Woman's Head

Brass MSBS Button from 1946

French Revolution







York County Button Club

NEWSLETTER - Volume 5 Issue 7 - July 2009

A Letter from the Editor:

The last issue of the YCBC Newsletter was Volume 2 Issue 12 December 2006. I applaud Em Bentleys efforts of publishing the newsletter for a year by herself. It is my hope that she and others will help me try and restart the newsletter. I am using Volume 5 Issue 7 as the restart edition to be consistent with the initial start-up edition. With that said, I will try and follow Em’s format and continue to report on information that is shared at our meetings, and anything else that may be of interest to our club and the button collectors in general. I have never edited a newsletter so I ask everyone’s patience with my attempt.


Lately, as the club has increased in membership we have found it necessary to acquire a larger meeting place, and have settled on the Springvale Library in Springvale, Maine. To compensate the Library, each meeting the members make a nominal donation to the Library. Our July meeting was held at the Springvale Library, and will continue to be our gathering place, except when invited to other destinations, or we plan an exciting field trip.

Those attending were: Ruth Leipold, Mary Markley, John Markley, Emmalyn Bently, Ruth Harju, June Mitchell, Pat Wolfe, Jane MacLean, Jackie Neuts, Doris Brown, Susan Brown, Debra Byron, Nancy Craig, Jill Hallen, Leona Hansen, Hanna Jacoby, and Carol Broadbent.

In the past The York County Club has been more of a social gathering of friends that are interested in “The World of Buttons”. Today we find ourselves becoming a more disciplined forum and have elected to induce short presentations on subjects of interest to our fellow Buttoneers. A scheduling of these Projects and Presentations will be listed in our Newsletter and their contents will also be reproduced. The Aug meeting will feature a presentation by Mary Markley on Modern Glass Buttons. The Sept Meeting will be held at Judy Hurst’s in Ocean Park Old Orchard Beach. Judy, also, offered to have our Aug meeting at her family’s business at “Fun Town USA” in Saco.

This month’s project was preparing for the MSBS July show, which is hosted by our York County Club. The Subject for this year’s Show is “Satsuma Buttons”. Although no formal presentation was given at this month’s meeting; The Newsletter has assembled information pertaining to the Shows Subject which has been included to enlighten all on this interesting subject.

Please let me know what you would like covered in this newsletter, feel free to contribute, and let me know if you would like changes to the format.

John Markley


Description from The Big Book of Buttons By Elizabeth Hughes & Marion Lester

“Satsuma” is a type of pottery made by the Japanese for export in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of it was not made at Satsuma, however, but at Kyoto, and from there was sent to Tokyo to be decorated. It is characterized by a cream colored body and an ivory-white crackle glaze. It is decorated in fired colors over the glaze and in early examples, is much encrusted with gold. Satsuma ware began to come into the West in late 1860’s after Commodore Perry had opened Japan to trade. It is not known when the buttons were made but most of the fine, older examples date from around the turn-of-the-century. The earlier buttons have thick and rather heavy bodies with self-shanks, some having a curved hole, which must be sewn with a curved needle. Several Satsuma buttons mounted to show the backs on plate 6 page 22. The design most commonly of flowers, people, dragons, Birds, and Japanese scenes, are drawn in fine detail with a background of gold dots. There is often some gold detailing which may have quite perceptible thickness or encrustation on portions of the design. A few older buttons were set in silver-like metal, probably paktong, but some pieces set in metal and which were originally belt buckles or hat pins, have been converted buttons, so that large, metal-set Satsuma buttons should be examined carefully. On many of the older buttons the back and front edge are colored with underglaze blue. Occasionally the entire button may be treated this way as in numbers 3 and 6 shown opposite.

Satsuma buttons are not being made today. The quality of the decoration on more recent buttons is inferior to those made prior to the First World War. Usually this alone is sufficient to distinguish old from new, but there are some differences. Newer buttons are much lighter, and the edge of the shank is usually quite sharp. It is always rough and rounded in the older specimens. The background of tiny dots is almost never found on newer buttons and the gold is never encrusted. Some Satsuma buttons were custom made for collectors in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The quality is quite high but the absence of gold dots and encrustation, the lighter feel and sharp edge shank will usually give a clue to their more recent origin. The designs are frequently western in inspiration, such as zodiacs (Western), cats, dogs, horses etc. as opposed to the traditional Oriental designs found on the older buttons. (see page 3 MODERN SATSUMA BUTTONS)

Note: The buttons illustrated below are all examples of older Satsuma from the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

Note: The buttons illustrated above are identified by number and include a brief description. The values are 1981 prices.

