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Jack Barnes’ Collection: A Unique Historical Record.

It is rare that an individual’s collection of hunt buttons becomes available as one entity.  Most often they are divided up in some way.  On this occasion, however, I have been lucky, No! privileged, to have been afforded the opportunity to buy the collection of the late Jack Barnes.

Born in 1923 and passed away in 2013, Jack was a well-known and well-respected stockman, butcher and amateur whipper-in and terrier man, that lived and worked around the country.  His son, Roger, was huntsman for the Essex & Suffolk Hunt and it is he, that gave me the opportunity to own something unique.

The buttons were kept in a glazed case and martingale straps, and had been collected by Jack across almost forty years, and covered just about every type of hunting with hounds in the UK, Ireland, the USA and New Zealand.

The list of buttons collected is simply too long to publish here, there being approximately 275 of them, but a few notable ones to mention might be:

  • Henham Harriers,
  • Spye Park (Capt. Spicer’s),
  • William Thompson’s Otter Hounds,
  • Sennowe Park Harriers,
  • Waveney Valley Harriers, before they dropped the ‘Valley’, and a
  • South Devon ‘Receipt’ button.

There were also one or two unidentified buttons in there. Below are some images of just a few of them, as they were when kept in the cabinet.

What makes this collection unique is its documented history.  Between the early 1960s and the 1980s, Mr Barnes Snr wrote, by hand, to Masters, Huntsmen, Hon Secs or any other contact in a hunt, explaining that he was attempting to collect a button from ‘every hunt’.

Along with the buttons came three scrapbooks brimming with letters of reply.  Essentially providing me with rock-solid provenance of (almost) every button in the collection.  I say almost because there are more letters than buttons, so maybe some buttons went missing over the years.






These letters come from every level of society, and carry many famous names in the annals of hunting and equestrian history.  Dorian Williams for instance.

The then Duke of Beaufort, known to all as ‘Master’, actually cut a button off one of his hunt coats to send.  Three replies said they were currently unable, to provide a button.  Only one (which will remain un-named) outright refused because ‘our buttons are too valuable’.  

Lord Stradbroke was unable to provide a Henham Harriers button so passed the letter on to Lord Somerleyton who could.

​The North Yorkshire Otter Hounds were happy to provide one, and politely asked for the cost – a huge 2/6d.  A half a crown!  That was 12 and a half pence in ‘new money’, and adjusted for inflation would be £1.50 today.  I somehow think we could not get one for anywhere near that price now.





Even people to whom Jack had not written, contacted him to donate buttons after reading or hearing of his collection.  Also included is a letter from and a photograph signed by Lionel Edwards, paint brush and palette in hand.







The letters also helped with one of the ‘unknowns’.  As a collector of defunct Welsh packs in particular, I was delighted to find a letter identifying the Dolwilym Beagles, giving their location and dates.  An invaluable addition in every way.

All in all, these letters and cards form a unique historical record of one man’s determination to collect buttons, and the effort he put in.  I cannot think of one other that would be remotely like it; and most collectors will attest that we know it simply would not work today.

It is also a testament to Roger Barnes for keeping them together in the face of new technology and on-line auction sites like eBay, until the right time came to move them on.

So, now I have them, what am I going to do?  Well, I simply could not bring myself to sell any of the buttons that duplicated ones I already had in my collection, so this is what I have done.

Where I have a letter of provenance for one of Jack’s buttons, I have taken out the one I already had in my collection, and put Jack’s button in its place, clearly marking that it is from The Barnes Collection as I shall call it.  Now, all of his hard work is kept together; buttons and letters, just as an integral part of The Firebrand Collection, never to be split up or sold in my or my son’s lifetimes.

I am slowly working through making a list of all correspondence, a task that needs further research into names and addresses primarily because many don’t actually mention which button is enclosed with the letter.  Once I have that list, I hope it will make a fitting homage to one of the first organised collectors on record.


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