Four Holes In my Button

27th April 2019 — 32 Comments

Some of Mrs John’s buttons pictured by JW

I know that I haven’t been well but my subject today is a subject many of you will find uninteresting and you may think that this old duffer has finally lost the plot. On the contrary. Today I tell of the finding of a (mundane) button and the cleaning and research … but then I go off on a tangent

One Foot in the Grave

There’s no future in growing old. I used to be a keen detectorist, but now that I’m worn out, decrepit and disabled, digging is no longer possible. Today I get my ‘fix’ vicariously by writing about the finds of others. My imagination is triggered through their discoveries and experiences.

The nearest I ever get to an active participation in the hobby these days is once every year, when Mrs. John wields her pinpointer in the long grass searching for the clothes whirligig metal support thingy. You know, the one nearest the path. ‘Left a bit. Right a bit.’ And this is only after finding fresh batteries to replace the ones that have lost their oomph through inactivity. Bit like me.

But recently, there has been a buzz of excitement in the less than extensive grounds of Winter Mansions. Whilst tending her garden and creating a hole for a clematis plant, Mrs. John found something of significance. Not a golden torc, an enamelled Roman brooch or a coin of Cnut, but a four-hole metal button!

I’ll just wait awhile and let those last few words sink in. The metal button is probably one of the most common items found … and discarded … by detectorists. The housing estate on which I live was built where a farm once stood, so a find of this nature was to be expected. A lot of them will be just plain metal discs, so it’s always a pleasure to find one with a bit of information on the front. Most just have a maker’s back mark like ‘Firmin’ or ‘Gaunt of London.’

Picture by JW

In days of old, farming involved large manual workforces whose clothes had sturdy metal buttons that were often lost. Was this one of those? Objects of this nature are difficult to date owing to deterioration, but I was feeling adventurous and wanted to know more. And I was in for a little surprise!


Close examination by Mrs. John using a magnifying glass plus diligent and gentle cleaning with a soft brush and wooden toothpick revealed the legend: DORE – 25 CONDUIT St. – W – a place situated in the West End of London.

Source – Sketch newspaper of 1896

Research on Mr. Google revealed that Dore and Sons were ‘tailors of distinction’ and were active in the 1890’s. Their specialties were shooting, fishing, yachting and travelling suits. They were also makers of the ‘War Office Sealed Pattern Coat or Great Coat’ for use with the ‘Lieutenancy Uniform’. A few words on a simple button can lead us to understanding more of the social history of the time.

The firm seemed to be very versatile and did a lot of general tailoring. I guess that if our hobby had been popular then, the best-dressed detectorists would be wearing a suit … preferably made of camouflage material!

Here’s a fine example of a Dore’s cardboard delivery box containing ‘hygenic’ underwear.

Courtesy of the Sketch newspaper of 1896


A second button was found, again with front markings. No back mark. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear and all I can decipher is & Co. LONDON. Any ideas?

Picture by JW


Writing the above has reminded me of my childhood. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother threading a needle, tying a knot on the end of the double thread and sewing buttons onto an article of clothing.

Me old Ma used to keep a box full of buttons made from all kinds of materials, not just metal. I used to play with them on a typically rainy day. And so did my children. The tiny object that keeps our shirts and coats together is often taken for granted until one of them falls off.

Have you seen a Granny’s box on your visit to the local boot sale? Take a closer look. It could contain a hidden treasure!

And, I presume the farmer and not one of his workers lost the Dore example … but I could be wrong.


My elation over finding the button was short-lived. ‘Kevin’ phoned me. Judging by his almost incomprehensible accent I guessed he was from India, probably Mumbai. He told me that I would be arrested later in the day for ‘illegal activities’.

In the ensuing – increasingly heated – conversation I tried to determine what these were. Had I failed to inform the authorities about a particular find … or something totally unrelated to the hobby? Was my past catching up on me? I was worried.

