WOODn’t you like to know more about

By Vicky Mayhall


When I first started collecting buttons nine years ago, I had a tough time identifying some of the materials.  The first time I saw a BURWOOD/SYROCO wood composition button, I KNEW (for a change) what I had.  

I knew that I had handled several odd items made by these two companies in my little antique shop booth.   Over the years, I’d found thermometers, decorative wall plaques, clocks, bookends and tie racks with charming relief molded designs of comic characters, ships, horses, commemorative items (the 1939 World’s Fair) and a host of other themes.  They were usually identified with a foil sticker on the back of the item.  EUREKA!  They made buttons!

I immediately started a quest to find more of these buttons and have searched for information on these companies ever since.   After several hours of searching on the internet, I was surprised to find virtually no sites with any complete company history of either Burwood or Syroco.  I was unable to find any clubs dedicated to collecting Syroco or Burwood either.  There are several sites with information about the Corkscrews and small novelty statues made by the Syroco Company but as of yet, I have found no printed references to these companies and their manufacture of buttons.

Syroco:  Manufactured by the Syracuse Ornamental Company in Syracuse, New York.  This company was founded in 1890.  They produced many different decorative items.  Their product “Syrocowood” was a thermoset material composed of 90% wood.  The same designs are often found in both a wood tone spray and a colored paint (blue, green, red, grey and putty to name a few).  These are also found in a silver spray finish and metallic “metalgold” (which was applied by deposit method).  The gold and silver finished buttons  have been attributed to being made by the Syroco Company.  The company estimates the time of production from 1918 to 1925 for their buttons and buckles.

Burwood:  The Burwood Products Company of Traverse City, Michigan also made similar whimsical designs on buttons.  One original card shows the trade name KarvKraft, with the city name at the bottom corner.  During the 1920-30’s period, practically the entire production was buckles and buttons.  It is understood that production of these fashion accessories ceased around 1933-1937.

Both companies admitted in letters to that there was no definite distinction in their designs (they weren’t sure which buttons were theirs and which were the competitors when some were sent to them for identification in the 1940’s!).  These buttons all can be found with two holes, four holes and inserted eyelet metal shanks.  The back of the buttons usually shows small parallel lines similar to saw marks.  

There are a few celluloid buttons that had a pictorial piece (with no sew holes) of  Syroco/Burwood cemented to the top.  Two that I know of are a very ugly troll like profile man on a thin wafer, the other is an Egyptian woman’s left facing profile which is also seen as a two hole sew through.  The Egyptian button on celluloid lacks the holes for a sew thru on her ears when on the celluloid disk as a material embellishment  (so you can be sure it’s not a make-up!).  Both of these buttons are relatively scarce.

More wood composition buttons to be on the look out for are backmarked either ANN or GAP.   The American Novelties and Notions Company made buttons backmarked ANN.  The General Art Products Company made buttons backmarked GAP.  

Unfortunately, many collectors are mistaking ANN and GAP buttons for plaster or phenolic resins due to the usually ill defined molding and chunky thickness, which is commonly associated with plaster and plastic buttons of the same era.  Many ANN and GAP buttons are metalized as well, giving even more confusion to the identification. The only way to tell is by hot needle testing, but if the button is marked ANN or GAP you can be sure it is wood pulp composition.

You can find many of the ANN and GAP buttons with glass and other material embellishments such as glass rhinestone embellishment and cabs.  They are usually finished with colored or gold paint and come in pictorials, patterns and shapes that certainly will add to any competition tray!  Finding them in mint condition is difficult however, as the paint seems to wear with time and the glass glued in “stones” have a tendency to fall out.

Most, but not all, ANN and GAP buttons were backmarked. Unmarked buttons have a typical “well” indentation circling an inserted wire loop shank.  

There seems to be a pattern to the shank manufacturer that I have discovered while looking over my ANN buttons.  The wire shank is usually an inserted wire, which is bent back to form the loop.  The wire has a sharp point.  Several of my unmarked buttons have this shank as well.  I have one button (leaf) which is marked with only a capitol “A” and collectors are attributing this backmark to the ANN Company, but it has a metal eyelet loop shank.  This may be of later manufacturer.

All GAP buttons have inserted metal eyelet shanks and will sometimes have a number with the backmark.  I have one with only a number on it and no backmark (it has the typical “well”).

There are other wood composition buttons which at this time are not attributed to any manufacturer.  These have a hump like self shank, usually with a depressed needle guide line.  The photos show the two I have, one is a pair of Tennis racquets, and another is a football player (quarterback) running with a ball tucked under his arm and an outstretched arm in front of him.

Burwood, Syroco, ANN and GAP (and associated types) are found in the NBS Classification Book under Section 7-A - Assorted Materials, Class 147.2.  These buttons can add a new dimension to competition trays since all can be found in a wide variety of sizes (3/4” to 2” or more), shapes and pictorials.  A full card of any of these types should not be too hard to complete, since they are not scarce, though some of the pictorials are harder to find than others.  They can be purchased in the range of $5 to over $100 for the more desirable pictorials.

Who WOODn’t  like a few more of these great buttons in their collection!

This article previously appeared in the Fall 2002 Arizona State Button Society Bulletin. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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Last modified on 03/09/03