Each month Museum of London offers an insight into fascinating objects from its vast collection. This month discover more about one of over 2000 buttons recently donated to the Museum.
Pewter Button from the A. G. Pilson button collection
This pewter button is part of a collection of 2444 buttons of all shapes and sizes ranging in date from late 14th to the late 19th century recovered from the banks of the Thames over a period of 40 years by Tony Pilson and other Mudlarkers.
Mudlarking originated during the industrial revolution when children and adults would search the foreshore when the tide was “out” for objects that could be sold as scrap as a way of making a living. Now, the Society of Thames Mudlarks has a special permit from the Port of London to search the Thames banks for historical artefacts.
Museum of London has had a relationship with the organisation for many years and many finds are reported and generously donated to the Museum.
Mr Pilson recently decided that he wanted to leave his collection in the safe hands of the museum and our Senior Curator Post-Medieval Collections, Hazel Forsyth, was delighted with his extraordinary generosity which has resulted in the Museum now having the largest group of medieval and early modern buttons in the country.
The pewter button featured here is a late 16th to early 17th century cloak button which would have been used as a decorative fastener to an outer gown most likely worn by a gentleman of the time.
So what happens to all these buttons now…
As Hazel explains, “cataloguing has now commenced and our aim over the next few months is to number, measure and photographically record each piece. Longer term, we hope to produce an online resource with a small exhibition, and since the button trade in London has received little academic attention we will be setting up various research projects to assess the diversity of the trade which offers a unique and intriguing insight into the nature of craft skill and the social and cultural life of Londoners”.