At the mention of money I told him, in no uncertain terms, to ‘go away’. He then accused me of not taking the matter seriously, repeated the arrest scenario, and put down the phone.

That night, because I didn’t want the cops bashing down the door with that red ‘persuader’ thingy, I left it open all night. You can’t be too careful!



This post has been an adaption of an article that appeared in the UK Searcher magazine.



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32 responses to Four Holes In my Button

  1. Oh yes, you’ve deffo lost the plot matey hahaha

  2. All interesting stuff John.
    Funny enough I mentioned on the NRH forum about how John Winter may be able to cast some light on the Royal Warrant Crown on the reverse of some old type of Livery buttons.

  3. You are on form as always John.
    You will never be buttoned up with your talented scribbling gems.
    Keep them coming.

  4. You mean they didn’t have camouflage buttons? Really?

    A fun read John….

  5. Always check them I had one from Harlow Reformatory school worth googling it basically it was borstal!

  6. The inscription on the second button is possibly ‘STANDEN & Co LONDON’, John. A quick Google search based on this reading produced an advertisement in the New Zealand newspaper, Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XXVIII, Issue 201, 2 October 1894, part of which reads: “High class suitings and trouserings from Messrs Standen & Co., London.”

  7. peter walsh ..aka g.Clooney 27th April 2019 at 9:37 PM

    you must take more water with your drink John ..great to see you posting again old friend

    • Ah! Mr Clooney. Good to hear from you again. Nine out of ten meds I take warn about drinking alcohol, but I’ve been known to have the occasional sup. Ssshhh!

    • On one dig in the York area I dug up 40 buttons several other detectorists found a similar amount and one guy found at least 100. More than the odd button falling off workers clothes. Do you have a theory about why so many?

  8. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 27th April 2019 at 10:31 PM

    Since you are on the topic of clothes pegs, and buttons, can you keep that theme going and do something on trousers……pants?

    Why is it when I have just 1, they are called a pair? Why are both trousers and pants plural in both the singular form on the multiple form?

    If I have two, should they be called trousersers or pantses?

    Just something for you and Mrs. John to work on. LOL…..

  9. Another interesting post John. I have placed a link to the story on our AMDRH forum.

  10. I find so many of those buttons John.. makes me wonder just how many semi-naked people used to wander around my drowned towns..

    But [ton], I do keep them, and recycle them.. maybe I should be considering retaining them.. Hmmm.. maybe I can get Alice to start to mend things.. Nah!! Not with horses in the yard..

    Best to you my friend


  11. Always a pleasure to read your articles John

  12. I have heard that Mrs. John has a liking for buttons.

  13. Top notch as usual John, you really got this one buttoned up. Thank you.

    Out of interest, does Lynda still collect them for charity ?

  14. A wonderful meandering read that John.
    Only one point of order is;

    Why have you never detected the Winter’s Mansion gardens with anything other than a pin pointer?

  15. Great to read your witty stories again John always something to make me smile

  16. Good to see you back blogging, good to talk the other day

  17. There is also another answer to old buttons turning up especially in large quantities.
    I go back many years before we had the internet when some of us were metal detecting to the annoyance of certain other sections of society. A large number of 19/20th century clothing buttons started to appear on certain fields from which we were retrieving interesting finds.
    To some extent these people were successful at the time as when the fields were ploughed the buttons were spread further than just over the hedgerows where they were thrown.
    These days machines are not so basic and the practice has ceased.
    Happy Hunting,

  18. Most people groan when yet another of these buttons comes up…but I think they have something to offer …Sad I know but I always look up the names and places on them and have a list of 68 s … Birch & Co Johannesburgh being one! … … Everything is interesting and has a story if you look

  19. I have just discovered you and I am delighted. So interesting and informative. I was lucky to find an ancient mill buried in woods and found coins there and buttons and musket balls. I treasure them to this day because someone made them, handled them and avoided them (musketballs) I hope. Thank you again. Sue

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