|The purpose of this page is to introduce the reader to Ashlee buttons using selected quotes from the literature and showing images of buttons that match the descriptions and examples shown in the literature. A list of references is provided at the bottom of the page which provides extensive information on the history and identification of the buttons we call Ashlee type. Reference 7 was written by Freddie Speights and contains significant background and detailed information on Ashlee type buttons. With the kind permission of Jean Speights, the 16 page article is reproduced for this educational project and can be accessed using the link above. It can be downloaded or printed from your browser. The images shown below are primarily from the collection of Don and Barbara Lanier with a few added examples from Lou Yeargain's collection. The photographs provide a sample of the range and subject matter of Ashlee buttons. The bottom row on the page shows shank attachment types that are typical for the Ashlee buttons below.|
What are Ashlee Buttons?
"Metal picture buttons assembled in the 1940's from old metal stampings. Most were large and two piece construction with the pictorial finding (animals, insects, heads, etc.) soldered onto a plain or ornamental disk. Some had paste embellishment. Collectors purchased them as old at the time of their marketing. They are now accepted in Div. III and Div. IX as legitimate buttons." [Reference 1]
"The Ashlee buttons have caused a great deal of discussion among collectors, because these are newly made buttons from old findings (button parts) around 1940. They were sold as newly assembled buttons by the factory, which was the truth, but not all dealers are honest and in 1948 these newly assembled buttons were turning up and being sold as "old"...., which they were not. These buttons are growing older every year, and have been approved by National Button Society, so don't let the name Ashlee scare you into passing up good buttons." [Reference 2]
"Since the organization of the button hobby fifty years ago, few things have caused such an uproar as the controversial Ashlee buttons. In 1941 the fury hit the fan when one publication stated that a "button racket was in full swing in the East". A card of Ashlee buttons was displayed with the word "FAKE" in huge letters." [Reference 3]
"If we permit recently assembled buttons to be received as old, we are undermining the values of the really old and desirable buttons that we have had such pleasure in collecting and exhibiting, and which have been bringing us more and more museum recognition. Such a policy would endanger the integrity of all that the National Button Society stands for." (Chester Pendleton - Reference 7)
"It was during Mrs. Gundlach's ownership, in the forties, at which time the firm had converted from button manufacture to jewelry engraving, that the Ashlee Company retained a leftover button stock from the E.S. Asch Company and the Steel & Taylor firm. Although some of the stock was finished buttons, most of it was unassembled parts. The dealers first purchased the leftover completed buttons, and then engaged the Ashlee Company to assemble, or create from the finding, finished buttons, often intermingling parts from the two companies. ............The dealers were over anxious to meet the demand for picture buttons. The dealers were finding it hard to meet the demand with only authentic buttons at that time. So Mrs. Gundlach's button and jewelry pieces made into buttons - maybe the design overlapping the disk - flooded the market. The prices ranged from Mrs. Gundlach's price of fifty cents to the dealers prices of sometimes twenty-five dollars. This back in the 1940's and 1950's." (Reference 4)
Miss Ashlee Response!
"I realize that the officers and judges of these button shows are within their province in making any rules and regulations they care to do with regard to the prizes. However, I hear that at a button show a card of our buttons was displayed with the word "fakes" in large letters. In other words, some person or persons were making the name "Ashlee" synonymous with deceit. I challenge the right of anyone to so label buttons made by an authentic button house and not sold under any misrepresentation."(Reference 5)
Could Ashlee Buttons be Division I?
"When a collector-dealer visited the Ashlee shop ...the dealer purchased all the assembled buttons leaving only the stampings in the more desirable patterns..... But paramount is that this company made buttons for many years prior to the aforementioned dealer who purchased those that were stored away for decades! And we cannot lose sight of the fact that those buttons purchased by the dealer were from old stock, we'll never know just how old, and could have been made anytime between the 1870s and 1940." (Reference 6)
"The Ashlee buttons have been a major cause of an epidemic of measles in National competition over the years. They can be as dangerous as a land mine to the unknowing, capable of blowing up a perfectly beautiful tray in competition in Division I. They are fine in IX, but an absolute no-no in I." (Reference 8)
Will You Know One When You See One?
"Ashlee buttons do have a certain look about them. There are certain distinguishing features which you can readily recognize once you see a lot of them together. First and foremost, though, you should be able to recognize an Ashlee stamping." (Reference 3)
"High relief is a characteristic of many of the
Ashlees. Often the dissimilarity between the stamping/finding and the
reference materials should make you question a button as an Ashlee.
Discoloration around the attached finding sometimes gives you a clue.
Many of these findings were used in jewelry and as buckle parts, so they
did not take the "fixative" as well as most old buttons. Through the
years the discoloration of the "fixative" around the stamping/finding
has become even more apparent. For the most part, metal
stampings/findings were soldered on plain or ornamental rings or a metal
loop shank (often of copper) were soldered to a one piece
stamping/finding." (Reference 6)
Move mouse over examples in last row to see backs.
A Summary of Ashlee Buttons
"It is unfortunate that the name "Ashlee" was ever attached to this type of button. It reminds me of the angry father who chased his children into a closet and punished the first one he could grab - so it was that the Ashlee Company - a reputable button manufacturer - got the blame for all the trickery and fraudulent practices during the 40's and 50's. It is a known fact that once button collectors give something a name, dynamite cannot blast it loose. However, I would encourage you to use the term "Ashlee Type" when referring to these buttons." (Reference 3)
"The Ashlees should be a part of your collection as they are a part of ours because they are magnificent and certainly enhance the antiquity and beauty of the collection." (Reference 6)
See Note 1
|Hover your mouse over the buttons below to see the backs of the buttons|
|Note 1: In reference 8 (page 37, lower image), Freddie Speights identifies this button, depicting Maude Adams as Chanticleer, as an Ashlee. Three months later in reference 3 (page 85) Freddie provides additional information including the statement that the Maude Adams button shown in reference 8 and above is not an Ashlee. There were probably many buttons shown as Ashlee in the references that were originally made before 1918 and the leftover findings ended up in the Ashlee cache. One might prove this by finding salesman cards or magazine/catalog advertisements from pre-1918 sources. However, differentiating between the original manufactured stock and those assembled later from the leftover stock is likely difficult especially where there are no unique borders or body parts.|
Button Society Official Classification and Competition Guidelines (Blue
This educational project was proposed by Don and Barbara Lanier who collected and made
available the reference materials cited above. Thanks also to Lou
Yeargain who continues to collaborate on all of the Button Country