Tailor’s boxes of buttons

Made in England, 1918-2003.

The craft of tailoring gradually developed in Europe from the twelfth century. In Australia, tailors were once a common sight in country towns and suburban main streets. Before the 1800s a suit ‘made to order’ was reserved for the wealthy. By the late 1800s increasing numbers of Australian working men had at least one good suit as a sign of respectability. Suits could be purchased ready-made, made to measure from a local tailor or the fabric and style could be chosen at a men’s wear store and th...


Boxes of buttons (2), cardboard / plastic / cotton / ink, boxes made by John Dewhurst & Sons Ltd, England, used by Ron and Maxwell Gillman, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia, 1918-2003

Two boxes of buttons. The buttons are not in their original packaging. Both boxes are made of white cardboard. They have removable lids. There is a decorative label on top of the lids. Text printed on the label is: 'DEWHURST'S', 'SYLKO', 'MACHINE TWIST', 'FAST COLOUR', 'MADE IN GREAT BRITAIN', 'THE THREE SHELLS BRAND', 'JOHN DEWHURST & SONS LTD', 'BELLE VUE MILLS SKIPTON', 'PHILADELPHIA 1876', 'PARIS 1878', 'FRANKFURT A/M 1881', 'AMSTERDAM 1883' and CALCUTTA 1883-84'.

On an end of one of the boxes lid is a label that says: 'DEWHURST'S', 'SYLKO', 'MACHINE TWIST', 'FAST COLOUR 36' and '1oz 28.3 GRAMME REELS ½ LB 227 GRAMMES NET'. On the other end of the box lid is another label. It says: 'ARTICLE No. E027', '8 REELS EACH 1 oz. (28.3 GRMS)' and 'COTTON THREAD'. On this end a button has been sewn on with thread. The button is the same as the ones inside. Inside this box are twenty eight buttons that are all the same. They are navy blue and made of plastic. They have four holes at their centre. There is also a piece of card inside that's red on one side and plain on the other. There is hand writing on the red side in pen and pencil.

On one end of the other boxes lid is a label that says: 'DEWHURST'S', 'SYLKO', 'MACHINE TWIST', 'FAST COLOR' and '1oz'. This label is partly missing. There is a piece of thread hanging loose, presumably it would have had a button sewn on it. On the other end of the box lid is another label. It says: 'ARTICLE No. E027' and '8 REELS EACH 1 oz. (28.3 GRMS)'. One one end of the base of the box is a label that says: 'D.14 BLACK'. Inside the box is a small plain white box with no lid. On one end '143', '3', '34' and 'Grs 1' is marked. There are fifty six buttons in this smaller box. All buttons are two shades of brown. There are fifty five buttons of the one size and one smaller button. Loose inside the larger box are twenty four buttons. Twenty two are the larger size button and there is one of the smaller type. There is one other button that's a similar colour with a rounded back rather than a flat back that the others have. All buttons are plastic and have four holes at their centre.


91 mm
49 mm


Box made by John Dewhurst & Sons Ltd, England. Maker and place manufacture for buttons is unknown.


These boxes of buttons came from Ron Gillman's tailor shop in Wagga Wagga. Ron was a third generation tailor. His grandfather, Joseph Gillman was a master tailor who arrived in the Riverina in 1883 from England. He established a tailoring business in the same year at Cootamundra and later in Hillston, Narrandera and Lockhart. Joseph and his wife had eight children, three of them boys. The three sons joined Joseph in his business and he taught them the trade. Two of the sons, Joseph Jnr and Maxwell opened a tailoring shop at 216 Baylis St Wagga Wagga in 1918. After eighteen months Joseph Jnr decided to start his own business and Maxwell carried on at Baylis St as M M Gillman. In 1932 Maxwell's son, Ron, went to work for his father at age 14 during the height of the Depression. During 1938 the business moved next door to 214 Baylis Street and in 1946 the business name was changed to M M Gillman & Son. Maxwell retired in 1949 and Ron took over the business.

Ron was trained to cut but did not do so until his father retired in 1949. Work done in the tailor shop was strictly divided along clear lines. For example, only the men did the 'tailoring' which was the hand sewing. The women were employed to machine sew straight seams and their wages were about half that of the men. There were eight people, the highest ever number, working in the shop in 1940. These included Maxwell, Ron and six women, two of whom were Ron's sisters.

Half of Ron's clients were farmers and half were working men. Professionals in the area took their tailoring requirements to Sydney. Much of a tailor's profit came from selling the material to make the suit. If a customer supplied the material profits were reduced. Ron said: 'that's the cream ... selling the material was the cream, making the job was the skim milk.' Prices were based on a day for a tailor to make a pair of trousers and four days for a two-piece suit.

Ron was a high class tailor. The styles of suits, jackets and pants that he made remained conservative over his career. Tailors sat cross-legged on their work bench, supporting the garment on their knees while they finished off by hand. Ron's workroom and those of his father and grandfather were behind the retail area that was at the front of the shop.

In 1970 Ron moved to the Nelso Arcade at 117 Baylis Street and he took as much of the old shop as he could. In 1992 he made his last suit, however he kept his shop open for alterations until November 2003 when he closed up shop.
Gillman, Ron 1918-2003


Gift of Ron Gillman, 2007
17 September, 2007

Cite this Object

Tailor's boxes of buttons 2017, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 November 2017, <https://ma.as/366975>
{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/366975 |title=Tailor's boxes of buttons |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=24 November 2017 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
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