Thursday, October 10, 2013

Buttons From Lengberg

Thread-wrapped button, 18th c. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)
Beatrix Nutz recently posted this article on which shows a new facet of the Lengberg Castle discoveries: buttons! The type of button found is made by wrapping thread many times around a hard (often wooden) core to form a kind of shank button with attractive, textural geometric designs. The general manner of construction (though specific wrap patterns will vary by button) is described here

This type sort of button is not an unusual button type to find associated with clothing of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. But the fact that two of them have been found in the same niche at Lengberg as the textile finds suggests that such buttons were made as early as the 15th century. Professor Nutz acknowledges that it is possible that something as small as these buttons (both of them are less than an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter) could have fallen to their find spot through cracks in the floors and might not be contemporaneous with the textiles. However, she thinks it unlikely that two very different thread buttons (one uses green thread, the other white) and six wooden button forms from a different period all could have fallen into the same cache by accident. This is, sadly, as close to a definitive dating of the buttons as we are likely to get, because the buttons cannot be carbon-14 dated without seriously damaging them. 

Professor Nutz also observes that these buttons might not have been used on clothing. She notes that the only other 15th century example of such a button was found in conjunction with a book and likely was the anchor point for a bookmark. The Lengberg buttons might also have been associated with bookmarks, though that too seems unlikely, to me, given that no book detritus was found in the vault spandrel with the textile items.  In any event, it is interesting confirmation that thread-wrapped buttons were being made earlier than the 17th century.

EDIT:  (12/11/2015)  It turns out there are substantial paper fragments at Lengberg (see the first comment below).


  1. It is not true that no book detritus was found in Lengberg. Lots of paper fragments from handwritten pages (published here: Plattner Philipp, Die Schriftfunde aus den Gewölbezwickelfüllungen von Schloss Lengberg in Osttirol. Lengberger Studien zur Mittelalterarchäologie 4. = The scripture findings from the vault filling of Lengberg Castle in East Tyrol. Lengberg-Studies on Medieval Archaeology 4. NEARCHOS Beiheft 14, 2014) were found. As well as the fragment of an elaborately decorated leather book cover (not published).

    1. Thanks for the information about the paper fragments! I was unaware of them. One reason I blog is that by inadvertently making a misstatement I learn more about actual finds.