I have seen many buttons pulled out of the ground by many metal detectorists throughout my life. But rarely are any as decorative and spectacular as the dandy button! These large decorative buttons are in a class all their own. These buttons were worn by specific people for a specific reason, and we can still find them today with our metal detectors.
So, what makes dandy buttons so special? How are they different than any other buttons we find metal detecting? Well, there are a few reasons they are different. They are larger than most buttons, they are decorative, and they are not as commonly found as other types of buttons. Continue reading this article for a more in-depth look at the dandy button and its rather interesting history!
What is a Dandy Button?
A dandy was a man who placed great importance on physical appearance, refinement, and leisurely hobbies. During the late 18th and early 19th century, these British men were often self-made and strove to imitate the aristocratic lifestyles of the upper class, despite their often middle-class backgrounds. This practice, termed dandyism, appeared in revolutionary London and Paris in the 1790s. As a fun side note, during the end of the 19th century, American dandies were called dudes.
The term Dandy Button seems to have been coined by British collectors and refers to the decorative and often large buttons found on elegant coats of gentlemen, or dandies, from the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Most literature regarding button history in the United States simply refers to these buttons as gilt copper buttons or large, flat copper buttons. The term Dandy Buttons has been gaining more traction in the US in the past 15 years or so and is now a more common term used to describe these decorative buttons.
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Dates for Colonial Dandy Buttons?
Colonial Dandy Buttons were popular in Europe and America and were used for many years. They reached the height of their popularity in the latter part of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century.
Some English sources state that dandy buttons were first introduced in the 1400s, and their popularity died out in the 1800s. These early dandy buttons would not likely be found in the United States, however. Later dandy buttons, from the 1700s and 1800s are the most common buttons found in the States.
What are Dandy Buttons Made of?
Dandy buttons were traditionally made of copper or a copper alloy. Most U.S. button literature refers to these buttons as gilt copper buttons or large, flat copper buttons. Most copper alloys use a combination of copper, zinc, magnesium, iron, nickel, aluminum, and even tin, depending on the materials used. This alloy mixture kept the buttons stronger and helped them not deteriorate. Therefore, many are in such good condition when they are dug out of the ground.
How Can you Tell How Old a Dandy Button is?
Typically, if a large, flat dandy button is 30 millimeters in diameter or larger, it will date from 1770 to 1795, but these were used heavily until at least 1815. Transitional buttons, between 18 and 30 millimeters in diameter are generally dated from 1795 to 1805. Smaller gilt buttons took over as the most used buttons after that date range.
You can easily check the size of your found buttons using a dollar coin. Dollar coins are approximately 26 millimeters in diameter. If your button is larger than that, it may be a dandy button. If it is slightly smaller, it may still be a transitional dandy.
Most dandy buttons will not only be large, but they will have intricate designs on them. These large, decorative buttons were meant to be a fashion statement, and as such, came with intricate designs. Dandies I have seen have images of leaves, stars, hexagons, patterns reminiscent of the sun, and other patterns inlaid on the front of the button. Some dandy buttons will have a clear design on them, while on others it will be more difficult to see the pattern. This is highly dependent on the condition of the button when it is found.
The shank of a button can also help you date it. Most dandy buttons will have a one-piece eye and button shank design. This means the eye, or place where the button is sewn onto a garment, and the button is one solid piece, rather than the eye being separately added to the button. This was a common button shank from 1750 to 1812, and most dandy buttons fall into this date range.
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How Do I Know If I Have Found a Dandy Button?
If you have found a button while metal detecting and you are not sure if it is a dandy, you have some options for help. You can find several forums online that can help you identify your button. Metal detecting forums can be a great resource for help identifying finds. They typically have sub-topics so you can post your find under “Buttons,” or something similar. You can also reach out to local antique dealers as they may be able to help identify your button.
Another great option is a local metal detecting club. Metal detecting club members are great at helping you identify finds. Many have found similar items, and if they have not, they know about finds that are typically found in an area. Do some research online for a metal detecting club near you and see if you can sit in on one of their meetings. If you like the atmosphere, consider joining. Clubs have a lot of benefits for members.
