This photograph of Arthur Burton Donovan, a home cutter of mother-of-pearl buttons, was taken in December 1974 long after the button industry had died out in Milton Delaware.
By the late 1960s, there were only a handful of button cutters still working in the area.
Hard-working men like Donovan, Preston Chandler and his son, as well as Harold and Harley Wilkerson continued to cut mother-of-pearl buttons for many years after the factories were gone.
Donovan was formerly employed at the Lippincott Button Factory, Milton’s largest.
He also had a button cutting machine in his own shed where he pressed buttons. He lived on the west side of Union Street in Milton.
The button blanks these men created we shipped to the J. Carucci Button Company in New Jersey for finishing. Carucci supplied major fashion houses with pearl buttons for haute couture.
By 1984, there were only 2 companies in the United States that distributed mother-of-pearl buttons.
With the rise of mass production and more efficient technology, Preston Chandler, Sr., a local button cutter who worked well into the 1980s cutting buttons bemoaned, “then a machine was invented that makes as many buttons in one day as a thousand men can make in a year.”
Photograph courtesy of Atwood Timmons. Collection of Milton Historical Society.