Large tombac button with an engraved image of a horse-drawn coach, $5000 (£4000) at Lion and Unicorn.

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Some of the world’s most desirable buttons were offered for sale at Lion and Unicorn (25% buyer’s premium) in Hollywood, Florida.

Helpfully tagged as the rarest button in the auction’ was an 18th century engraved copper example sporting a profile portrait of William of Orange. Although dated 1688 (the year of the so-called Glorious Revolution), this was probably made a century later to mark the anniversary of the Protestant succession.

The legend reads Pro Libertate (For Liberty). One of a number of rare copper pictorials offered from the collection of Harry Case of Missouri, it had a mighty guide of $5000-8000 on April 10 but sold a little short at $2800 (£2200).


Large 18th century engraved copper button of William of Orange $2800 (£2200) at Lion and Unicorn.

Instead, the top price of the sale was reserved for a large tombac (brass and zinc alloy) button with an engraved image of a horse-drawn coach (pictured top). The cataloguer waxed lyrically about the skill of the engraver and bidders agreed. It sold at $5000 (£4000).


Late 18th century copper and watercolour on ivory mourning button, $2300 (£1850) at Lion and Unicorn.

Also from the Case collection were a large two-colour copper mourning button set with a watercolour on ivory scene of a lady by a funerary urn, c.1790, and a large early 18th century brass button with a foil backed reverse-painted image of a butterfly. Both in good condition, they sold at $2600 (£1850) and $1900 (£1500) respectively.


Large early 18th century blue foil backed butterfly button, $1900 (£1500) at Lion and Unicorn.

Deluxe item

Another rarity was an extra-large cut brass and steel picture button meticulously worked with a Commedia dell’arte scene of Punchinello and Harlequin. Sold at $1000 (£800), this is the very button pictured in the Big Book of Buttons by Elizabeth Hughes and Marion Lester - the collecting guide that is itself something of a collector’s item today.


Extra-large 19th century brass and steel Punchinello and Harlequin button, $1000 (£800) at Lion and Unicorn.

When the first button collections were formed in the early 20th century the focus was very much on these deluxe items from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Today some of the buttons made during the Art Deco period are equally sought after.

Sold here at $3200 (£2550) was a large silver and sepia tinted glass button by Lalique. Moulded with the image of a nymph picking flowers, Floret is one of six button designs René Lalique produced.


René Lalique silver and sepia tinted glass button, $3200 (£2550) at Lion and Unicorn.

Go supersize

The National Button Society formed in 1938 has a series of guidelines on the classification of antique buttons according to size, date, type and status. All are laid down in the Official NBS Classification System handbook (fondly known as the Blue Book) that is still provided to each new member.

‘Large’ buttons are classified as those measuring between 1¼-1¾in.

‘Extra-large’ versions are those that are over 1¾in.