The IISH buttons and pins collection has been enriched by a gift of about 500 more of these items from Mr. Martyn Lowe (London). We show some examples from our collection as well as some of the new additions.
These buttons, which are in the shape of a small, flat, tin, generally circular disc containing a message on the front side and a pin to attach them to clothing at the back, were very popular during the seventies. In 1976, twenty to thirty million copies of the Nuclear Power - No Thanks! - buttons were distributed all over the world. The logo was designed in 1975 by Anne Lund and Søren Lisberg from the Danish anti-nuclear movement. It was translated into 45 languages and reproduced on buttons, stickers, T-shirts, bulletins, et cetera. In 1976 the logo was registered as a trademark in Denmark.
The button was easy and inexpensive to manufacture, and allowed for many creative uses. At first it was used exclusively by protest movements, but it was very soon discovered by businesses and used for fan clubs, musical events, conferences, royal jubilees, and many others.
The notion of showing social commitment by wearing a button or pin is more than a hundred years old. For the labour movement, it is related to 1 May. In 1890, demonstrators for the 8-hour day in Paris wore a small red leather triangle on their lapels. The three sides symbolized 8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, 8 hours of sleep. After some discussion the French eventually replaced the triangle by a red rose. The first American button, as such, dates from the 1896 presidential elections.
In the United States in March 2003 two men were arrested for wearing T-shirts with Peace on Earth and No War on Iraq. If they had worn these same texts in the form of buttons, they would not have been arrested. Unlike banners, flag, and T-shirts, the button can be considered a small piece of personal jewelry and thus be ignored by the police and representatives of the law. Their "innocence" partly explains the popularity of the button as a propaganda medium during the seventies.
The IISH has collected circa 5000 badges from social movements from all countries. The oldest examples date from the 1890s. The buttons can be found in the IISH catalogue, by country and subject. The additions donated by Mr. Martyn Lowe are mainly from the peace and environment movements of 1970 to 1990. Here are some examples from the old and new collection.
Text: Margreet Schrevel, June 2004