In 2006 the focus of the main button cabinet in the Button Room is the enamel buttons in Myra’s collection. Enameled buttons are created by using powdered glass of different colors, adhering them to a metal of choice, creating various designs and firing them in a kiln. There are four types of enameled buttons. The four techniques used to create the various designs are champlevé, cloisonné, plique-à-jour, and basse-taille enameling.
Champlevé is made from a metal with indentations placed on the metal and the powdered glass is then placed into each of these cavities and fired at a high temperature in a kiln. There may be repeated firings to achieve the desired design. Often the back is also fired in order that the face metal will not shrink/crack because of the differences on the front and back of the piece.
Cloisonné enamel is achieved by adhering wires (cloisons) to the metal to form the design on the face of the piece. Each of the wired areas are filled with colored glass powder and then fired. As in most enameling where high temperatures are used the back as well as the front may by fired, usually with a plain color. Please note the large blue vases on display with the buttons, they are cloisonné enameling.
Basse-taille enameling was very popular before the turn of the 20th century in Russia. It was the technique used by Carl Fabergé, designer of the famous Fabergé eggs created for Czar Nicholas and his Czarina. The technique uses a stamped metal in a very intricate design with transparent colored glass powder fired over this design. There are many examples on cuff buttons in the Keep Homestead Museum cabinet. These cuff buttons were very popular in the 1920s and 1930s and were part of most men’s jewelry. They were created using copper, brass, white metal as well as the more exotic metals.
Plique-à-jour is the last of the four main techniques of enameling and is rarely used in the making of buttons. The reason for this is that it is more likely to break than the other three methods. Powdered glass is fired in a metal type frame. The effect is that of a stained glass window in miniature. We have found only one example here at the Keep. Please note that it is on the card of Special Buttons, the glass is turquoise blue. There is also another known button in a private collection, but the color of the glass is sapphire blue.
Ginbari enameling is another type that we have on display at the museum. Myra had them on a card of her mosaic buttons and it was recarded exactly as she had them. You will have to look at the mosaic buttons to find them. Ask for assistance if you cannot see them. They were popular in Japan. To achieve the glow under the enamel a thin foil was adhered to the metal and then the powdered glass was applied and fired. There are six beautiful examples in Myra’s collection.
Painted enamel buttons were very popular in France, Limoges being one the first to embrace this type of enameling. It consists of powdered glass and a liquid being painted on the surface of the piece. It was allowed to dry and then fired in a kiln. It went through many firings to achieve the beautiful buttons that we see here on display. There are several sub-techniques that fall under this type of enameling as well, but that is another story!
The Big Book of Buttons, Lester & Hughes
The Encyclopedia of Buttons, Sally Luscomb
Discussion About Enameled Buttons on the Button Byte Chatroom [link?]