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into the hands stretched out in wonder to
receive them, the English traveller took to
his heels.


IT is a serious thing to attempt to learn
about buttons at Birmingham. What buttons
are we thinking of? we are asked, if we
venture an inquiry. Do we want to see gilt,
or silvered buttons? or electro-plated? or
silk, or Florentine buttons ? or mother-of-
pearl, or steel, or wood, or bone, or horn
buttons? All these are made here. Before
we have made up our minds what to see first,
we hear somebody say that button-dies are
among the highest objects of the die-sinkers,
and medallists' art. This not only suddenly
raises our estimate of buttons, but decides us
to follow the production of the button from
the earliest stage,—if Messrs. Allen and Moore
will kindly permit us to see what their artists
and workmen are doing. This is not the first
time that we have had a hankering after this
spectacle. When we saw electro-plating
when we saw the making of pencil-cases and
trinketswe observed and handled many
steel dies, and wondered how they were made.
Now we are to learn.

It was not a little surprising to see, in other
manufactories, ranges of shelves, or pigeonholes,
covering whole sides of rooms, filled
with dies, worth from ten shillings to twenty-
four shillings each. It was rather sad, too,
to be told that a large proportion of these
might never again be of any usethe fashion
of a few weeks, or even days, having passed
away. Much more surprising is the sight of
the dies arranged along the shelves of the
makers of this curious article. Messrs. Allen
and Moore have made three thousand dies
within the last three years: and upon each
one, what thought has been spentwhat
ingenuitywhat knowledgewhat taste
what skill of eye and hand! A single die
will occupy one man a month, with all his
faculties in exercise; while another, with more
natural aptitude, or courage, or experience,
will do the same thing in two or three days.
To think of one thousand in a year,
produced with this effort and ability, and then
to remember that button dies are among
the highest productions of the art, cannot
but elevate our respect for buttons very

First, what is this steel die, which is so
much heard of, and so seldom seen, except by
those who go to seek it ? It is a block of
metal, round or square, as may happen, about
four or five inches in height, and rather
smaller at the top than the bottom. It
consists of a piece of soft steel in the centre,
surrounded by iron, to prevent its cracking by
expansion, under the treatment it is to be
subjected to. The bar of iron is wound round
the steel when hot, and welded to it; and
thus it comes from the forge, rough and
dirty. The steel surface at the top is then
polished; and if it is intended for a medal, it
is turned in the lathe. The artist sketches
his subject upon it, from the drawing before
him, with a pencil. When he has satisfied
himself with his drawing, he begins to
engrave. He rests his graver (a sharp point of
steel) across another graver, and cuts away
very gently; for it is always easy to cut away
more, but impossible to restore the minutest
chip when the stroke has gone too deep. He
keeps beside him a lump of red clay, which he
now and then lays upon his work, knocking it
down smartly through a frame, which keeps it
in shape; and thus he has presented to him
his work in relief, and can judge of its effect
so far. Little brushes in frames are also at
hand, wherewith to brush away particles of
steel, oil, and all dirt. When the engraving
is done, the most anxious process of all
succeeds. The steel must be hardened. All
has been done that could be done to prevent
fracture by the original surrounding of the
steel with iron; but cracks will happen
sometimes, and they spoil the work completely.
The block is heated to a crimson heatnot to
"a scaly heat," but a more moderate degree;
and then a dash of cold water hardens the
steel. This dash of cold water is the nervous
part of the business. In medals representing
heads, there is usually only a narrow line left
between the top of the concave head and the
edge of the steel; and this is where the
fracture is to be first looked for. When the Jenny
Lind medal was to be struck at this house,
no less than four dies were spoiled in succession.
It was vexatious; but the artists went
to work again, and succeeded. The Queen's
head is less mischievous than Jenny Lind's,
as the shallow work about the top of the
crown intervenes between the deeper
concavity and the rim. If the steel stands the
hardening, the die is ready for use, except
only that the plain surface must be well
polished before the medal or button is struck.

Before we go to the medal press, we must
look round this room a little. Ranged on
shelves, and suspended from nails, are casts
of limbs, of whole figures, of draperies, of
foliage,—of everything that is pretty. This
art comes next to that of the sculptor; and it
requires much of the same training. When
partially-draped figures are to be represented,
the artist engraves the naked figure first, and
the drapery afterwards; and to do this well,
he must have the sculptor's knowledge of
anatomy. He must be familiar with the best
works of art, because something of a classical
air is required in such an article as a medal.
The personifications of virtues, arts, sciences,
of all abstract conceptions which can thus
be presented,—must be of the old classical
types, or in close harmony with them. And
then, how much else is required! Think of
the skill in perspective required to engrave
the Crystal Palace in the space of two or
three inches! Think of the architectural

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