Jerusalem Pearls

Jerusalem Pearls are 20th century hand-carved mother of pearl (MOP) buttons from the Holy Land. Several cards of these have been discovered at the Keep Homestead Museum and have been placed on display. There are several pieces of jewelry, in addition to the buttons.

These buttons are sometimes known as Bethlehem Pearls or Jordan Pearls. Perhaps it would be better to call them simply Holy Land Pearls. These buttons were primarily made in the 1940s and 1950s and there are several Bethlehem and Jordan Buttons pictured in The Big Book of Buttons. In Sally Luscomb’s The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons (p. 112), they are referred to as “Jordan Pearl Buttons made in Bethlehem during the twentieth century.” The buttons range in size from 3/4 inch to over 1 1/2 inches. According to this source there are over one hundred different patterns. The art form has been in existence for many years. They are carved from imported mother of pearl shells. The earlier ones have much finer detail.

There seem to be many of these buttons available in the marketplace, but very little information is known about them. However, on the button display cards themselves there are additional information about these hand-carved buttons from the Holy Land. Many of the designs focus on religious themes particularly the cross, all kinds of crosses—crosses that have been combined with other items as well as crosses all by themselves.

We also know that this type of hand-carving has been in existence for some time. The earliest carvings tend to have much finer detail, thus helping us to date some of these finely carved buttons. The mother of pearl shells are imported to Jerusalem, as they are not indigenous to the area. Most of these buttons have a glowing sheen. Rare buttons are found with mother of pearl combined with abalone—these are especially beautiful.

There is an article at the Keep Homestead Museum about an internationally known artist, Ben Stahl. He has won many awards for his artwork including the coveted Saltus Gold Medal of the National Academy of Design. He researched the designs for his artwork by going to Jerusalem and walking the very streets where Jesus carried the cross, to help him capture the drama and color of the Holy Land. His aim was to bring alive the momentous hours in the history of mankind for people of all faiths, all creeds, and from every walk of life.

Although these buttons have been referred to primarily as Jerusalem Pearls, perhaps now that more of their history is known, it would be better to refer to them as “Holy Land Pearls.” Whatever their name, they are beautifully hand-carved and a tribute to buttons made in the twentieth century.

Written by Jacquie Hatton, February 5, 2000
Revised: May 13, 2001

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