So, you have been metal detecting and come upon a flat button with some sort of maker’s mark on the back side. You do a bit of cleaning to reveal the button says, “Imperial Standard.” What does this mark mean? How old is this button? What is it made from?
I can tell you from experience, there is not a whole lot of reference material on this type of button online. Some metal detecting forums have photos of similar buttons found, but I cannot find much information about manufacturers who traditionally used these words on the back of their buttons.
So, what are these buttons? How old are they? What are they made of? Continue reading to find out more information (albeit sparing) about imperial standard buttons!
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What is an Imperial Standard Button?
An imperial standard button is a type of flat button. Rather than being cast in a mold, this type of button was made from rolled metal and flattened in a press. Imperial standard buttons will have the words “Imperial (dot Standard (dot)” on the back side.
The front side of imperial standard flat buttons is typically ornate. I have seen a button featuring a horn with stars, said to be from a rifleman’s coat. I have also seen one with an eagle and the word “Excelsior” on the front from an 1800s New York Militia uniform. Another ornate imperial standard flat button features an inner circle with a rosette center, and a unique, but indistinguishable, design around the rosette.
Many types of flat buttons were decorative, so they had ornate designs on them. Others were simply clean metal buttons with no design. Imperial standard buttons, from my experience, tend to be more ornate and decorative. This makes me think they are most likely from military uniforms, militia uniforms, and the like.
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What are Imperial Standard Buttons Made Of?
Imperial standard flat buttons are typically made of a copper alloy, like brass. Brass is an alloy containing copper and zinc. The amount of zinc and other elements added gives the buttons their unique color. Each type of flat button had a formula used to keep the colors of the buttons relatively close.
Some contained more zinc, which would give the buttons a silvery tone. Some contained more copper which would give the buttons a redder shade. Most brass, including buttons, is a yellow-gold color.
The brass roll was flattened in a press, then a shank was added to fasten the button to a piece of clothing like a coat or dress.
Most flat buttons were cast in brass and copper, with some more expensive and fancier buttons cast in gold, pewter, and sterling silver. These more valuable metal buttons would have been reserved for military officers, and wealthy men. Brass and copper are the most common flat button materials, and the most commonly found.
How Can You Tell How Old an Imperial Standard Button Is?
This type of flat button dates from the mid1700s through the early 1840s. Single piece brass flat buttons with back marks that are raised date from around 1790 to the mid-1830s. Indented lettering, as is evidenced on the back of most Imperial Standard buttons, started around 1810.
You may need to gently clean your button with a very soft polishing cloth and water to see what type of metal the button is made from. Never clean a button with harsh detergents or brushes.
Check the shank on the backside of your button. The Imperial Standard flat button has what is known as an “Omega” shank on the back. This shank is shaped like the Greek letter Omega and is soldered onto the back of flat disc buttons. This shank type is also called a loop shank. This simply means the shank was added after the button was made, rather than it being part of the button itself. This type of shank is most commonly found post-1800.
What are Imperial Standard Buttons Worth?
Buttons with Imperial Standard on the back can range in price depending on condition. Flat buttons fetching the highest price will be those made from more precious metals like gold and silver. The buttons stamped “imperial standard” are typically brass or copper, so they will be worth less. If the shank is intact, and the words and front pattern are visible, the price will be higher as well. Damaged buttons sell for much less than those in good condition.
Most of the buttons I was able to find range from about $45 to $75. Have a look at this eBay listing for a militia button with imperial standard on the back side: NY Militia Button, and this federal rifleman’s coat button: Rifleman’s Coat Button
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How to Care for Old Buttons
After finding a flat button, it is important to carefully clean the button to search for a maker’s mark or some other distinguishable features. One of the best, and most gentle ways to clean dirt off a button is to use a dry toothpick. After you have done some initial rinsing with water and a very soft cloth, let the button dry.
Now, take a dry toothpick and etch away dirt in layers. Keep the dirt inside any grooves, at least initially, to make it easier to read or see a pattern. After the maker’s mark and/or design is visible, you can use a little oil from your skin to darken the contrast on the button’s surface.
You an also long soak your buttons in distilled water. This is especially helpful when buttons that have most of their original gilt. Some people use aluminum jellies to coat and clean buttons. You can certainly do this but do so carefully so as not to remove any gilding or patina.
When storing your old buttons, you want to ensure the shank will not be bent and the button will be clean and dry. Using a shadow box, like a picture frame, is a great way to contain old buttons. You can get a piece of foam to insert inside the box (this also works for a regular box that you will not hang on the wall, but will essentially hold all your buttons).
Cut small slits in the foam and insert the shank into the slit. If the button is not secured in the foam, you can use a pipe cleaner through the shank to secure the button in place on the foam. You can also store them in old ring boxes. Be sure to take care not to damage the shanks!
Ensure you keep your buttons in an area where they will remain dry and safe. Keeping them in boxes, or shadow boxes, makes it easy to take them with you if you want to show them to someone, or are planning to sell them to a local vendor.
Old flat buttons are a great piece of history. They can be found in locations all over the United States and Europe (other countries too, no doubt). Most of these buttons are from the 1700s and 1800s and will be found in larger quantities on the eastern portion of the United States.
I was unable to find a single manufacturer who made button with the words “imperial standard” on the back. Some sources state the buttons were most likely manufactured in England. This cannot be fully confirmed, but the dates seem to fit well with this theory. British button makers were in much larger quantity than those in early America.
Despite the lack of information about these buttons, they seem to commonly range from the early 1800s to the 1840s. The bulk of them seem to be from military or militia uniforms, so they were definitely decorative buttons made to adorn the wearer. These buttons are a great piece of history!
Looking for some “How To” metal detecting articles? I’ve got you covered
- Metal Detecting Digging Tools – Tells you all about shovels, scoops and how to dig a plug.
- Where are the Best Places for a Beginner to Metal Detect? – Just like the title says, this article points the beginner to the highest probability places.
- Can You Metal Detect on BLM Land? – So many people have asked me about BLM detecting I had to write this article.
David Humphries, Writer and Creator of METAL DETECTING TIPS. After borrowing my son’s detector and finding $.25. I felt like a treasure hunter. FREE MONEY! I was seriously bitten by the metal detecting bug.