Blackened buttons: Mourning or more?

Most of us will have come across a blackened button at some time, and may have referred to it as a ‘mourning button’.  There has long been debate between collectors as to for whose mourning they were produced.  Some say “It’s Queen Victoria – and only Queen Victoria.”  An important point to make here is that Victorian mourning wear in general was not in reaction to the death of the Queen, but well before then, upon the death of Prince Albert, when the whole nation went into mourning at Her Majesty’s command.  So, a blackened button that pre-dates 1901 does not preclude it from being a mourning item.

Other people know of black buttons being worn for the remainder of a season (or longer) upon the death of a master or well-regarded huntsman.  Then there is the question “Are all blackened buttons mourning buttons?”

Possibly the best known, because of its almost mythical quality, is the Hawkstone Otter Hounds extra-large black horn button.  This one was definitely produced to mourn the passing of Queen Victoria, and is rare enough for me not to be able to get a photo of one.  I know of only three.  (Photo taken from Neil McShane’s book)

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The second most well-known could be the painted Grafton Hunt Club, that a lot of collectors own and that causes so much debate, because “Is it a mourning button or isn’t it?”  Simply being painted over has raised eyebrows, but we may have a solution further down the page……

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A cautionary tale revolves around the following two buttons:

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Photos from The Firebrand Collection.

The Badsworth (brass) and the Royal Caledonian Hunt Club (silver) buttons shown are from full sets of buttons that have been professionally blackened for genuine mourning wear. (Queen Victoria again perhaps?) but a collector thought it was tarnish and began cleaning them.  Luckily, only one Royal Caledonian was ruined.

Below are some more professionally blackened examples, obviously produced for a purpose and not just tarnished.

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Photos from The Wolsey Collection

Finally, is a possible solution for the ‘painted over’ versions we see occasionally.  Tony Roberts’ outstanding and world-class ‘British Hunting Collection’ of hunting memorabilia and liveries includes the full outfit for a hunting parson from Blackmore Vale country.  To make his buttons more ‘subfusc’ and in-keeping with his ministry, all buttons have been painted over at some stage.

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Photos by kind permission of Tony Roberts.

Is this a possible solution for the less-than-professional blackened ones we see every now and again, such as the Grafton Hunt Club above?  My feeling is that it could well be, given the number of clergy that hunted, especially in the Edwardian period.

Do you have any views on the topic, or blackened buttons you would like to share?  Do get involved with us here at Baily’s.

 

‘Firebrand’

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