The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

Not another Quality Street tin of Buttons

Wednesday, 9 September 2020, 11:25 Last update: about 2 months ago

Buttons Parade, Military and civilian uniform buttons in Malta – 18th to 21st century. Authors: George Cassar & Denis A. Darmanin. Publishers: Kite Group, www.kitegroup.com.mt

Noel Buttigieg

During a recent excavation in Moscow, archaeologists unearthed a button with a Maltese Cross engraved on it. Judged as a rare find, such buttons constituted part of a uniform worn only between 1799 and 1803. For the untrained eye, such find is simply trivial. However, for the trained researcher, such fragments of information contribute towards the narrative of our historical past as we rediscover and reinterpret the unending crusade towards a better understanding of our heritage.

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Denis Darmanin and George Cassar decided to democratise this unique aspect of Malta's past, presenting us with an array of buttons within a historical context. The publication Buttons Parade. Military and Civilian Uniform Buttons in Malta - 18th to 21st century, opens a window onto a less appreciated aspect of Malta's tangible heritage. Darmanin's authoritative nature in piecing together the necessary information provides each button with its own personality, narrative and meaning. Cassar's interest as an avid collector, complemented by his accomplished research portfolio, further embellished the final product. Congratulations also to Kite Group, the quality and presentation of the material cannot be faulted. Most certainly, a labour of love for all involved.

Every chapter within this publication presents basic historical information in a chronological manner, a most welcoming approach. The background narrative provides an important context, setting the stage for the prima donna of this publication - the button. Although this might appear as a convenient choice by the authors to facilitate the organisation of the data, the approach is beneficial for the reader on several fronts. The chronological approach allows for an interesting exploration of the continuity and change in the development of this parade of buttons. Furthermore, it allows the reader to dive into any random chapter since each chapter could exist independently from the preceding one.

The button, as the centrepiece of this publication, is explored throughout its life - from the drawing board to its commissioning, to be sown on a uniform. As a marker of identity, the authors explain how no button is an island but rather a complement to the entire garment, supporting meanings associated with roles, rank and prestige. In the attempt to discuss the history of both military and civilian buttons, the authors employed their expertise to present the information in an organised and coherent manner allowing the reader to explore how a button exists within a larger complex that transcends its simple functionality.

The British period dominates most of the chapters. Apart from the direct and indirect influences of the British forces on the heritage and culture of the inhabitants of this fortress colony, the authors could avail themselves of better and more detailed information. The sections discussing the Civil Protection, First Aid, Nursing, Civil Aviation, Band Clubs and Banking Services provide interesting reads.

Regarding the Malta Police and the Civil Prisons, distant from the sensational military aspects, the authors bring to light novel information, until now left hibernating in the dark by local researchers. The 1850s mark an important turning point in the history of the Police Force, its responsibilities and the associated legislative measures regulating its function. This development continues into the 21st century as specialised units were set up to address the need of maintaining a safe Malta. What is really intriguing here is that this story is told through various buttons.

The authors did not shy away from having their rant about recent developments. The Prisons 2019 button for Senior Correctional Officers is an interesting case-study. It seems that very little effort was invested on the design, a 20mm disc plate of anodised aluminium engraved with the word Prison.

Not even one of the most acclaimed of all Maltese traditions, the Band clubs, sustained the quality and design of its precursors. However, a parade of buttons is presented to us further confirming the wonderful history of band clubs in Malta.

Treat this book as a sophisticated version of your grandmother's Quality Streets tin full of an assortment of buttons. The main difference is that it provides you with an opportunity to rediscover aspects of Malta's gone-by years through a different source of evidence - the button.


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