The Museum of London has unveiled one of the largest collections of medieval and early modern buttons in the UK. Over two and a half thousand beautiful buttons of all shapes and sizes ranging in date from the late 14th to the late 19th century have been generously given to the museum by Tony Pilson. Pilson has dedicated 30 years to finding, accumulating and storing the buttons, all of which come from the banks of the Thames.
Pilson’s collection includes examples of buttons made of silver, pewter and semi-precious stones. These pieces offer a fascinating insight into the past including boxes of livery buttons bearing family or corporation crests and buttons with makers’ names, initials and sometimes even addresses.
The collection has been recovered from the banks of the Thames over a period of 30 years by Pilson and other Mudlarkers. Modern mudlarking is essentially searching the river bank for historical objects; originally children and adults would scrounge objects that could be sold as scrap as a way of making a living.
Pilson says, “This is such a diverse and beautiful hoard of buttons and cufflinks. It has given me great joy to finally be able to give them to the Museum of London in the hope that it encourages other Mudlarkers and metal detectors to generously donate their finds to institutions such as this. The main aim is to preserve, protect and learn about London’s vital and colourful history.”
Having acquired one of the largest groups of medieval and early modern buttons in the UK, the Museum of London now begins the process of researching the collection.
Hazel Forsyth, Senior Curator of the Post-Medieval Collections says, “We’ve started to record each piece and longer term, we hope to produce an online resource with a small exhibition. The button trade in London has received little academic attention and therefore, we will set up various research projects to gain insight into the social and cultural life of Londoners.”