Celluloid photo buttons came into use in the United States about 1900, probably reaching the height of their popularity in the early 1920's.


Deemed "buttons" because of their shape, they were created by taking a photograph, which was then subsequently laminated with a paper mat (the background) using a cellulose nitrate film (the outer covering) which was wrapped around a tin or brass metal base and then mechanically pressed together.  The backs were either plain, or sometimes contained loops, pins (to attach to clothing) or wire leg supports, depending upon how they would be used or displayed.  As their popularity increased, the concept found its way into other items such as paper weights, mirrors and other novelties created for advertising.

Primarily made by itinerant photographers on the street and at circuses, fairs and other political or social events, they were also produced as remembrances of a life event such as the celebration of a newborn, as a memorial to those recently departed or as a wartime tribute to those having served in the armed forces. 

Buttons ranged in size from the very large, that could be hung on walls or displayed on tables or other furniture, to the very small that were worn as lapel pins, brooches or other jewelry.  All manner of shapes were seen, the most popular being circular, oval and rectangular.  The level of decoration ranged from the very simple, unadorned black and white or sepia-toned images, to those that were very colorful and highly ornate. 


The celluloid photo button as an photographic art form, would later evolve, finding new life in the form of identification badges that were commonly used in business and government well into the 1940's.