Buttons are used to fasten uniforms or simply as ornamentation to demonstrate rank. Military buttons are either fastened using a shank with a hollow protrusion at the back or through holes in the button itself. Materials used have included bone, wood, metal and plastic. Many military buttons from previous centuries are now highly collectable items.
Up until 1767, buttons in the British Army did not identify particular regiments. After this time, buttons were numbered to designate the wearer's regiment. Nowadays, each unit of the British army has its own pictorial regimental button made from materials such as horn, plastic and compressed leather. The smallest are found on caps and mess dress waistcoats. Medium-size buttons are used on parade uniforms while large buttons are fitted to greatcoats and officers' dress jackets. Under British military dress regulations, a button's diameter is measured in "lignes" or "lines," where 40L is equivalent to one inch.
United States Buttons
U.S. military buttons designate particular branches of the armed forces. Buttons bearing the likeness of an eagle, especially in gold, will have come from a naval uniform. The Coast Guard military button features an anchor, most commonly silver-coloured. Air Force buttons also feature an eagle, but this eagle will have stars surrounding it and be perched on top of a symbol of another eagle. The eagles featured on Army buttons are relatively small and have symbols above their heads. The Marine Corps' eagle has a chain surrounding it with an anchor hanging off the end of it.
A large number of German troops were hired by the British to fight against the colonists during the American Revolution. Collectively referred to as "Hessians," these troops wore uniforms adorned with plain buttons that were flat-faced. The rear of the buttons featured a very pronounced boss, to which an iron wire eye was anchored. The buttons were made of a copper and zinc alloy known as tombac, or brass. Hessian buttons became increasingly common as the 18th century progressed.
Many French buttons feature the name of the French manufacturer on their backs. Buttons adorning the uniform of an officer in the Corps of Engineers are brass and feature a torso with a plumed helmet. In the 19th century, the silver-coloured marine and colonial button featured an anchor. Army officers wore buttons featuring a swirling circular pattern. Infantry soldiers wore buttons featuring numbers relating to their particular regiment.