Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gifts of Grandeur: A Gentleman's Buttons, 1795

The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the late 18th century, men's fashion dictated that his coat and waistcoat could be adorned with sparkling buttons. These expensive items were often used repeatedly, re-sown on different garments. Cut-steel buttons were very fashionable, but also very costly--set with faceted studs designed to sparkle and reflect light.

The most celebrated maker of cut-steel jewelry at the end of the Eighteenth Century was Matthew Boulton who was in partnership with John Fothergill from 1762 to 1781 and James Watt from 1775 to 1800. Boulton's pattern books show many pages of designs which cost up to 28 guineas for a full set of cut-steel buttons.

Such was the fashion that 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.

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