If all else fails, consider the tips in this article. Is your button larger than a dollar coin? Is it made of copper or a copper alloy? Does it have an intricate design on the front and an eye shank on the back? Then it is likely a dandy button.
What is a “Dandies” Worth?
Dandy buttons vary in price depending on their condition and where they are being sold. Some sellers on sites like Etsy sell collections of old buttons, including dandies, for around $100, while other sellers on sites like eBay are selling single dandy buttons for $200. One Canadian seller on eBay has a dandy listed for just $6! The prices vary wildly, as do the conditions of the buttons.
If you intend to shop for a dandy button on the internet, always do your research before you buy the item. Ask for additional information and additional pictures to ensure you are getting the item you want. If you plan to sell your own dandy buttons, ensure you are selling them for a fair price and that you are not going too low. These are not incredibly common, so do some research as to the prices they typically go for before listing yours for sale.
|Button Example Found||Value of Button in USD|
|Example 1 – Copper Dandy (link to eBay may have sold)||$15.75|
|Example 2 – Copper Gilded (link to eBay may have sold)||$15.75|
|Example 3 – Copper Ally (link to eBay may have sold)||$9.69|
|Example 4 – Rare Missing Loop (link to eBay may have sold)||$10.91|
|Example 5 – Stunning Copper (link to eBay may have sold)||$20.60|
|Example 6 – Lovely Bronze (link to eBay may have sold)||$15.75|
|Example 7 – Rare Complete Copper (link to eBay may have sold)||$20.60|
You may want to seek the advice of an antique dealer, or a button connoisseur before you list your buttons for sale. These professionals can give you a proper quote for your items and let you know their true value. They can also help you value them if you would like to insure them and keep them. Some may be worth quite a bit while others may not be worth so much.
How to Care for Old Buttons
One of the first things you will want to do when you find an old button is to clean it up. You may be reaching for the old tried and true soap and water because it is one of the gentlest cleaning solutions, right? Well, that is not the case with old buttons. Soap and water can remove the contrast between button corrosion and surface dirt making the surface and back mark the same color and thus, more difficult to read.
The first step is to lay your buttons on a dry, soft cloth. If you have dug the button out of the dirt, wait for the dirt to dry completely before you attempt to clean it. Use a soft-bristled brush to remove any surface dirt. Next, use a dry toothpick to clean the button. Hold it at an angle, and slowly and carefully take the dirt away in layers, using the toothpick to get into all the grooves. The toothpick will be gentle enough to leave the button’s natural patina intact.
Never use anything like acids or baking soda on copper items like dandy buttons. Although some acids, like lemon juice, are quite mild, they and baking soda will ruin the patina on copper items. This can significantly alter their value and can ultimately ruin the item. With dandy buttons always stick to the dry toothpick method. It may take longer, but it will keep the item intact and retain its original patina.
If you wish to display your dandy buttons, there are a few ways to do this. You can put them in a wall display. Take a piece of cardstock or other stiff material like cardboard. Use a sharp object to pierce the material enough for the eye of the button to go through. Use a pipe cleaner in the eye of the button or other soft item to keep the button in place on the cardstock.
You can also display them in a case on a flat surface or shadow box. Use a piece of soft foam material to fit the interior. Cut the foam deep enough to accommodate the button shank. Place the button into the cuts and they are on display for all to see and for you to enjoy!
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- Can you Metal Detect in the Winter – Yes but read this article to learn the tips and tricks.
- Metal Detecting Digging Tools Complete Guide – Digging is part of metal detecting get the tools to do it right.
Dandy buttons are a great piece of British and American history. They are large, flat, decorative buttons used by “dandies” on their coats to show their appreciation of fashion, and, to some degree, their discontent with the English class system. Buttons are always a great find with your metal detector, but these large decorative buttons are a fantastic find for any detectorist.
Be sure you take great care when cleaning any dandy buttons. They are made from copper alloy, which is relatively resistant to damage. But they can still be damaged if you use heavy cleaners, acids, or other harsh chemicals or hard bristled brushes on them.
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.