1. A floral design of wisteria and tree peony. Gold is used sparingly to outline the design and as finely dotted background. The button is signed on right. $55.00

2. Another floral design with delicate coloring and with gold used as background and to outline the design. This example has a self shank with a curved hole. $65.00

3. Both back and front are colored with underglaze cobalt blue. Tree peony decoration, gold border and background of heavily encrusted gold. $55.00

4. A typical design of Japanese iris, birds, and butterflies. $35.00

5. Japanese noblewoman, with back and border of underglaze blue. Satsuma buttons decorated with human figures are scarcer than floral designs, so are somewhat more desirable. $75.00

6. In this example, the entire button is covered with deep cobalt blue underglaze and the wisteria decoration is rendered entirely in gold. $30.00

7. A dragon, heavily encrusted with gold. The five-sided “lotus” shape is found occasionally, but is comparatively scarce. Satsuma buttons are usually round. $30.00

8. Another delicately colored floral design, this one is of wisteria and iris, with a gold-decorated blue border and blue back. $65.00

9. Butterfly and flowers with a background of exceptionally fine gold dots and cobalt blue back. $18.50

10. garden Scene. This example is from a set of six found in England. The wicker garden chair appears at lower right on three buttons and lower left on the remaining three. $35.00

11. Japanese iris, a very common subject on Satsuma buttons. The button has an underglaze blue black and border with encrusted gold on the iris leaves. $40.00

12. A scene including mountains, lake, house, and trees with fine gold outline. $18.50


By Gordon Sevier in the Nov. 1952 (Volume 11 – Number 6) National Button Society Bulletin

“Have you had the experience of paying a high price for a fine, “old” Satsuma button only to have some one say. “Oh, that’s not old. You can get all kinds at the Oriental Shop on X Street?” This is the logical place to indignantly reply. “ Of course it’s old. This is the god of happiness and everyone knows that only the floral patterns are modern.” Don’t be too quick to prove the critics wrong for they may be only too right.

There are factories in Japan today that will make to order any pattern, pictorial or conventional, even to include the heretofore-foolproof identification cross-in-circle mark of old Satsuma.

I recently had correspondence with a Japanese boy living in a small city in southern Japan. I had asked him to look for old Satsuma buttons and stressed the point that they must have pictorial subjects: gods, ladies, insects, etc. His reply was quite a revelation. Satsuma buttons are not a part of the native Japanese scene and are usually found only in the larger cities where tourist trade is heaviest. As they are made principally for export, the average Japanese is completely unaware of their existence; such was the case of Harumi of Kumamoto City. With typical thoroughness he went to the CIE library, a library exclusively for the use of Japanese, and secured the complete Button Book (Albert & Kent) to learn of the Satsuma button.

Using this as a guide he started his search. He soon found that the fine, old Satsuma button was practically non-existent but that modern version were being made for export. He obtained from the Japan Fine Arts& Industrial Arts Export Co., Ltd., 34 Nakayamate-dori 6, Kobe City, Japan, a sample card showing the various sizes and designs available is standard export stock. The factory told him that they were not made by mechanically printing the design, but were finished one-by-one by individual painters engaged in that particular business.

The price depended upon the fineness of the work done. The very ordinary ones, which are made for standard export, were priced as follows: ½ inch – 30 yen (about 9 cents); 1 inch – 35 yen (10cents); 2 inch – 40 yen (11 cents). They also informed him finer Satsuma could be made to order according to whatever bit of subject matter the purchaser wanted. These would be more expensive, but with the rate of exchange being about 360 yen to the U. S. dollar they would be still comparatively inexpensive.

The original Satsuma was made in Kagoshima province and by rights only pieces presently made there should bear the honored mark. Still we must remember that copies or forged marks are an Oriental custom and that button-makers elsewhere will feel free to use the cross-in-circle.

