Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Button, Button--Who's Got the Original Button?

Original 1910 B.S. OF A. buttons
made by the Waterbury Button Company, Cheshire, CT

In our research to outfit our Centennial Celebration Team with authentic 1910 uniforms and equipment, the question about buttons came up recently. The first Army-type uniform coats and shirts offered to the fledgling Boy Scouts of America came equipped with military style brass buttons with the letters "B. S. OF A." surrounding a British-style fleur de lis above a banner labeled "Be Prepared." Most buttons of the 1911-1920 period were stamped on the back with the Sigmund Eisner Company name, the same company in Red Bank, NJ that supplied the U.S. Army with its military uniforms. A few months later a more Americanized First Class Emblem design was substituted for the British version; by 1914, the letters B.S. OF A. were removed leaving just the Boy Scouts of America symbol every Scout is familiar with today.

Thus, button types are a handy indicator of age and authenticity of early Scout uniforms in collections of Scouting memorbilia and offered on eBay. But buying up enough antique buttons to outfit our Centennial Celebration Team's reproduction uniforms--each coat requires 5 3/4" buttons and 4 5/8" pocket buttons--could call for an economic stimulus package all on its own!

Googleing 'military button suppliers' produced several thousand hits which eventually led us to the Waterbury Button Company, a division of OGS Technologies Inc. in Chesire, CT. The Waterbury Button Company has been a major supplier of metal buttons for military, fire and police uniforms since before the Civil War, and if anyone had the brass to make our 1910-style Boy Scout buttons, they surely could do it. A timid call to their Customer Service Department revealed they could make stamping dies for any design we cared to submit but first they would check their die archives to see if they had made a similar Boy Scout item some time in the past.

A few days later, the Customer Service Department called again and said they had found the dies, in two sizes, that were used to make the original 1910 buttons! All they needed from us was quantities and sizes and finishes desired and, after 99 years, they could begin production again!

As Paul Harvey was fond of saying at the end of his newscasts, "And that is the rest of the [button] story!

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