The term “accoutrements” connotes a vast number of objects, some of which are useful and others merely ornamental. To describe in detail the manufacture of military caps and helmets, ornamented belts, embroidered, badges, gold and silver lace, stamped buttons, etc., would require a considerable amount of space. It must suffice here to point out that all British-made goods of this kind are of far better quality than the products of foreign factories, and are much superior in point of artistic merit. Without a reputation -for thoroughly honest workmanship, no firm of accoutrementmakers could hope to obtain custom in this country or in any other part of the Empire. Moreover, the really successful firm must possess a precise knowledge of the exact requirements of every regiment or quasi-military organisation—such, for example, as a fire brigade—and of the various insignia worn on various occasions in various ways as part of military and civil uniforms. It will be found that this knowledge is a vast accumulation of facts gathered during a long course of years and stored up for the benefit of military tailors and other retail dealers. A brief account of the development and present condition of the manufacture of embossed buttons—the most common and convenient of all forms of the badge—may help the reader to understand the comprehensive nature of the productive and distributive business of the accoutrement-maker.
It is not easy to ascertain when ornamental brass buttons came into general use in this country. It is probable, however, that they first became fashionable when the manufacture of cloth-covered buttons was prohibited by a statute of the reign of George I. However that may be, we know that in 1702 or 1703 the founder of the most important firm of accoutrement-makers in London sold them at the Red Lion, “over against Norfolk Street, in the Strand,” and that he subsequently received a charter from George II. In those days, according to the Birmingham Directory for 1777, “buttonmaking was a very tedious and expensive business. The button consisted of one solid piece of metal, and the ornaments on the face of it were the work of an engraver. To obviate this the press, stamp and engine for turning the moulds were invented.”_ The invention and gradual improvement of this machinery has greatly diminished the cost of the button, which is also a badge of dignity, and has placed it within the reach of every person who has the right to wear the uniform to which it forms an adjunct. In the Eighteenth Century the use of stamped metal buttons was generally confined to the services or to those who wore the “King’s coat” and to the “retainers” of men of rank and lineage, but nowadays every hunt, every yacht club, all police and railway officials, and a great number of corporate bodies have their special buttons.
On the premises of a great firm of accoutrement-makers all the numerous processes involved in the making of a stamped button, from cutting the plain discs out of a sheet of metal to placing the polished perfect buttons on cards, may be seen in operation. Perhaps the. most striking feature of such an establishment is the extraordinary number of dies to be seen arranged in cases on every spare space of wall. The cost of making a pair of dies (necessarily there must be a pair of them, the one for stamping coat buttons and the other for stamping the smaller ones used on the'waistcoat) varies from 80s. to 7gs. When it is said that the old-established firm to which reference has been already made has over 50,000 pairs of these dies, some idea may be formed of the amount of capital invested in the business. The business of this firm increased 25 per cent. in volume after the beginning of hostilities in South Africa—a fact which throws a curious sidelight on the economic effects of a great war.
Another important branch of this firm’s business is the manufacture of metal helmets for the Household Cavalry and the Dragoons, for the London Fire Brigade, and for many county volunteer brigades.
Source: Great Britain, Her Finance and Commerce - Morning Post - 1901