Ask a Curator: Steatite Button Mold

 Once again, it is time for us here at NMSC to Ask a Curator.  We would like to know more about the steatite (soapstone) button mold shown here.

Steatite button mold

We know that the majority of buttons used in 17th and 18th century America were imported from England.  Homemade pewter buttons, however, were also common during this time period.  Pewter was easily molded into buttons because of its low melting temperature and its ease of re-use.  Plain, undecorated pewter buttons were often produced in small metal molds with wooden handles that made up to seven buttons at a time.  English colonists – and Native Americans – also used stone molds like this one to make pewter buttons. 

What can you tell us about this mold?  Do you have a similar one in your collection?  Is it English colonial, or is it Native American?  Have you ever seen this decorative motif on an actual button?  We’d like to hear from you!

References: 

Loren, Diana DePaolo.  The Archaeology of Clothing and Bodily Adornment in Colonial America.  Gainesville:  Univeristy Press of Florida, 2010.

Marcel, Sarah Elizabeth.  Buttoning Down the Past:  A Look at Buttons as Indicators of Chronology and Material Culture.  University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects, 1994.

Odland, Jillian.  Buttons from Cocumscussoc.  Castle Chronicle 15(1) 2006. 

White, Carolyn L.  American Artifacts of Personal Adornment 1680-1820.  New York:  Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc, 2005.

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About JessicaC

Jessica is a Museum Specialist in the Archeology Program at the Northeast Museum Services Center/National Park Service. She majored in history as an undergraduate at the State University of New York at Geneseo, and has a master's degree in historical archeology from the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She is particularly interested in 18th and 19th century American history and material culture.
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