Vegetable ivory buttons information page. "Vegetable Ivory" is a natural renewable rain forest material from a palm tree nut also called tagua and corozo. Here are some examples you might have in your button cache and information on how to identify it. For more information on what "vegetable ivory" is, here's a succinct Wikipedia article, click: Here. Although tagua nut buttons are being made today, many we see are vintage and even antique age. Over time studying this material you will come to recognize the vintage and antique types by their unique look, construction, OME (other material embellishment) and DF (decorative finish) attributes. Comments? Questions? e-mail me: carolc@vintagebuttons.net
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Here's some examples from a competition card. Some are rather lowly and others are quite special. The more ordinary examples are included to represent a special construction, color, shape, OME (other material embellishment) or DF (decorative finish). The judges said they had never seen a "matte finished" vegetable ivory button. One is included in this image, it's quite a new button and the finish is created by laster etching. A close up is provided below under "Desirable Types".

Mechanical make-up and OME, buttons with "other material embellishment" as noted in the captions written on the card.

Buttons with "other material embellishment" as noted in the captions written on the card and working methods. The second button from left is very desirable (steel cup, brass escutcheon, veg. ivory background); the Uncle Wiggly button is in great condition and has a special back mark, verbal back marks are difficult to find on v.i. buttons and the double cut with openwork on the end is very nice and a good medium size.

Unlisted examples, some rather plain but selected for this competition tray to show another technique, color or type. Div II (uniform) buttons were allowed in this competition but unless specifically allowed, they cannot be used without risking disqualification.
Identification
Tips:

Basic pin shanked vintage vegetable ivory button. Mouse over the above image to see the back view. The grain pattern is a good identifier for this material. It's tighter than any wood and less porous.

Here's one with a stenciled design and you can see the grain on the front and back. Mouse over the above image to see the back view.

Here's a vegetable ivory button formed of two pieces with a wire metal shank. This button is "veg. ivory with veg. ivory" construction and is a good "contour" shape. Study the back, the "chatter marks" can help you identify some veg. ivory buttons.

Not all veg. ivory buttons have chatter marks on the back, but the carved in shank can help you identify this material. Mouse over the top image to see the back. This back was dyed after the shank was carved.

Over time encountering veg. ivory buttons you'll find you tend to sort them together, there's something about this material! The other identifier is the impossibly tiny, fabric-like embossing many have on the front, just imagine the workmanship involved in cutting that die! Mouse over the image above to see the back, this shank was carved after the button was dyed so the natural blonde nut color shows up. Don't be fooled by celluloids which sometimes have a carved in shank that looks lighter as well.
Desirable
Types:
Pictorial


Pictorials are harder to find. Here's one with identifiable clover plant life. This design is embossed with high pressure extreme detail dies. Small 1/2".
Pictorial

Here's a pictorial object (anchor). Try to represent each of the 4 pictorial classes when making up a competition tray and for your own collection.
Pictorial &
Background

Remember to include at least one button on your specific materials tray (in this case vegetable ivory) that has that material as a background, it will count as the material in the background! This is a scarce one, steel cup, carved veg. ivory background w/Egyptian head in brass. It's also three materials which is good. Condition could be better but I was really happy to find this in very small size, it comes in medium too.
Other
Material
Embellishment


This cute stencil, embossed button has a bit of faceted clear green glass as OME (other material embellishment). For competition don't load up with a bunch of the same OME, vary them.
Imitation
Fabric

Not a type noted in the classification that you should cover, but if you have one as nice as this (it's all veg. ivory, there's no fabric in it), label it imitation fabric and get that point! This also has a desirable back type, it's a "pad back" aka "canvas back", the thread was sewn thru the mound of canvas, this is an old type of back construction.
Architectural

The Trylon & Perisphere were two modernistic structures, together known as the "Theme Center," at the center of the New York World's Fair of 1939-1940. This is a scarce little button of vegetable ivory, the design is "incised". This can be labeled "architectural" on your competition tray.
Decorative
Finish

Newer S. American renewable rain forest product, "matte finish", laser etched Asian cherry blossom vegetable ivory button, metal shanked. I got an extra point for this matte finished button on my 1st place veg. ivory tray at the Calif. Stagte Button Society Convention
Pictorial

Another pictorial, identifiable plant life, roses. It's hard to find detailed roses on buttons, this has the leaves and stems and convincing roses.
Working
Method

Carved and pierced. This shows the natural nut color where carved on the front. Another identifier for this material. Don't confuse lighter colored carving on the front with celluloid, check the backs too, that will usually help you set this material apart from others.
Decorative
Finish

1940's Ecuadorian hand painted. These brightly painted Native themed buttons (generally vintage from Ecuador and other Rain Forest regions) are common but some are more charming and special than others, I love this lady in native costume spinning yarn.
Decorative
Finish

Metallic paint finished vegetable ivory buttons are hard to spot and to find in any decent condition, this one is just okay. Another finish shown on the tray under Decorative Finish is "pearlized", those are also hard to find in good condition.
Other
Material
Embellishment

A tiny button with so much detail including 3 materials: vegetable ivory cupped base w/dyed mother of pearl; steel "watchwheel" and cut steel trim center button. Small little over 1/2".
More To
Show Variety:

Arrowheads pattern impressed mottled green vegetable ivory button. Small 5/8".

Vintage grouping, showing you a the great variety of this interesting material including impressed, carved, dyed types. Size: 1/2" to under 5/8". Close and back view click here; here.

Vintage vegetable ivory buttons. Impressed, carved, stenciled, dyed, imitation fabric examples. Size: bit over 1/2" to little over 1". Closer and back views click: here; here; here.

Vintage vegetable ivory buttons. Pierced, vanity, embossed, whistle, plaid, mottled. Size: Over 3/8" to under 5/8". Close view click here.

Vintage vegetable ivory buttons. Nice combination similar sized over 1/2" to 5/8" ea. Close view click here.

Vintage vegetable ivory buttons. One has a Mexican manufacturer "GUTMAN J. ESTARSA" name impressed. Buttons in this lot measure approx. 5/8". Close view click here.

Vintage vegetable ivory buttons. Nearly 3/4" to 7/8"". Close view click here.
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