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Eddie

Greatcoat buttons

Ok lets have a look at this then.
What buttons were worn on the British infantry greatcoat during our period?
Well we don't seem to know much about Greatcoats anyway bar a few images and a broad description in Clothing Regs - so who cares about buttons?  
The other day I was reading "Douglas's tale of the Peninsula and Waterloo 1808 -1815" - the first hand account of a soldier in the Royal Scots and I found this:

" A button off the greatcoat with the eye smoothed down passed current for a shilling. Westcapelle was our Headquarters, Major Gordon sent his servant one morning for a change of a guinea ; he returned in a little time, but what must have been the Major's surprise, when out of 21 shillings, 17 turned out to be soldiers' buttons. He immediately conjectured how this kind of coin came into circulation, and ordered a parade with loose greatcoats. For every large button missing he charged 1/- and for every small one 6d. Nor could they grumble, as they only had to refund the money they had received."

Nice little story - and then I remembered something of that ilk in my Rifleman Harris  :

" I recollect Marshall Berestord making a speech about greatcoat buttons. Such a subject may appear trifling for a general officer to speak on,but it was a discourse some of our men much needed, for they had been in the habit of tearing off the button, hammering them flat, and passing them as English coin in exchange for the good wines of Spain! The Spaniards, finding they got nothing but trumpery bits of battered lead - and the children in that country not being in the habit of playing at dumps as ours are, they complained to the Marshall. Halting the brigade one day,he gave them a speech on this fraud, and promised a handsome flogging to the first man he found who's greatcoat would not keep buttoned in windy weather".

So from this we may surmise:
That the buttons were of two sizes  ( see Henderson War of 1812 website:Greatcoats - eight large and two small for the shoulder straps)
The large ones passed for a shilling - a Georgian shilling is about an inch diameter.
The buttons were in appearance lead - so can we assume pewter ?
They could not have been plain but needed detailing enough to pass as a coin.
Harris talks about them being hammered flat - but Douglas only states the eye was filed down.

Henderson again the 1812 website conjectures they were Regimental buttons - but as I understand it Greatcoats were provided from the Public purse - so can we presume they came from one government source? Would the buttons have therefore been more likely to be of universal issue pattern ?

OK take a look at this - claimed to be a Waterloo relic -"British Infantry Greatcoat button"  - I misremember where the image came from but possibly a well known internet auction site.






In 2/95 some members -  on their very variable Greatcoats  - sport  the small (and well researched)  95th Regimental button  - which is smaller than a shilling and very domed - but is that likely to be correct?

What do you reckon?
Neibelungen

That button  is a reprodiction of a victorian or edwardian pattern  ,  as I actually cast several  hundred  of them for the Foot guards back in the late 80's. They wanted something generic and I had the original in my collection.

It's actually a 3  piece button,  but very flat,  so probabdy dates at some  point from about 1830 onwards.

Supposedly  it's comes via the late Derek Saunder's collection,  but there's several items in  it that  ended up on ebay that  I actually made. Several buttons and the belgic plate in  particular.

My  own  recollection is that the pattern is similar to  a Royal Wagon train  button  of the period.
Eddie

Thanks Neibelungen!  That's very interesting and proves the worth of putting on little posts like this as someone , somewhere may have a bit of information to add to the pot.
As a matter of interest what are the components of a three piece button and why would you date it about 1830?
Neibelungen

3  piece buttons are are the front plate,  a rear plate and the ring.

They start making that style in about 1800,  but it's not until the 1830/40's that you see it completed as the traditional modern military style  button with a higher dome. (the back plate is crimped  into  the front as part  of the die stamping process and then  sanded flush in a lathe).

The crown GR does go back  to  about 1800's,  where  it seems to  be attributed to  Royal Engineer of some form or found as a kind  of generic button used by  local  militia and volunteer units who  don't have a specific button,  but there's no  conclusive  proof  or official attibution/regulation.  

This particular style one is made with the front plate clamping  over the rear,  keeping the two  flush to  each  other,  which  tends to  be an  earlier  method  of construction (ie not  post 1840),  and is similar to  the way bone  or wood backed buttons were made pre 1820. The ring  is soldered to  the rear, rather than inserted and crimped  into place. Generally this style  is made with a thinner metal,  as  later methods had access to  early nuckle  presses rather than  fly presses,  so  could work  with heavier metals.
It effectively mimics a 2 piece button, which is essentially a coin with a soldered shank attached,  but requires a heavier stamping process.

I'll  dig my original out,  but from memory the back-marks  on the rear were non-specific, so  didn't have anything to positively identify  a date or manufacturer.
I've seen a couple  of similar ones,  marked  Jones- Dublin that also  are attributed to  the 1830's  period,  but a few have turned up in Canadian  site finds,  though that's not always conclusive  of date as the british were there for a considerable period.
Ben Townsend

I'm looking at a period shilling. It measures 12/16ths of an inch. I'm inclined to get out a hammer and see what a repro 95th button hammers out to while maintaining some markings Smilie_PDT

The mention of two sizes of buttons may only be applicable to line regiments who had buttons in multiple sizes.

The huge mass of correspondence on quality control for greatcoats available in the research archive doesn't feature a mention of buttons once, so I think its reasonable to surmise that these were attached after distribution and were regimental as indicated.
John Waller

ben wrote:
The huge mass of correspondence on quality control for greatcoats available in the research archive doesn't feature a mention of buttons once, so I think its reasonable to surmise that these were attached after distribution and were regimental as indicated.


Hi Ben, I concur. The notes I have from the Trotter archive make frequent mention of the poor quality of greatcoats delivered to the SMG - cut shorter then the pattern, doctored for weight with 'potoato dust' and inferior material used. Not one mention of buttons.
Ben Townsend

Potato dust? Isnt that what Burger King coat their fries with to get the crispy coating? Starch essentially?  Always good to get a peek into your notes John.
Neibelungen

Definately a copy  of my button,  right down to  the dimple on the left hand side by the junction  of crown and GR.

The backmark on the pattern is Pitt & Co, 31.Maddox St London,  which  places  it's manufacture from 1895 onwards.  they only started  in  1873 and  were at no  50  until 1895.

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