of this button made around 1835-1855 have been found by the author.”
(sources: Uniform Buttons of the United States 1776-1865, by Warren K. Tice; Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • 4 -NA111 NA112.jpg


#6 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:22 AM

Earlier US Navy buttons worn prior to the Civil War, made from the 1830’s to the early 1850’s, were of a design with the familiar eagle and anchor as with later designs, but the anchor was upright. There were many different variations, including versions of the eagle facing right and others facing left.
(source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

Attached Images

  • 5 - NA102 NA106.jpg


#7 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:23 AM

Prior to the 1830’s, US Navy buttons were of a one-piece design, and were flat or slightly convex. They were beautiful buttons, most had the familiar eagle & anchor, some of the earlier ones had only an anchor. Some were American made, but there were many beautiful British made buttons too. (source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)
The ones pictured are from my collection (with Albert’s reference number under); with a close-up of one of my favorites (it was hard to pick just one…).

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  • 6 - Navy 1pc.JPG
  • 6 - NA57A.jpg


#8 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:24 AM

The US Coast Guard was created in 1915. As quoted on the US Coast Guard website source listed below, “The service received its present name in 1915 under an act of Congress that merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the U. S. Life-Saving Service, thereby providing the nation with a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws. The Coast Guard began maintaining the country's aids to maritime navigation, including lighthouses, when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the transfer of the Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard in 1939. In 1946 Congress permanently transferred the Commerce Department's Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation to the Coast Guard, thereby placing merchant marine licensing and merchant vessel safety under its purview.” (sources: http://www.uscg.mil/...mil/history/; Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)
Pictured are buttons from the various services that eventually became part of the US Coast Guard. Note too how the eagle on the Coast Guard buttons (at the bottom) changed from facing left to facing right at the same time as with the US Navy in 1941.

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  • 7 - Coast Guard.JPG


#9 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:24 AM

The US Life Saving Service button pictured in the previous post – second row, far right - is a reversible button with a threaded shank. There were other buttons made this way, such as GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) veteran’s buttons. The screw shank can be removed, and the button reversed, to become an ordinary black-faced button for civilian dress, or attached as shown, to turn that coat into a uniform. (source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • 8 - reversible.jpg


#10 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:27 AM

During the 1800’s, many of the various branches within the US Army had distinctive “Letter” buttons, with the first initial in a shield on the eagle’s breast. (source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)
Examples are shown below for:
Artillery
Cavalry
Dragoons
Infantry
Riflemen
Voltigeurs

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  • 9 - letters.jpg
  • 9 - letters - Copy.jpg


#11 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:28 AM

The lettered eagle buttons in the US Army had their counterparts in the Confederate States Army, they simply had the letter (no eagle). The eagle appeared on many of the general staff buttons, but not on the Confederate general service nor the letter buttons. (source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)
Pictured below are some examples of Union (left column) and Confederate buttons (right column).
Rows:
General Staff
General Service
Infantry
Artillery
Cavalry

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  • 10 - union vs confed.JPG


#12 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:28 AM

Ever see a dug Civil War button so badly corroded that you couldn’t even read the backmark? Ever wonder what a backmark might look like from the inside? Pictured below is the back of a button dug near Antietam, so badly corroded that the face of the button disintegrated when it was dug, exposing the inside of the back that was protected all those years. It exposed a very rare “Goldsboro Rifles” backmark known to exist on a rare North Carolina button. According to Tice, “Scovill produced this rare backmark for the “Goldsboro Rifles,” founded at the end of 1859 in response to John Brown’s unsuccessful Harpers Ferry, Virginia raid.” (source: Uniform Buttons of the United States 1776-1865, by Warren K. Tice)

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  • 11 - goldsboro.jpg


#13 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:29 AM

Demonstrated below are two Civil War era non-dug North Carolina buttons. The one on the left is a 3-piece “staff” button, a button made from three main parts – the front, the back, and a ring, or rim, connecting the front to the back. The other button is referred to as a 2-piece button, the back, and the front which is made so that it wraps around the outer edges of the back.
These two buttons also demonstrate other manufacturing differences, with a British-made button on the left, and a Confederate “local” on the right. A Confederate “local” button refers to one produced within the Confederacy before or during the war, and is often of much lower quality, whereas there were some very beautiful Southern buttons made by the British worn during the Civil War.

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  • 12 - NC3 NC8.jpg


#14 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:30 AM

There were many military schools, both during and after the Civil War, that had their own distinctive uniform buttons. There are some very desirable Southern Civil War era school buttons. During the Civil War, some of the cadets and professors from some of these military schools picked up arms and fought alongside the Union or Confederate soldiers during battle. Shown below are rare buttons from two North Carolina military schools during the Civil War. (source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • 13 - school - 1.JPG
  • 13 - school - 2.JPG

Edited by dag, 06 April 2013 - 02:41 AM.


#15 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:31 AM

During the 1830’s and before, as with the US Navy buttons, there were some beautiful 1-piece buttons for various branches of the US Army. Pictured buttons are: US General Service, Infantry, Riflemen, US Militia, and two Artillery buttons. (source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • 14 - Old 1pc.jpg


#16 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:31 AM

There were also some very beautiful buttons throughout the 1800’s for various individual state regiments. A large number of state organizations wore unique buttons representing their regiment. Pictured below are some examples:
National Lancers (Massachusetts);
Logan Rifles (Illinois);
Maryland National Guard, 5th Regiment (Maryland);
Ancient and Honorable Artillery (Massachusetts)
(source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • 15 - state reg.jpg


#17 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:32 AM

All 50 states had unique buttons worn by various regiments that didn't have a unique button of their own. Alaska & Hawaii were actually just commemorative buttons to complete the set.
(source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • states1.JPG
  • states2.JPG


#18 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:33 AM

There were also other US organizations within the US Army that had their own buttons. Pictured are some examples:
Ordnance Corps;
Signal Corps;
Engineers
(source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • 17 - us orgs.jpg


#19 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:34 AM

There were also distinctive buttons for some of the various US Army transportation organizations. Pictured are some examples of some of these organizations:
United States Army Transport Service (2 different versions);
United States Army Transport Corps;
Military Sea Transport Service (2 versions)
(sources: Maritime and Aviation; Transportation Uniform Buttons Vol.3, by Don Van Court;
Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • 18 - transport.jpg


#20 dag

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 02:34 AM

The U.S. Army changed to the Great Seal button in 1902, which made obsolete all of the state buttons, all the separate army organizations, all the separate letter eagle buttons, even separate buttons for general staff. “One style for all arms and all grades, private to Lt. General. The only exception is the Engineer Corps, who are to retain their present design. Bronze for service and gilt for dress. The design is a copy of the great seal of the U.S.” (source: Record Of American Uniform And Historical Buttons, by Alphaeus H. Albert)

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  • 19 - army.jpg



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