This post is adapted from a presentation given by Christen Carter at the 2014 American Political Items Collectors convention in Denver, Colorado.
Whenever you’re a collector, you have to be on the lookout for fakes. Luckily advancements in printing and updates in material have made it easier to tell if a button is truly vintage or only made to look vintage. There aren’t many of them and the makers seem to come and go pretty quickly, but it’s always good to keep a lookout.
One of the first ways you can identify a fake is by the artwork on the button face itself. Older buttons are printed with spot color or half tones and usually using a letterpress process.
The example above is spot colors that are duo-toned to create other colors. See how the yellow and red combine to make the hair brown? And you can really see the printing is off-registration (out of alignment) in the letters where the yellow is extending outside of the lines. This is an early form of process printing.
In the 1940s CMYK (4-color) process became popular in commercial printing and was the most predominant type of printing by the 1960s. Today buttons are often printed in CMYK either in offset (larger quantities), laser (sometimes called digital offset), or homemade button makers will use ink jet printers.
A lot of these newer reproductions that I’ve seen are made with inkjet printing. If you’re trying to spot fakes, inkjet is great because it’s pretty easy to identify. The dots that make up an inkjet printed image are more scattered looking and not in much of a pattern.
Some button fakes use metal button parts that are currently available. If you look at the button parts supplier Tecre, you will see the most common types of parts used today. Some of the fakes seem to be Tecre parts that are rusted or acid washed to make the look aged.
The reproductions that I’ve seen are usually the collet style, which is the longest lasting style of backing– it’s been around since the beginning.
Celluloid/Acetate or Mylar
Nowadays, people use mylar or plastic laminte on the fronts of buttons. Older buttons had celluloid on the outside. There is a difference in feel that makes it possible to spot fakes– Celluloid will feel warmer after touching than mylar.
In most cases, the celluloid cinches around in the back in a more formed way than mylar, which has more prominent wrinkles. Tearing celluloid is easier and it’s more brittle. Tearing polyester (Mylar) is more difficult and ripples at the torn area.
The Burn Test
Celluloid burns very quickly and polyester Mylar drips and burns slower. I wouldn’t advocate burning your buttons, but it is one method!
If you are curious about a specific button you have possibly being a fake, please feel free to email us a picture at: email@example.com