Mother of Pearl Buttons: An American Story
It all started with a German button maker by the name of J. F. Boepple.  His button business was struggling in Germany due to tariffs for the importation of the raw materials for the buttons.  Mr. Boepple moved his expensive machinery to Muscatine, Iowa.  The area was rich with thick fresh water oysters from the Mississippi and allowed him to build a booming business.

By 1891, Muscatine became the Pearl Button Capital of the World.   The industry created a great number of jobs for area townspeople and was expanded into other factories in Muscatine and in  Wisconsin.   By 1905, 1.5 billion buttons were created annually. 


Mother of Pearl button making was a very labor intensive process even with the use of machines.  After the clammers brought in their haul, they were soaked for a period of time and then separated.   Thick 1/2" round blanks were cut by saws.  This blank was then divided into several buttons and then ground flat under grindstones.  The buttons then had holes drilled in them along with knives that carved the designs.  They then passed through smoothing/polishing process involving pumice.

Lastly, they were sorted and then sewn on cards which could be done by local girls/women/children in home based businesses.    It was tedious work and they were paid for each completed card.  Although you may not realize it, each button was handled at least 30 times before they were offered for sale!

The business of making mother of pearl buttons in the US dwindled due to a change in fashion,  mussel depletion, and the advent of the plastic button. 


Fast forward over 100 years and you will see many of these surviving works of art in jewelry and other endeavors.  We at set them in custom sterling settings as wearable antiques and art jewelry.  Each is an exquisite piece in the fabric of our country's story and worth preserving.

You can find more information at and more jewelry at


Doris Hoyt

Date 7/3/2014


Date 9/7/2014

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