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"Collecting Golf Buttons"


Article from "Through the Green" magizine 2006/2007
Submitted by K.D.Pickup

That mundane domestic item, a button, can trace its usage back some 3000 years, when our ancient ancestors
used it not only to secure their rudimentary clothing, but as a medium of exchange. Buttons were in fact
the first coinage, which may be why coins in the main have always been of circular outline. The button in
the Middle Ages expressed wealth and rank, being constructed in precious metals and adorned with enamels
and jewels; indeed at various times the lower strata of society were not permitted to wear these fashion
appendages in metal. Paradoxically by the late Eighteenth Century, in an attempt to help the button industry,
the wearing of cloth covered buttons was prohibited. However, the button as a medium reflecting the wearer's
identity/capacity, or in the case of livery buttons, that of his employer first appear in the early Eighteenth
Century. The Royal Navy established a pattern for Flag Rank officers around 1747, other patterns evolving for
lower ranks over the next eighty years. The Army did not introduce the numbering of regimental buttons until 1767.
This practice spread to the county militia regiments and subsequent volunteer corps from around 1780 onward.
Some members of civilian and sporting clubs, societies and hunts began to sport a 'club button', hitherto usually
confined to the servants of such organisations.

In our own golfing sphere there are several written references to the usage of such items during the mid/late
Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries, mostly confined to the Scottish societies and companies of golfers;
Blackheath (later Royal) and Royal Calcutta were of course known others. The uniforms adopted by most of the
above were based on the current style in use by the Army: a long tailed scarlet coatee with buttoned 'facings'
(ie collar/lapels and cuffs) of a contrasting colour. The military aspect was completed with the wearing of
gold lace epaulettes (vide contemporary portraits of Messrs. Innes and Callander), a practice probably frowned
upon by Horse Guards ( the then War Office), as the epaulette even at this early stage was an indication of
Commissioned rank. These glorious days of spectacular playing costumes come to an end around the 1820s,
probably coinciding with the end of the of the long struggles in the Revolutionary Wars, and the civilian
population's ensuing anti-military attitude. Certainly some of the earliest golfing photographs, available c1845
onwards indicate a complete swing towards civilian clothing, a trend not reversed until the last quarter of the
Nineteenth Century.

The big expansion in numbers of golf clubs that swept throughout great Britain over the period 1884-1910 was not
solely down to the enthusiasm and the interest of the politician AJ Balfour; it was also helped by the Liberal
government's proposals on land taxation to those areas that were non-productive. The expansion of the game was
indeed extraordinary; clubs sprang up as WS Gilbert states in another context, 'like asparagus in May'. This
surge brought about a revival in in golfing uniform; gentlemen members now appeared in single-breasted scarlet
cloth jackets (the odd instance is recorded of the jacket being blue or green) usually with the collar in a
contrasting collar. The ladies favouring the then popular 'bolero' style garment, this again with the collar
and other edging in contrasting hues.

As a large selection of photographs tends to indicate, the wearing of the 'club jacket' for play in this period
appears to have been purely optional and was not confined to formal or set-piece occasions. The buttons employed
on these playing coats were, in the vast majority of cases, in gilt finished metal. The emergence of the 'award'
button is almost simultaneous and it appears in a large variety of metals and finishes: gold, silver-gilt, silver,
white metal, gilt and bronze - in many instances enhanced with vitreous enamels. These differences unquestionably
denoted the grades of the award. Provision was made on some examples via a blank reserve on the obverse for the
winner's details to be so engraved. The ladies in the cultured late Victorian and Edwardian ages were looked upon
and encouraged far more than in the period following World War I; as a result many of their buttons feature 'Ladies'
in full title examples or the extra 'L' in the initial-style title. Other clubs boasted a complete change of pattern
for their ladies sections.

The uniform button appears to change very little in pattern; only a complete change of club title or the coveted
appellation 'Royal' required alteration. The award types however were subject to change, this being mainly due to
the fact that they outlasted the uniform button by some 25 years. The uniform coats as far as I have been able to
establish do not reappear after World War I, but the award buttons continue until at least 1939.


The whole raison d'etre of the award button is of interest. The giving of club prizes for most events prior to
World War I was not on a perpetual basis; the winners kept their prizes. It became expedient therefore for many
of the not so wealthy clubs to give a monthly button rather than the heavier and more costly medal; the rich and
very popular Carlsbad club in Bohemia however gave a weekly button and a monthly medal. The ladies of the Notts.
Golf Club within a year of the move to Hollinwell were recorded as 'giving a monthly button'. Still other clubs
appear to have never given an award button, retaining a monthly medal right up to 1939. I do not think that the
wearing of these awards was envisaged, other than perhaps a single one on the lapel (in brooch format). In that
pleasant age where 'self' was still regarded as bad form, a jacket full of awards would surely have constituted
too much 'show'.

Other than the appearance of the long tailed coatee at national and county union dinners, the club button is now
confined to usage on the mis-named single or double-breasted blazer (a reefer jacket to be exact), which overflowed
from the style affected by the naval and yachting fraternities. Though the design, style and quality of the majority
of these current issues can be truly wretched, some clubs have resurrected their old designs and have produced a
good quality item. Yet it is indeed a sad reflection of the so-called 'high-tech' age in which we live that high
quality die-cutting and gilding are difficult and expensive to obtain. A far cry indeed from the days when one could
walk into the offices of Messrs. Jennens, Firmins, Vaughtons, on a Monday armed only with a drawing of the required
button, but by Thursday of the same week call back to collect several gross of superb die-cut and finished fire-gilt
items.


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