One of the things I admire most about 18th c fashion is the incredible attention to the details. In an era when every cut and stitch was done by hand (and when even highly skilled labor cost less than the raw materials), the level of craftsmanship to be found in the embroidery on a wealthy gentleman's coat pocket or even in the meticulous stitches outlining the bones of a lady's stays (corset) has seldom been equaled.
I came across this button, left, while browsing through the excellent site of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Because there's very little written about the button on the site, I'm guessing that it must have been part of a set of buttons at one time, leaving it now as the lone survivor after nearly 250 years. This photograph is very much enlarged (and you can click on the image to enlarge it further); compared with other buttons of the time, this one is probably less than an inch in diameter at most, or roughly the size of a modern penny - and again I'm guessing, since the site doesn't give a measurement. Most likely it appeared on a gentleman's waistcoat or coat.
The button shows a girl playing a French hurdy gurdy, a popular street instrument of the time, balanced across her knees. (Forget that hiccup-y old 1960s song by Donovan; here is a YouTube video featuring a traditional hurdy gurdy, and it's really a lovely, evocative sound.) It's possible the rest of the buttons on the garment showed other girls playing other kinds of instruments, since unmatched buttons with similar themes were popular in the late 18th c., such as this set or this one.
Above: Button, French, c 1775, from the Hanna S. Kohn Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photography courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.
*Why the double name? Yes, I'm a Gemini (so is Loretta), but this is the real reason.