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A Question of Provenance: Or when is a Cotley button not a Cotley button?

I ended my previous contribution by touching on the subject of attribution and being sure not to limit ourselves by saying such-and-such is THE Blankshire button.  When it comes to unidentified buttons, all collectors are willing to take the occasional leap of faith and make a best educated guess about an ‘unknown’ – myself included; but what about when the button is well known?  Another thorny issue collectors face is that of provenance.

When more than one pack has used, or does use, similar – even identical – buttons, how fussy should we be in claiming it to be one or t’other?  Some easily recognised examples might be the Cotley/Cury/Curre triumvurate, where all three packs have at some time in the past, used an identical button: C.H in Old English on a stippled field.  N.B. As opposed to Cotswold or Cheshire which are on a lined field.

Do we just go with the flow and add a sans provenance button to our collection alphabetically, or do we take the approach (as I heard recently) “If it ain’t off a Blankshire hunt coat, it’s not a Blankshire button! Simple as that.” Names have been changed to protect the innocent!!

There has been similar debate around the two Welsh packs, The Glamorgan and The Gogerddan Hunts.  Both buttons are ‘officially’ GH in Old English on a lined field, but there are variances between them as result of different button makers and different periods of time.  There was a time around the 1920’s when Gogerddan  buttons had a flat profile and the Glamorgan remained slightly convex.  So, they cannot be considered to have always (or necessarily ever for that matter) been identical; and so the question of exactly from where that button comes arises again.

This particular question was complicated recently.  The old Goodwood Hunt button historically differed from the two Welsh packs above, because its GH was on a stippled field.  However, a hunt coat from late 19th Century, held at the Welsh National Museum, that belonged to a prominent member of the Glamorgan Hunt has a full set of struck buttons…..on a stippled field.  (See the image above) Thus throwing the whole debate back open.

There is also the situation where one pack, perhaps newly formed, acquired the rights to a pattern of button from a previous and now defunct pack.  Without that elusive provenance the collector is forced to attempt to date, and therefore attribute, the button based on the maker’s backmark, if such exists.  Sometimes, even documentary evidence can be a mixed help.  Certainly, to find an illustration of a button in a reference book or pattern book can solve many a mystery, but errors may occur that can just complicate matters further.

It’s not always possible, especially now that collecting has moved away from the personal exchange of buttons to the high-finance world of the internet, to be sure on whose coat and over which hunt country your newly acquired button has lived its life.  Obviously, this issue only arises where packs share initials, and without provenance, sometimes all we can say is that such a button “Could be X, Y, or Z.”

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Just over a week now until The Festival of Hunting and I am delighted to say that I will be exhibiting my button collection there at the BHD stand.  I look forward to meeting many old and new faces and (bearing in mind I don’t know everything) I will bring as much reference material as I can carry, should anyone wish to bring buttons along. More importantly, visitors might be able to help me name some of the many buttons that remain unidentified.

‘Firebrand’ 

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