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Victorian & Edwardian Canadian Pinbacks

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasures

The first political pinback buttons appeared in the 1896 American Presidential election, between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan. They were first made of celluloid which had been invented around 1870, in an attempt to find a replacement for the ivory of billiard balls, as it was getting scare. Celluloid pinbacks were common for the next thirty years.

With the Spanish American War of 1898, and the Boer War 1899-1902, pinbacks featuring generals became all the rage.

Some consider the Golden Age of campaign buttons as roughly 1896 to the Franklin Roosevelt era c 1930s.

After that, lithographic pinbacks began to appear, made with a manufacturing process that used printed images, and are more prone to rusting or scratching.

FAKE! Lots of pinbacks are recent repros, to take advantage of a growing demand by collectors to have fine specimens for their collections.

Are yours real antiques?

Late Victorian & Edwardian Celebrity Pinbacks - 1896-1911
Orig. celluloid pinbacks - Size - 23 mm to 4 cm
Found - Dundas, ON
Above, probably a very typical memorabilia mix of British, Canadian, and American pinbacks from a Victorian/Edwardian collection. 12 of the 33 feature Lord Roberts of Kandahar. All are generals or political figures. (Advertisers put out a slew of other promotional pinbacks with slogans to help sell cigarettes, etc., shown in another antique collection c 1910 on Roll Over.)

Pinbacks have pretty standard sizes, with by far the most common being 23 mm, and a Canadian-specific one, of 44 mm, the largest we have ever seen.

Above (Laurier back) and right (Can-US Friendship back), how they got their name: the pin. The back on most pinbacks we have seen bears the Whitehead & Hoag paper label, though this is a remarkably fine example.

More Great Canadian Treasures
American Pinbacks were collected by Canadians eager to be on side with Americans. With war fever setting in, Civil War Generals of an earlier age, like the first four below were also issued, among the heroes of the Spanish-American War.
American Civil War General
American Civil War General
American Civil War General
American Civil War General
Spanish-American War - 1898
Spanish-American War - 1898
Spanish-American War - 1898 Spanish-American War - 1898 Spanish-American War - 1898
Go to Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War - 1898 Spanish-American War - 1898
President McKinley Election - 1896 President McKinley Election - 1896 Pres. McKinley Assassinated - 1901
President Teddy Roosevelt - 1905 Buffalo Bill - 1898 General Pershing - 1917

President Wilson - 1913 Stop Lynching - 1920
More Great Canadian Treasures
British Boer War era pinbacks were extensively used in Canada, though some Canadian-specific buttons were also made locally, like two of the Lord Roberts buttons below.
Queen Victoria - 1900
Queen Victoria - 1897
Queen Victoria - 1897
Queen Victoria - 1900 Queen Victoria - 1900 Queen Victoria - 1901
King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra - 1902 Edward, Prince of Wales - 1900 King Edward VII - 1902
Lord Roberts - 1900 Lord Roberts - 1900 Lord Roberts - 1900
Lord Roberts - 1900 Lord Roberts - 1900 Lord Roberts - 1900
General Buller - 1900 General Kitchener - 1900 General Kitchener - 1900
Sir George White - 1900
Sir George White - 1900
Sir George White - 1900
Bugler Dunne - 1900 Bugler Dunne - 1900 General Woodgate 1900, Killed
Col. Baden-Powell - 1900 Col. Baden-Powell - 1900 General Hector Macdonald - 1900
Boer General AP Cronje - 1900 Boer President Paul Kruger - 1900 Lord Roberts & his Generals - 1900
Col. Otter that Fake!!!!

There are those who claim this pinback is of Canadian Col. William Otter, Commander of Canada's First Contingent to South Africa in 1899.

Trouble is it doesn't look like him, or any of his published images of the time...

Is it perhaps Col. AE Otter who commanded the 5th Victorian (Australian) Mounted Rifles in the Boer War?

Canadian PM Mack-Bowell - 1896
Canadian Prime Minister Charles Tupper PM Chas. Tupper - 1896 Canadian PM Charles Tupper - 1896
Sir Wilfrid Laurier - 1896 Sir Wilfrid Laurier - 1912 Sir Wilfrid Laurier - 1900
Sir Wilfrid Laurier - 1908 Sir Wilfrid Laurier - 1911 Sir Wilfrid Laurier - 1911
Canada-US Friendship - 1898 Wm. Sherring - 1906 RMS Lusitania - 1915

General Douglas Haig - 1914 Crow Motor Cars - 1915

The Duke & Duchess of York Visit Canada, 1901

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Pinback Brooch, Royal Visit to Canada, 1901
Orig. pinback brooch - Size - 40 mm
Found - Markham, ON
The Royal Visit of 1901 was a first in many ways. It was the first visit by a Royal Couple who were to become King and Queen of Canada. It was the first cross-Canada visit by an heir to the throne.

The visit of 1901 was in the middle of the Boer War to show appreciation for the support Canadians had made to Britain, and to distribute medals to returned veterans and dedicate memorials to the memory of the Fallen.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Pinback, Duke & Duchess of Cornwall & York - 1901
Orig. pinback - Size - 23 x 70 mm
Found - Dundas, ON
High end pinbacks were the larger ones of 40 mm or more. A cut above those are the ones which featured ribbon attachments, usually with flags. Because of the fragile nature of fabric, few have survived a hundred years since they were made.

Dating this is simple. The Duke and Duchess of York visited Canada in 1901, the occasion presumably when these pinbacks were worn as the royal couple drove by in their carriage, probably in Toronto, ON.

In 1902 the Duke became the Prince of Wales - as he then became known - on the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, when his father, who had been Prince of Wales for some 50 years, ascended the throne as King Edward VII.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Toronto Souvenir Program, Royal Visit, 1901
Orig. program - Size - 17 x 26 cm
Found - Beaverton, ON
65 pages with photos
The program which is ultra-rare in any condition, has numerous ads and photographs of the elite in society at the time, and a detailed itinerary of the Royal Couple, and maps of their parade route through downtown Toronto.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Boer War Memorial, Halifax, Hamilton MacCarthy, 1901
Orig. monument
Found - Halifax, NS
On their 1901 trip to Canada, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall opened Hamilton MacCarthy's fabulous Boer War Monument, right beside the Provincial Legislature, in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In 1911 they were crowned King George V and Queen Mary.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Souvenir Program, Quebec Tercentenary - 1908
Orig. program - Size - 15 x 26 cm
Found - Portland, ME
24 pages with photos & map
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Pinback, Duke & Duchess of York - 1901
Orig. pinback - Size - 23 x 60 mm
Found - Dundas, ON
Not all pinbacks were just stuck into clothes with a pin. Some were adorned with ribbons, or like the fabulous one left, were mounted in a decorative holder and locking safety pin.

Too many pins fell off, what with the frills and bustle of Victorian and Edwardian clothing; others were easily brushed off and lost.

This brooch was a precious heirloom to someone who didn't want to take the chance of losing something special.

The small sign Welcome, was of course, too tiny ever to be seen by the Duke and Duchess, but it was pinned over the heart. That's what counted....

Left, you can see the dark original pin, the tip of which could be slipped into a slot. Then the metal tabs which were folded over the pin to hold the frame and safety pin in place.

Toronto issued a large souvenir program below left.

In 1908, the Duke returned alone to help Canadians celebrate their 300th Anniversary of the Founding of Canada and Quebec.

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