Plain Flat and Dome buttons have shanks of varying lengths. Most have a short shank with a shank hole, which you pass through the thread, cord, or thong, close to the back of the button. Some buttons, such as Plain Flat No. 22, have a longer shank which makes it easier to button multiple layers of cloth or leather. Unlike British Regimental buttons, nearly all plain buttons were cast with the shank integral to the body of the button.
Continental Army buttons have shanks of varying lengths but most are close to the back of the button. Unlike the British, the Americans did not have a commonly accepted standard on shank length. French made buttons have a turret back, cast integral with the button body, with shank holes drilled at right angles. All our French buttons use the American version of a button shank. Only our Lottery Coat Dome button has a turret shank.
British enlisted buttons were made by inserting an iron wire loop into a recess in the button mold. When the pewter was poured, the tips of the iron loop was encased in a short cone of pewter behind the button face. This was not a very strong loop, as many original British buttons are found without the loops and you can see how they worked their way free of the pewter. Our British buttons are cast with the shank integral to the body of the button.
Officer buttons of the American Revolution were usually made of thin copper foil, impressed with the design and plated in gold or silver, and crimped around a thin base of horn or bone. The base had four holes in which a short length of catgut was tied, with the knot between the base and copper face so it would be hidden. To hold the button to the coat, sewing thread passed through loops formed between the catgut and base. The weakness in these buttons is the crimping. The base can warp and then the copper face pops off. Our officer buttons are not this complex, but are made of solid pewter then plated in gold or silver.
If you would like more information on the subject of period buttons the best book on the subject is Don Troiani's Military Buttons of the American Revolution.
Our buttons are made of lead free, 98% tin pewter. Pewter can be just about any white metal mixture with tin as its chief component. Often lead is used in the mix because it is inexpensive, but it makes the button heavy and stains the clothing. To minimize glare, most photos were taken before the buttons were polished. Which leads me to announce an improvement. Starting in December 2002 all pewter buttons will be polished at no additional charge.