With this information to add to the confusion of dating our buttons and with old factory stock made just prior to W.W.II. now being exported from Japan, we must be doubly careful where and from whom we purchase our Oriental Buttons. I have not had the opportunity of placing an order for the “Special” Satsumas but perhaps a comparison of known old with the current will teach us to be experts.

Presented to the Tri-County Button Club

By Harriet Davis

Who is That Lady?

Written by Tom Horne in the December 2005 National Button Society Bulletin

You are probably familiar with her image as more than a few of us have searched her out on buttons, especially on Satsumas, where she was most often a representative of Japanese women during a certain period in history. Paintings depicting the everyday life and customs of the people go back to the 8th to 12th centuries, but most were painted on paper doors and screens, there are few in existence today

To meet our lady one has to go back to the 16th century and the Japanese art called Ukiyo-e, pictures of the floating world. In the Buddhist sense of “floating” it means transient, the world of everyday life and especially of pleasure-theater, dancing, love, or festivals. These works depicting the common man at work and play became very popular and unified the lower classes who began to take more pride in their work.

A popular Japanese ruler in 1603, created a new social system of four classes: warrior, farmer, artisan, and merchant.

The warrior class ruled the land and protected the people, the farmers cultivated rice, which was the main food, and the basis of the economic structure; artisans created various products that made life more comfortable. The merchant class and townspeople were at the bottom because they simply sold goods and handled money. The merchant class, however, son reached the top financially because they handled everything produced throughout the country. So the business people became the recipients of all the profits derived from the property of the military class and the products of the artisan class. However, they had nowhere to spend their money freely except in the pleasure quarters with the courtesans and the woman in the Kubuki Theater.

At this time the history of gay quarters in Tokyo began although these houses of pleasure had already been in existence for some time. As a result of the current ruler’s huge city construction program, men greatly outnumbered women in the city, thus bringing about great prosperity and growth for male entertainment facilities. It wasn’t long before these gay quarters grew out of all reasonable proportions and corrupted public morals as clever businessmen took advantage of the situation. An appeal was made to set up segregated districts for these institutions of pleasure. Because there were so many strict customs to be observed and so many expenses to be met for a night of pleasure, the average middle-class man at the end of the 17th century could not possibly have been able to afford even one night a year at a teahouse. Later on when tea stalls, an abbreviated version of a teahouse, became popular, men found it less troublesome and more relaxing to drop by for tea and light conversation, than to go to the trouble and expense of a trip to the gay quarters.

Around 1760 some artist replaced the common housewives and children with Geisha, the rise of the Geisha’s prominence beginning with widespread appearance of restaurant – teahouses. The word Geisha literally translates to “arts person” or “one trained in arts” ( gei = art, sha = person). It is also sometime described as “women of arts”. They made a living entertaining with song and dance with out resorting to prostitution.

Woman of the gay quarters were educated in literature, the performing arts, and personal appearance to a degree that on ordinary woman could ever hope to attain. Thus, the men of the day idolized them as paragons of feminine beauty and accomplishment. As a result famous beauties of the gay quarters were the first model for Ukiyo-e paintings and prints, which soon became popular among the lower classes. Soon, there was a desire to mass-produce them and the convenient way was by block print. These were produced during a period of 250 years. During this period, there were of course numerous artists as well as many changes and developments in printing techniques. Other subjects covered were actors, Sumo wrestlers, landscapes, flowers, and birds.

An artist by the name of Kitagawa Utamaro had a particularly long lasting effect when he began producing prints of the upper body only on concentrating on the face. He expressed the idealized beauty of women, using fewest possible lines and colors. He tried to not only express physical beauty, but the thoughts hidden deep in the hearts of his subjects. His woman came from all walks of life, not only courtesans, but Geisha, tea-stall waitresses, housewives, and children. Rita Carol pictures one of his most famous prints called “Reverie of love” on a fabric button.

Around the turn of the century, there was a decline in the artistry of prints, which was attributed to the artist’s desire to please the public. During these troubled times, groups were working to overthrow the government, and the Americans and Europeans demanding an end to the closed door policy Japan had maintained through the centuries. Consequently, no one had time to appreciate the Beautiful Women prints. With the import of the printing press in 1890 the wood block was no longer a method of printing in practice.