At first glance, the object, left, might appear to be an exotic piece of modern art, destined to dominate a large gallery wall. But the enlargement is deceiving. In fact, it's an 18th c. button, about an inch in diameter, and 250 years ago it (and twenty or so twins) likely decorated the front of a costly English or French gentleman's coat.
This button is an extreme example of a wrapped button (click on the image to enlarge for detail.) Sometimes called Leek buttons or death head buttons, wrapped buttons like this one are small masterpieces of patience, precision, and geometry.
button on the top of this hat.) The most elaborate examples, like this one using metallic thread over a colored foil backing, are so complicated that it would be almost impossible to replicate. Perhaps even more daunting is the back of the button, right, that shows how neatly all those metallic threads are secured with linen.
Many wrapped buttons were made as a cottage-industry, both in rural areas and in cities, and others could be made by tailors. A button like this one, however, was most likely made by a specialist craftsman. In our mass-produced modern world, it's hard to imagine devoting each work day to such painstaking – and beautiful – creation.
See here for another example of a beautiful 18th c. button.
This button was spotted on eBay by historical seamstress, scholar, and re-enactor Hallie Larkin. We're grateful to her for posting photographs of the button first on her blog – one of our favorites!