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The E-Sylum: Volume 11, Number 29, July 20, 2008, Article 13

DICK JOHNSON: BUTTONS HAVE CLOSE RELATIONSHIP TO COINS

Dick Johnson forwarded this note about the close relationship between coin-making and button-making technology. -Editor
Our good editor Wayne Homren pointed out George Washington's Inaugural buttons and the Bar Copper as close relatives to coins in an item on Buttons in last week's E-Sylum issue. What Wayne didn't mention was that we virtually would not have modern coins and medals today were it not for button technology in the 18th century. Numismatics and buttons are even more closely related than he indicated.

You see, Matthew Boulton was a buttonmaker before he developed an interest in coining and went on to establish his Soho Mint, became the great innovator in coin and medal technology, and lead the force in the development of the Industrial Revolution. Numismatic encyclopedist Ewald Jung said that the best coin and token makers were once buttonmakers, and that these included Mathieru, Merciť & Mouterde in Lyon, Roche in Dublin, in addition to Boulton in Birmingham.

Presses for striking buttons could also be used for striking coins and tokens. Die making was exactly the same and compositions for making both were nearly the same. Prior to Boulton, a new technology developed for die striking buttons was applied to coin and token striking. But Boulton turned both fields around with his advancements in diestriking technology and equipment. He is the number one developer who should be considered the Father of coin & medal technology.

The same closeness was true in America. Scovill in Waterbury were buttonmakers in 1802 before they struck their first token in 1829. With the same equipment and the same technology it was a logical evolution. In fact, the two fields advanced along parallel lines. Scovill went on to produce billions of buttons over almost 200 years! It also became America's "Secret Mint," creating tokens of all kinds, coin blanks for the U.S. Mint, and even struck coins for foreign governments. When the U.S. Mint could not produce some item quickly enough -- like the 1893 Columbian Exposition Award Medal -- it turned to Scovill.

I didn't realize the closeness of the two fields until the sale of equipment when Medallic Art Company's Danbury plant was closed in February 1991. The key pieces of equipment were the seven die-engraving pantographs. One or two of these went to medal makers, all the rest went to firms that manufactured buttons!



Wayne Homren, Editor

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