Family History Notebook

Button Mould Turner

Also: Button Wood Turner, Button Mold Turner, Button Mould Thrower, Bone Mould Turner

I had encountered the occupation of "Button Mould Turner" on a few occasions in my family history research but had never found out just what this occupation entailed. Looking up the occupation on Google was of little help:-

Bone mould turner - Someone who made the moulds for button making.
Bone button turner - Someone who made buttons from bone.

However (i) The Edinburgh encyclopędia of 1832  and (ii) The engineer's and mechanic's encyclopedia of 1836 by Luke Herbert have come to my rescue

(i) "Those buttons intended to be covered with silk, etc. are termed moulds. They are small circles, perforated in the centre, and made from those refuse chips of bone which are too small for other purposes.   ... for the larger and coarser button are pieces of hard wood."

(ii) "... buttons without shanks consists of thin discs of wood or bone called moulds, covered with silk, cloth, or other similar materials. The bone for the moulds is made from refuse chips of bone sawn into thin flakes, and brought into a circular form by two operations, illustrated by the accompanying engraving. On one end of a spindle a, which revolves in bearings at  b b, is screwed a tool c, and on the other are two collars d d, between which a forked lever e embraces the shaft, the fulcrum of which is at f. The spindle a is put into rapid motion by a band g passing over the pulley h and over a band wheel worked by a treadle; and the workman, holding the material i for the mould in his right hand, against a piece of wood k firmly held down in the iron standard l by two screws, by means of the lever held in his left hand, he advances the tool c against the material i of the mould; the central pin of the tool drills a hole through the centre of the intended mould, whilst the other two points describe a deep circle cutting half through the thickness of the material, and the flat surface is cut smooth by the intermediate parts of the tool. The tool is then drawn back a little by the lever e, and the material shifted to bring a fresh portion of the surface opposite the tool, and when as many moulds as the plate of the material will afford, are thus half cut through, the other side is presented to the tool, and the central point of it being inserted in the hole made in the first part of the operation, the other two teeth cut another deep circle exactly opposite the former one through the remaing substance of the material, and the mould is left sticking on the tool; by drawing back the lever e the tool recedes , and the mould, meeting a fixed iron plate, is pushed off the tool, and falls into a small box m.

button mould lathe

Thus a button mould is simply a circular disc with a central hole which acts as the core of a cloth or thread covered button. These moulds might have been used for Macclesfield silk buttons

or, more likely, covered with cloth.

Again, from the Edinburgh encyclopedia (1832),

Button moulds are only used at present for the purpose of sewing up in a piece of the same cloth as the garment to which they are attached. They were formerly covered by the most costly materials, by women, who were seated around a table, and each had a large needle fixed in the table opposite the part where she was seated, and also a bobin, containing the thread to cover the button. The mould was stuck by the hole in its centre upon the needle, and the end of a thread of silk, mohair and sometimes gold thread, put through the centre at the same time, to fasten one end; the thread was then wound about the button mould to cover it, and present an ornamental surface.

Sometimes the moulds were sewn up in pieces of cloth elegantly wove of gold, silk, white horsehair etc. and ornaments in gold or silver were sewed on the surface.. All such buttons were, after covering, exposed in a sort of cullender over the flame of burning spirits of wine, to remove the small filiaments of silk projecting from their surface, and render them smooth: the workman keeping them in constant motion during this process, to avoid burning or damaging the buttons. They were afterwards cleaned, by shaking a great number in a bag with crums of bread: this took off the end of the singed fibres, rendering then glossy and ready for sale.

An attempt was made to protect the manufacture of silk buttons by an Act of Parliament in 1720. This act prohibited the use of buttons made of the same cloth or covered with the same material as the coat. The purpose of the act was defeated by the production of horn and metal buttons which were made in Sheffield and Birmingham. They were cheaper than silk buttons and gradually superceded them, though silk buttons continued to be made until the end of the century perhaps because they were more elegant.
A history of Macclesfield - edited by Clarice Stella Davies 1976

"The art of button-making, in its various branches, is encouraged and protected by various acts of parliament. It is unlawful to immport foreign buttons; and buttons made of, or covered with cloth, cannot be worn, without subjecting the wearer to very severe penalties if any person choose to sue for the same."
"Book of English Trades" Richard Philips New Edition 1818."

Mar. 18. "Upon information before R. A. Athorpe, Esq. a tailor of this place was convicted in the penalty of forty shillings a dozen for setting covered buttons upon a gentleman's waistcoat, and the wearer in a like penalty, for appealing in the waistcoat so made."  Sheffield Register 1791

Jan 1st 1802.
The master and journeymen button-makers of the town give notice that, after the 11th of September, they will lay informations under 8th Queen Anne, against all tailors using, and other persons wearing, garments having buttons covered with cloth or other stuif, whereby they incur penalties of £5 and 40s.

A Swindells connection

In Norbury, south of Stockport, William Swindels is described in the church registers as a Button Wood Turner in 1727, and a button mold turner in 1730. John Swindels is a Button Mould Turner in 1737 and Samuel Swindels a Button Mould Turner from 1773 - 1780. In 1815 William Swindels is a Mould Thrower. Thus the craft appears appears to have been passed down in the family.

"One button mould thrower or turner is mentioned in Poynton in a deed of 1730. In the parish registers 1723-1812 there were mentioned 13 in Bosden and Norbury and one in Poynton. These turned the wooden discs on which were sewn silk or other fabrics to form finished buttons to be used in garment manufacture by tailors and dressmakers. The craft seems to have died out by mid nineteenth century."
Poynton A Coalmining Village - from Poynton A Coalmining Village; social history, transport and industry 1700 - 1939, by W.H.Shercliff, D.A.Kitching and J.M.Ryan, published by W.H.Shercliff, 1983. ISBN 0 9508761 0 0