| ||As a button collector and a big time sorter of buttons, I don't think there are any buttons quite so fascinating or under appreciated as Vegetable Ivory.|
At the height of their production they were second only to pearl, the only other natural material as versatile as Vegetable Ivory. A button maker's dream, Vegetable Ivory could be buffed, dyed, engraved, carved, pierced, embossed with a die, trimmed and stenciled. Vegetable Ivory takes a lustrous polish, and the buttons have a satiny feel. Of the many different kinds of buttons that I've sorted, there's nothing quite like running my fingers through a bag of Vegetable Ivory. At first glance they are a pretty boring bunch of mostly brownish colored buttons. But take a close look. Their myriad patterns of embossed and carved designs are anything but "conventional."
From the nut of the corozo or tagua palm in the rain forests of Central and South America, the natives had used the Vegetable Ivory for personal items for centuries. Johann Hill, an Austrian wood carver, perhaps not the discoverer but some one astute enough to observe an upcoming trend, introduced Vegetable Ivory at the 1862 Universal Expo in Paris. America and England began production of the buttons right away. Some production had already been going on, but on a small scale. France did not get into the trade until the 1870's.
The trade name became Vegetable Ivory to distinguish it from tusk ivory. Also it was used as a substitute for the same when it was discovered to be cheap and plentiful. Decline in production didn't come until the 1920's when plastics became more economical. By the 1940's few Vegetable Ivory buttons were made.
Today the buttons are being produced once again under Tagua Initiative. They support conservation and show that rather than burning the trees, they can become a cash crop.