Victorian Dragon Buttons

05/7/19

Mythical and mystical, dragons have been the subject of human legend in almost all cultures, from ancient Babylon and Greece to early Norse mythology. Today, dragons are once again front and center in popular culture, this time as the three fierce children of Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones: Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion. In celebration of the series’ final episodes, we are releasing a limited-edition collection of necklaces and earrings made with authentic late 19th century dragon buttons!

Scroll down to see the pieces we have available, and note that each is one-of-a-kind: if you like something you see, buy it now!

The dragons on our buttons all conform to the Western image of the dragon as a large, winged, four-legged creature capable of breathing fire. This version was an invention of the High Middle Ages in Europe, and was based on a conflation of earlier dragons from different traditions. (For instance, dragons in ancient China were snake-like creatures without wings who were highly intelligent and brought good luck). Daenerys’ dragons look very much like those from 11th-13th century European texts, but they are different in one important way: their allegiance to a human being. Medieval dragons were considered evil monsters to be overcome or killed, and were often seen as stand-ins for the devil, as was the dragon St. Michael killed in the Book of Revelation (see below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We collected these dragon buttons for our Button Museum in 1994. Many are larger versions of the buttons we’re using in these jewelry pieces! All were made in the 1880s through the early 1890s, the height of the Victorian craze for unusual brass “picture buttons.” Women would wear one to three dozen of such buttons on their gowns, and gravitated not just to the usual subjects of flora and fauna, but also to unexpected images such as dragons, insects, snakes, and warriors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An hour searching the internet yielded these fabulous twelve dragon buttons which, like the origin of dragons themselves, come from a variety of cultures and aesthetic traditions.

1.  Late 19th century Japanese gin bari with cloisonné enamel button. Made for the tourist trade with a base of silver-embossed foil, upon which a cloisonne’ dragon design is applied and coated with enamel.
2.  Late 19th century French brass button with champlevee’ enamel and glass crystals.
3.  Late 19th century Japanese hand-chased and pierced sterling silver button. In ancient Japan, dragons were thought to bring good luck, plentiful rain, and bountiful harvests.
4.  Circa 1885 French brass button of the Archangel Michael slaying a dragon, taken from this passage in the Bible’s Book of Revelation: ”And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon….And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” 
5.  Victorian abalone shell button with hand-carved dragon, circa 1880-90.
6.  Japanese Arita porcelain dragon from the 1960s.
7.  Victorian brass button circa 1885 with unusual woven rattan background, called “The Chinese Dragon slayer.” (We also have a Victorian wool coat in our museum with these buttons.)
8.  Late 19th century Japanese gin bari enamel button of dragon. Gin bari is a Japanese enamel technique in which enamel is applied over an embossed silver background.
9.  British brass Art Nouveau dragon button with a peacock eye glass cabochon, circa 1890-1900.
10.  Late Victorian “steel cup” button with a stamped brass dragon with a cut steel wing.
11.  Very fine late 19th century porcelain button from the Satsuma province of Japan, set in sterling silver. 
12.  Victorian stamped brass button of three-toed dragon, circa 1880-90.