Here's an informative article graciously provided by the author, Ginny Flis, member of the Florida State Button Society. The owner of this site has slightly adapted this article with additional information. Ginny also provided an excellent article about Charles Goodyear in the following pages. Thank you for your contribution to our hard rubber button study Ginny!

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The excitement of an unattractive button measuring from a tiny diminutive (3/8" or smaller) to scarce but plain extra large 1 3/4", still gives the collector that unexplained feeling of finding a hidden treasure when we find an old jar of plain, dark buttons. We realize that there may be a marked Goodyear in the lot! (Be aware "Goodyears" is a collector term, the Goodyear company did not make hard rubber buttons, but Charles Goodyear's patent was required on them for some period.) Years ago we would find them in 1 cent, 5 cent and 10 cent poke boxes, today we can still find a few in those 25 cent pokes. The thrill is in the hunt. To find the elusive rare one in the lot would be the true reward. In my 10 years or so of collecting, I have seen these buttons become scarce. I hope this information will renew your interest in "Ugly Buttons" and that you will recognize their charm and great American heritage.

"American as Apple Pie" is one of the nicest ways I have heard Goodyear Rubber buttons described. These buttons were strictly made in the United States. No other country in the world made Goodyear buttons.

Amasa Goodyear was a button maker until 1830. Two of his sons, Charles and Nelson, were involved in the vulcanization (or hardening process) of rubber. Nelson was the banker and money backer, and Charles was considered one of America's inventive geniuses. During Charles' lifetime, he acquired 60 patents for inventions. His life was spent defending each one with every penny he had. His vulcanization of rubber in 1849 made the use of rubber buttons posible. In 1851 Nelson acquired a patent for hard rubber buttons also, overriding Charles'. Charles died pennyless at the age of 60. His family did profit from a few of his patents many years after his death, but none were for the rubber buttons. The 1849-51 patent date is of particular interest to collectors, as it is rare.

India rubber (also known as gum elastic) is what was used in the hard rubber buttons. The chief sources were from Brazil, Peru, Java and Singapore. It is a milk juice tapped from trees (similar to maple syrup). Dried over a mold and exported; when received in the U.S. it was vulcanized (hardened) and poured into button molds. Today, rubber buttons are still being made through a chemical process and not from the gum elastic as before.

The sizes of Goodyear buttons is also very interesting. There was no universal size. The smallest being a diminutive (under 3/8") and the largest known is 1 3/4". A collecting tip is that any button over 1 1/2" is becoming a real collectible for the future.

The colors are usually basic black, but are also found in brown. Rubber tends to tone to a brownish hue, this should not be mistaken for a button made brown from the start. You can tell by looking at the back, if it is not the same tone of brown, it became brown over time on the front and is not a "true brown" hard rubber button. There are limited numbers of dull red, black speckled orange, orange and tan is scarce.
Tan (Scarce):
Brown (hard to find).
Will be same shade
on back as front.

Example of brownish
toned (over time) button:

Back of same button
it is not brownish:

Picture buttons were not very popular during this limited time period of rubber manufacturing. The buttons found were usually plain or geometrically embossed. Flowers, three animal heads, figs, pears, birds, doe (or sometimes called a dog) in a hoop, stars, crosses, the Liberty head, wasp insect, a beetle and two ladies heads are all now becoming a bit harder to find. Very scarce pictures that are nearly unobtainable are the Plumed Horseback Rider and Falcon Huntress.

Goodyears that are extremely unusual and are found to be nearly one of a kind are: inlayed steel or brass cross or star, disc of mother-of-pearl, a glass bead, steel stud, and even a brass escutcheon of a woman's head. There is also a brass-rimmed example. Collectors also seek different shanks and back marks. Rubber pad backs are very rare, to find one with the back mark is a treasure.
Our attention is also called to the printing of the back marks, which was done primarily by hand. This is a challenge for any hard rubber button collector to be able to find a back mark error. You will see dates reversed misspelling of Goodyear as "Godyear", these are highly sought!

There are three political or campaign buttons that are very rare. The rarest being Grant and Colfax and Seymour and Blair (shown below) jugate (two heads on button) busts. The Dancing Frogs (shown below), which represent the Greenback Party and the free currency movement came in two sizes. One collector reports that there's a version where one of the frogs seems to have a fish head.
There was only one non-military uniform button made. An advertising button for the Gail Borden Eagle Brand showing an eagle with a ribbon banner in beak. This is often confused with a military button, below is an image of the logo and a metal button, sorry I don't have a hard rubber version but the design will be very similar:
For a very short time, there were a few uniform military buttons made. Two large coat size Navy p-coat designs and a small cuff size with just an anchor are known. P-coat buttons were made well after the Goodyear Patent expired in the 1870's as well they have just the anchor and are modern era, see the first small image for the small anchor-only and the modern anchor-only buttons. Civil War period Infantry eagle (I on shield on eagle's chest, image not shown) and the Berdan's Sharp Shooters' (U.S. Sharp Shooters USSS) used two sizes showing the general service eagle (coat and cuff sizes). These courageous soldiers wore black rubber buttons to avoid being detected by the enemy from the sun's rays reflecting off shiny brass uniform buttons.
U.S. Navy P-Coat Buttons:

U.S. Sharp Shooters
"Berdans" Gen. Service Eagle Design
Article Authored by: Ginny Flis, March, 1999 with slight adaptations by Carol Cienna c.2012.
Charles Goodyear Article:
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