Black and white photograph of an owl
Photographic buttons made of celluloid material were extremely popular from the late 1800s to the 1930s. The earliest known use of photography being incorporated onto a button was in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for president. It was during the 1860s that photography became more available on the commercial market. John Wesley Hyatt invented cellulose, the first modern plastic, in 1869. United States patent records reflect celluloid buttons with photographs in the late 1880s. Victorian era button designs embraced the romantic notions of courtship and marriage and a fascination of natural history. Popular designs included botanical scenes, animals, classical art and European fairytales. Photographic button production button methods In 1893 Benjamin S. Whitehead acquired a patent for using celluloid over the photo to protect the image.
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Sources: Houton, L.C., “History of Buttons” (2016). Retrieved from https://www.compassrosedesignjewelry.com/pages/history-of-buttons on 16July2017.
McInturff, Jennifer Ann, "Celluloid buttons : cataloging unusual photographic objects" (2009). Theses and dissertations. Paper 627.