Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Button Wednesday : Tagua Nuts

It is Wednesday again, so it's BUTTON DAY on my blog !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today I want to show you some of my favorite buttons; buttons made of tagua nuts, corozo nuts or Steinnuss in German (literally translated: stone nuts). They were very popular in the 1920s as ordinary clothing buttons, but also as little gems. Tagua nuts come from ivory palms, ivory-nut palms or tagua palms in South America; their scientific name Phytelephas means "plant elephant". This and the first two of the common names refer to the very hard white endosperm of their seeds (the tagua nuts), which resembles elephant ivory, both in color as in structure. That's why its material is also often called vegetable ivory. The nuts are as large as a small avocado, about 4-8 cm in diameter. When dried out, the nuts can be carved just like elephant ivory; they were used for beads, buttons, figurines, jewelry, bagpipes, chess pieces, netsukes, etc. And they can be dyed in all possible colors. The nuts came often to Europe as ballast on ships sailing back from America to Europe without cargo. Hamburg in Germany was, for example, a "tagua nut harbour" and the Steinnuss buttons were made in industries all over Germany. They were used on German military uniforms because of their durability.

(Pictures from LeeValley and ColombiArte)

I found some great pictures of some beautiful vintage tagua buttons; so here we go (all from

However, the plastics took over from the tagua nuts after WWII, being cheaper to produce. But the funny thing is that the tagua nut buttons are back ! In the present time of ecosystems and environmental concerns, the tagua nuts are helping to save the elephants from extinction and the rainforests from deforestation. And it provides work to thousands of people in some poor parts of South America. So lots of eco-friendly modern fashion industries have started to work with tagua nut buttons again !

(Pictures from Nature Beads, Keetsa, and rave fabricare)

Have you seen a lovely, beautiful, stunning, crazy button or button-related thingy, or did you make something with a button / buttons, or did you even make buttons yourself, blog about it on your blog on Wednesday, and give the link here in the comments so that everybody can enjoy it !!


Kreativlink said...

Cool! I've never heard about Tagua Nuts before.

X by Leina Neima said...

Love your button education!

inger lutje schipholt said...

A pity plastic took over, they are too uniform. I so like the irregularity of the natural materials :)

KT said...

I always wondered what vegetable ivory was. Now I know. Thanks. I love your blog.

PetitPlat Miniature Food - Stephanie Kilgast said...

My mum loves those nuts. Cool buttons too :D

Katerina said...

Fantastic buttons.

Tumblestone Handmakery said...

I had no idea!
now I need to go through my enormous collection and see if I have some! I would be surprised if I didn't, I've got quite the collection, but I've been making button mosaic frames & mirrors lately so I've got a dent in the collection now and I'm getting worried lol... I NEED more buttons!!!
please have a look, my last blog post is full of buttons!

Tumblestone Handmakery said...

I just also wanted to add that I am in LOVE with the bright blue ones above the orange triangle ones! ~ gorgeous!

Carrie said...

tagua was commonly used for making buttons before plastic. Today they make amazing jewelry and carvings from tagua nuts.