As I have researched this particular button subject, I have come across several designations for these types of buttons. However, in Sally Luscomb’s book, The Encyclopedia of Buttons, she states that all buttons with pictures on their face should be called picture buttons. Those that refer to some subject matter from a fable, story, opera, or theater should also be known as storybook buttons. Visualize, if you will, any picture in your mind (excluding geometric shapes, designs, or other symbols) and you have a picture button. Picture buttons come in all kinds of shapes, as well as in many different materials. In Myra’s button collection an attempt will be made to include as many different types of picture buttons in as many different materials as are available in the collection.
Metal picture buttons were first made in the 19th century, mostly during 1880–1900. If you have one of these buttons and many were produced, you may not be able to identify its exact age. Many have been re-issued as well as reproduced because of their extreme popularity. Everyone wanted a copy of these buttons for their collections. The Big Book of Buttons by Hughes and Lester is extremely helpful in being able to name these picture buttons. However, there are many out there that will remain nameless until such time as they are identified. Many metals were used in addition to these popular brass buttons. Silver was used to mold some truly beautiful picture buttons and very often the mark used identifies the time of its manufacture and country of origin. The popular gilt buttons of the 1840s are NOT considered picture buttons although some of the face designs contain pictures. They must be referred to as “Golden Age” buttons if made in the U.S.
Porcelain buttons have had pictures of flowers, animals, and people for many years. Liverpool transfers are just one example; usually classical heads are the subject matter. Interestingly enough is the fact that they are probably called Liverpool transfers because the technique used to transfer the picture was first developed in Liverpool. It is believed the buttons were manufactured elsewhere, but retain that name.