Check Out Czech Glass Buttons

Diane Helentjaris
5 min readApr 29

The precious gems of the button world

Photo by author.

Rooting through the sewing paraphernalia my aunt Dorothy left me when she died, I found eleven buttons clustered on a turquoise thread. Like other things in life, at first, I underestimated them. Eleven black plastic buttons. Then I looked closer. No, they were glass, not plastic, and garnet red, not black. Finely detailed in a floral geometric pattern, traces of a gold wash still glittered. One of the original dozen never made it through the years or had been purloined to another purpose.

One of Dorothy’s Buttons. Photo by author.

Deep in the crevices, nooks, and crannies of my brain I found and dredged up a vision from middle school. Mr. Craycraft, my teacher, and mentor from seventh through twelfth grade, stood at the blackboard once again, grinning like Alice’s cat, and swinging a yardstick to etch his knowledge into our young minds. Along with the mental picture of Dean Craycraft in a tan corduroy three-piece suit hollering “People…people…people” to get our hormone-drenched attention was a factoid: Czechoslovakia — a country since disbanded into the Czech Republic and Slovakia — was envied by the Nazis for their juicy resources. One of their exports was glass, made from these resources. Sometimes education works.

Dorothy’s bequest was, indeed, a cache of vintage Czechoslovakian buttons, most likely shipped to the U.S. in the 1920s or ’30s. They had made their way across the Atlantic to my great-grandmother Rosalie, or maybe her mother Caroline, in Ohio and from her to Dorothy and then, to me.

I decided to explore Czech glass buttons. Bohemia, the largest historic region of the Czech Republic, became famous for its high-quality glass back in the 1200s. The Bohemian glass was sturdy enough to be engraved.

Bohemian glass at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Compliments of WikiMedia.

Button making began in the late 1700s with the invention of metal button molds. First, hard steel “kernels” were carved with the desired design. These were pressed upon softer metal to make a reverse image metal mold of the button. The…

Diane Helentjaris

Writer with a love of the overlooked. Author of the new historical fiction novel The Indenture of Ivy O’Neill,