August 21, 2012

The History of Mother of Pearl Buttons

My friend, Kathleen, from Yesteryear Embroideries posted this information recently about mother of pearl buttons.  With her permission, of course, I am sharing some of her photos.

Mr. Beopple cutting buttons.
John Fredrick Beopple, an immigrant from Otlensen, Germany and farm laborer in Columbus Junction in the late 19th century is credited with beginning the pearl button industry in Muscatine, Iowa.

While in Germany, Beopple made buttons from animal horns, but also experimented using fresh-water mussel shells. William Molis, superintendent of the water works, loaned Beopple $15 to move his hand made button cutting machine to Muscatine. Muscatine is located at a bend in the Mississippi River where great amounts of clams grew.
Advertising piece for Beopple's Buttons
On January 26, 1891, Beopple partnered with Molis and formed Beopple Pearl Button Company.  In 1898 Nicholas, Patrick and Thomas Barry boosted the industry into a modern commercial enterprise by developing automatic saws and drills. Barry automation caused the pearl button industry in Muscatine to increase so at its peak from 1913-1919 one third of the entire population of Muscatine was employed in some aspect of making pearl buttons. Beopple later served as a shell expert at the Biological Station at Fairport, Iowa, a few miles from Muscatine, in studying mussel shells of the Mississippi River. During the preparation of the Dingley Tariff Bill, Beopple was called as a pearl button authority to Washington DC.  Beopple died January 30, 1972



  1. This is facinating - I never would have guessed that pearl buttons were made in Iowa!!

  2. Ditto Kathy, how interesting. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. How interesting and mother of pearl buttons are my favorite. I collect older ones and love how some of the back side you can see the cut or inside of shell.
    I played with my mother of pearl buttons this last week end . I am going to make me a necklace , ? well hopefully I am I have all these ideas I see in magazines and try to copy them sometimes with good results.

    I even move some of my mother of pearl buttons to a prettier jar

  4. I could look at pearl buttons all day long! Lovely!

  5. I love mother of pearl buttons and am so enjoying Button Floozies.

  6. One site of great interest to anyone interested in mother of pearl history is karipearls.com.

  7. What a lovely & very interesting piece of history ... love those pearl buttons. I remember Mother always looking for new ones at JCPenney when she was sewing something new.

    TTFN ~
    Have a beautiful holiday weekend, Sharon ~

  8. A lots of beautiful pearl buttons. I love the shapes and It's amazing. Thanks for sharing. God bless you.

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  9. Hello, I am visiting from Kim's Golden Pines and wanted to thank you for the article on mother of pearl buttons. Very interesting and very surprising that this fellow started here in the midwest!

    I have a nice little collection and always seeking more.I always "think" I am going to use them on something, but like Midas, I just like better to look through them now and then!

    Jo in MN, with Stella and Zkhat